The Future of Cyber Threats

Cyber threats appear as quickly as new technologies themselves, and with computers now being such a critical part of our infrastructure – from our smartphones and cars to national energy systems and even prisons – the potential for damage is catastrophic. Large global multinationals and small local businesses and startups use the online infrastructure to facilitate economic and technological innovation. Defense and intelligence agencies depend on cyber networks to manage far-flung operations, analyze intelligence data and implement homeland security, military logistics and emergency services.

Global dependence on the Internet grows every day and many nations are now depending on a cyber infrastructure that enables the operation of financial markets, transportation networks, taxation and energy grids, as well as the public agencies protecting the health and security of their citizens. With this growth come ever-greater risks as well as opportunities.Advanced persistent threats reflect the risks posed by adversaries with the sophistication, resources and determination to cause real and permanent damage by exploiting the architecture of networks, and of cyberspace itself.

The biggest threat is state involvement. Where a rogue phisher or malware attack might be the criminal equivalent of a street mugger, state-sponsored attacks come with all the resources and technological sophistication of James Bond. Resistance is extremely hard and these attacks are very difficult to attribute to anyone; they can be routed via any country or written in any language.

Because the Internet is an evolving technology that carries enormous potential and vulnerabilities, cybersecurity problems implicate questions of Internet freedom, network architecture and the economic potential for cyberspace. We are at the beginning of a new and dangerous era of cyberwarfare and governments should be encouraged to cooperate in order to identify and punish the criminals. But let's not be naïve about it, they will also be engaging in cyber espionage against each other.  

Cyberthreats for 2013


Cloud-Based Botnets

The trend to move the computer infrastructure to the cloud can not only jeopardize data, but can also be used to quickly create a “zombie army” – also known as botnet. Over the last years, Africa has become highly connected but many of the operating systems in use are pirated, meaning they are not receiving patches or updates. Therefore, Africa is a huge target for hackers and it is being used as a hub to target other countries – using command and control attacks, denial of service, phishing and spam.

The new undersea fiber optic cable along the east coast of Africa has enabled rapid growth in the number of users obtaining high speed connections to the internet creating a great opportunity for attackers to infect new machines and create new bots. A growing number of users in countries served by the cable had access to broadband links but without awareness about the need for computer protection, opening a new front for botnets.

Now, Africa is not attacking – they are being attacked and used. While businesses in Africa get some security, government and end users are totally exposed due to a of lack of awareness and money to invest in safe and legitimate software.

Cyber Threats History: A New Cold War (Present)

This is the decade of cloud computing, the rise of hacktivism and the birth of real cyberwarfare. Who knows what else is going to happen? Cyber attacks continue to rise at a great pace, increasing 42 percent in 2012 from the previous year and IT security experts have no reason to believe that it'll slow down. On the contrary, most experts believe cyber threats will not only grow in frequency, but will also become more sophisticated. Hackers are now either criminals out to make money, activists out to protest or governments engaged in targeting their own citizens or attacking other governments, whether for espionage or cyberwarfare. This new level of resources and sophistication makes life very difficult for those charged with defending networks from attack.

Historical Landmarks


Dozens of technology companies - most in Silicon Valley - have their computer networks infiltrated by hackers located in China. Google publicly reveals that it has been sustaining a highly sophisticated and targeted attack on their corporate infrastructure also originating from China that resulted in the theft of intellectual property. The attacks are named Operation Aurora and official Chinese media responds stating that the incident is part of a U.S. government conspiracy.

Operation Aurora

Britain announces it will devote $1 billion to building new cyber defenses. Iain Lobban, the director of the Government Communications Headquarters, says the country faces a "real and credible" threat from cyber attacks by hostile states and criminals as government systems are targeted 1,000 times each month, threatening Britain's economy.

Cyber Threats History: A New World (2000s)

In this new decade, the average consumer is persuaded to use the credit card on the Internet for purchases, raising the risks of cyber theft. Insurance policies are offered by most credit cards companies and former hackers are hired by the industry to design improved security measures.

Cyber attacks become more frequent and destructive and kids using automated programs that perform functions they could not perform on their own, conduct many of these actions, hitting big companies and causing severe financial losses. The denial-of-service attack becomes a tool of war and the attacks are designed to paralyze websites, financial networks and other computer systems by flooding them with data from outside computers.

Alongside with these criminal attacks against banks and every wire dependent industries, there a rise of the cyber terrorism threat. This is the 9/11 decade and the attacks in the United States spawn diverse reactions from different groups, with the FBI issuing warnings of potential terror attacks through the Internet. Some believe that the threat is real and possible at any given moment, while some countered that it is not that easy, and is almost impossible with all the existing security systems.

Historical Landmarks


Michael Calce, a 15-year-old Canadian with the handle "MafiaBoy", launches a series of DoS attacks against huge companies with high levels of security and numerous e-commerce sites. Amongst those attacked are computer manufacturer Dell, media giant CNN, and shopping sites Amazon and Ebay. In order to do so, MafiaBoy gains illegal access to 75 computers in 52 different networks and plants a DoS tool on them which he then activates and uses to attack several Internet sites causing about $1.7 billion losses.

Mafia Boy

Cyber Threats History: The Internet Expansion (1990s)

Although hacking expanded and enjoyed glorification during the 80s, a divide was forming within the hacking community by the end of the decade. The hacker principle of “freedom of technology” was changing, and a younger generation interested in individual gain emerged leading to an increase in the number of hackers that were no longer satisfied with benign exploration of systems merely to learn how they worked.

This obscure side fragmented even further as several independent groups formed “electronic gangs,” driven to tap into the sensitive information housed within large institutions, like government and educational research centers. Similarly to what happens with conventional street gangs, it did not take long for these groups to begin fighting each other, and the early 1990s saw an escalation of infighting that jammed phone lines and networks, and ultimately led to the demise and criminal prosecution of several groups. On top of this, the end of the cold war is a very significant factor as it allows the Internet to spread freely across the former URSS, with great impact on both sides of the now rusty Iron Curtain.

Historical Landmarks:



The Great Hacker War begins with Legion of Doom and Masters of Deception engaging in almost two years of online warfare –jamming phone lines, monitoring calls, trespassing in each other's private computers.

In response to the AT&T telephone system crash that left 60,000 customers without a phone line for nine hours on January 15, federal authorities burst into Mark Abene's (Phiber Optik) bedroom, guns drawn, and confiscate his computer equipment. Abene and other MOD members have their homes searched and property seized by the U.S. Secret Service largely based on government suspicions of having caused AT&T Corporation's network crash. Some weeks later, AT&T themselves admit that the crash was the result of a flawed software update to the switching systems on their long distance network, thus, human error on their part.

Phiber Optik

A role-playing game company called Steve Jackson Games in Austin, Texas is raided. The Secret Service seizes computers and disks at the company‘s offices and also at the home of one of their employees, Loyd Blankenship (The Mentor) a former member of the Legion of Doom. Blankenship is writing a role-playing game called GURPS Cyberpunk, which the agents interpret as a handbook for computer crime.