Dark Reading is part of the Informa Tech Division of Informa PLC

This site is operated by a business or businesses owned by Informa PLC and all copyright resides with them.Informa PLC's registered office is 5 Howick Place, London SW1P 1WG. Registered in England and Wales. Number 8860726.

Attacks/Breaches

Feds: Foreign Attackers 'Knocking on Our Door Every Day'

Attacks on US government systems are frequent and serious, top officials say

LAS VEGAS – Black Hat 2008 – If you're wondering whether the cyber battles being waged in Eastern Europe are happening in the U.S. as well, you can stop wondering: They are.

At the annual "Meet the Feds" session here at the Black Hat conference, top federal officials said the threat of cyber attack against the U.S. is very real -- and, in fact, is already happening.

"There are countries that have [cyber] capabilities equivalent to ours, and in some cases, that exceed ours," said James Finch, assistant director of the FBI's cybercrime division. "There are countries that are knocking on our door every day -- and they are a threat to our national security."

Finch declined to name any specific countries or threats. But when asked about recent public cyber attacks that reportedly emanated from China and Russia, he said, "We're not worried so much about the noisy attacks as we are about the quiet ones."

There have been numerous reports of attacks by Chinese hackers on other governments, including a break-in of Congressional computers that was reported in June. Russian attackers have been credited with attacks on several former Soviet republics expressing anti-Russian sentiments, including Estonia, Lithuania, and Georgia. (See President of Georgia's Site Under Attack.)

The capabilities of other countries and splinter groups should not be underestimated, said the National Security Agency's Rich Marshall. "We have to be careful about assuming the technological superiority of the United States," he said. "That's the height of arrogance. These attacks don't necessarily require a lot of skill or technology. All they need is access to the Internet."

Government agencies are wrestling with many of the same problems as the private sector, because so many of their systems and communications rely on private-sector infrastructure, the officials said. For example, the speakers bristled at the notion that the government should bear responsibility for protecting critical infrastructure systems, such as the power grid, from cyber attack.

"We work with the power companies to come up with sound backup plans, and we work with the other entities that operate our critical infrastructure. But if you're operating systems for a profit, and making money from them, then it's not government's responsibility alone to protect them."

Similarly, it's not possible for many government agencies to create a separate, "safe" network that is divorced from the Internet, officials said. "We're delivering services to the public using the same infrastructure they are," said Mischel Kwon, director of U.S. CERT.

While much of the discussion focused on cyber defense, several attendees also leveled questions at the speakers regarding privacy and recent legislation that expands the rights of law enforcement to conduct electronic surveillance.

"The last thing I would do is apologize for protecting our national security through the use of court-authorized wiretaps," said the FBI's Finch. "I would prefer a lot more privacy in the United States, and there will always be instances of abuse [of wiretap privileges]. But I can't apologize for surveillance that's done in the interest of national security."

Have a comment on this story? Please click "Discuss" below. If you'd like to contact Dark Reading's editors directly, send us a message.

Tim Wilson is Editor in Chief and co-founder of Dark Reading.com, UBM Tech's online community for information security professionals. He is responsible for managing the site, assigning and editing content, and writing breaking news stories. Wilson has been recognized as one ... View Full Bio

Comment  | 
Print  | 
More Insights
Comments
Oldest First  |  Newest First  |  Threaded View
7 Tips for Infosec Pros Considering A Lateral Career Move
Kelly Sheridan, Staff Editor, Dark Reading,  1/21/2020
For Mismanaged SOCs, The Price Is Not Right
Kelly Sheridan, Staff Editor, Dark Reading,  1/22/2020
Register for Dark Reading Newsletters
White Papers
Video
Cartoon Contest
Current Issue
IT 2020: A Look Ahead
Are you ready for the critical changes that will occur in 2020? We've compiled editor insights from the best of our network (Dark Reading, Data Center Knowledge, InformationWeek, ITPro Today and Network Computing) to deliver to you a look at the trends, technologies, and threats that are emerging in the coming year. Download it today!
Flash Poll
How Enterprises are Attacking the Cybersecurity Problem
How Enterprises are Attacking the Cybersecurity Problem
Organizations have invested in a sweeping array of security technologies to address challenges associated with the growing number of cybersecurity attacks. However, the complexity involved in managing these technologies is emerging as a major problem. Read this report to find out what your peers biggest security challenges are and the technologies they are using to address them.
Twitter Feed
Dark Reading - Bug Report
Bug Report
Enterprise Vulnerabilities
From DHS/US-CERT's National Vulnerability Database
CVE-2015-3154
PUBLISHED: 2020-01-27
CRLF injection vulnerability in Zend\Mail (Zend_Mail) in Zend Framework before 1.12.12, 2.x before 2.3.8, and 2.4.x before 2.4.1 allows remote attackers to inject arbitrary HTTP headers and conduct HTTP response splitting attacks via CRLF sequences in the header of an email.
CVE-2019-17190
PUBLISHED: 2020-01-27
A Local Privilege Escalation issue was discovered in Avast Secure Browser 76.0.1659.101. The vulnerability is due to an insecure ACL set by the AvastBrowserUpdate.exe (which is running as NT AUTHORITY\SYSTEM) when AvastSecureBrowser.exe checks for new updates. When the update check is triggered, the...
CVE-2014-8161
PUBLISHED: 2020-01-27
PostgreSQL before 9.0.19, 9.1.x before 9.1.15, 9.2.x before 9.2.10, 9.3.x before 9.3.6, and 9.4.x before 9.4.1 allows remote authenticated users to obtain sensitive column values by triggering constraint violation and then reading the error message.
CVE-2014-9481
PUBLISHED: 2020-01-27
The Scribunto extension for MediaWiki allows remote attackers to obtain the rollback token and possibly other sensitive information via a crafted module, related to unstripping special page HTML.
CVE-2015-0241
PUBLISHED: 2020-01-27
The to_char function in PostgreSQL before 9.0.19, 9.1.x before 9.1.15, 9.2.x before 9.2.10, 9.3.x before 9.3.6, and 9.4.x before 9.4.1 allows remote authenticated users to cause a denial of service (crash) or possibly execute arbitrary code via a (1) large number of digits when processing a numeric ...