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Critical infrastructure systems should never have moved online, warn security experts

30 Nov 2012
Cybergeddon 2012

UK businesses linked to critical infrastructure areas have opened themselves up to cyber attacks by prematurely moving key systems online, according to prominent security experts.

Co-founder of information security site The Jericho Forum, Paul Simmonds, highlighted the fact that the desire to cut costs by moving systems online has left firms vulnerable to cyber attacks.

"I'm worried we're rushing headlong into connecting parts of critical infrastructure items to the internet," said Simmonds, speaking at the Cybergeddon 2012 event in London, attended by V3 on Thursday.

"Whether it's smart meters or embedded Scada systems, because of convenience and cost savings we're just saying we're going to connect it to the internet because we can't afford to put a man there."

Blue Coat Systems, chief security strategist Hugh Thompson, concurred with Simmonds and claimed the move was indicative of a wider problem regarding companies lack of concern over cyber security.

"There is only so long you can ignore the canary. I think we've seen a lot of things over the last 24 months that should be a wake-up call for us around critical infrastructure," said Thompson.

"If you look at the number of research demonstrating attacks against embedded systems as one interesting data point, what it tells us is most embedded systems are not built with security in mind, they're built with productivity in mind."

Thompson went on to highlight the slew of new state sponsored attacks discovered in the past 24 months as further proof of the dangers to critical infrastructure.

"Some of the attacks we've seen launched against government contractors are pretty sophisticated - they're not just somebody messing around, they're not making pranks or using social engineering tactics," he said.

"They may use that to get in but the stuff they use after that is quite sophisticated [...] The consequences and potential damage of an attack are extremely severe. I think critical infrastructure is very vulnerable."

The two security experts comments refer to the raft of hyper sophisticated state sponsored malwares uncovered this year. Chief among the new attacks is cyber espionage tool Flame.

Flame was uncovered targeting Iranian networks earlier in the year and is believed to have been created by a hostile nation state. The malware's advanced nature caused concern throughout the security industry, with F-Secure and Microsoft both listing it as a game changer within the security industry.

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Alastair Stevenson
About

Alastair has worked as a reporter covering security and mobile issues at V3 since March 2012. Before entering the field of journalism Alastair had worked in numerous industries as both a freelance copy writer and artist.

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