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10/1/2010
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More Than Half Of Critical Infrastructure Firms Have Been Hit By State-Sponsored Attacks

Survey finds energy, banking and finance, healthcare, IT, emergency services, communications firms worldwide expecting more targeted, politically motivated attacks

Politically motivated, state-sponsored attacks are happening regularly: Fifty-three percent of critical infrastructure firms around the globe say they have been hit with an attack aimed at a specific political goal, a new report from Symantec found.

A survey of 1,580 energy, banking and finance, healthcare, IT, emergency services, and communications firms worldwide found that these firms have each suffered about 10 such politically motivated, state-sponsored attacks in the past five years. Around 60 percent of these attacks worldwide were somewhat to extremely effective, the respondents said, and 74 to 77 percent of the firms in North America said the attacks on them were "effective."

Small businesses suffered the most bruising attacks, according to the report, with an average cost of $850,000 per attack.

Worries about these targeted, politically motivated attacks are high of late, with the Stuxnet worm attack that went after factory floor plant systems. Stuxnet serves as cautionary tale of the potential of these brands of attacks, according to Symantec.

"Stuxnet is an example of the threats these companies are feeling the pressure from and feel are going to continue," says Justin Somaini, CISO for Symantec. "These threats take many forms -- a denial-of-service, compromising a SCADA system [like Stuxnet], and attacks on financial" systems, he says.

The Symantec 2010 Critical Infrastructure Protection Study, which was conducted by Applied Research and commissioned by Symantec, found that 48 percent of these firms expect more such attacks in the next year, and 80 percent say these attacks will either remain constant or will increase.

Meanwhile, 90 percent say they have participated in their own country's Critical Infrastructure Protection (CIP) program, with around 56 percent being "significantly or completely engaged" in these programs. Energy firms are the most involved, with 83 percent fully embracing these programs. IT was less likely to do so (49 percent).

"This significant desire by industry to partner or participate in CIP programs surprised me," Somaini says. "I expected less participation than what I saw."

Meanwhile, 28 to 33 percent of the critical infrastructure firms say they are "extremely prepared" for these forms of attacks, 36 to 41 percent are "somewhat prepared," and 31 percent are "less than somewhat prepared."

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.

Kelly Jackson Higgins is Executive Editor at DarkReading.com. She is an award-winning veteran technology and business journalist with more than two decades of experience in reporting and editing for various publications, including Network Computing, Secure Enterprise ... View Full Bio

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