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Dell World: Dell warns of cyber sleeper cells targeting critical infrastructure

13 Dec 2012
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AUSTIN: Dell SecureWorks chief technology officer, Jon Ramsey has warned cyber espionage tools like Flame are likely precursors to more serious Stuxnet level cyber attacks.

Ramsey told V3 that Dell SecureWorks had detected a number of espionage tools targeting critical infrastructure.

"We've seen attacks targeting critical infrastructure not just in the power grid, but specifically targeting governments, energy companies, but we haven't seen any damage, it's more reconnaissance, like they're lying in wait," said Ramsey.

Ramsey added while the tools' exact final goal remains unclear, Dell is operating under the assumption they are paving the way for a future cyber attack redolent of Stuxnet or Gauss.

"The theory we have is it's preparation in the battlefield. The adversary is going to be in as many places as they can and lie in wait until such a time when they need those resources for some mixture of kinetic warfare and cyber warfare. No one's come out and said that's what they're doing but that is our running theory," said Ramsey.

Stuxnet and Flame are both sophisticated malware believed to have been created by the US and Israeli governments. The Stuxnet malware was discovered targeting Iranian nuclear plants' networks in 2010.

Unlike Flame, which is mainly believed to be an espionage tool, Stuxnet is currently thought to be an sabotage tool designed to hamper progress in the Iranian nuclear programme.

Ramsey highlighted the Stuxnet's ability to manipulate the physical environment as a key problem the security industry is yet to properly address.

"I think what's interesting about these tools is their ability to control physical environments. Look at Stuxnet and Gauss how they had some ramifications in the physical world while being a cyber attack, said Ramsey.

"If you step back have to think the quick convergence of cyber and physical is a problem not enough people have thought about."

Ramsey also warned the attack strategy could cause more problems if adopted by common cyber criminals.

"We have smartphones, smart grids, smart cars, even a smart home, all of that smartness comes from the cyber aspect, by being connected. These all open up avenues for criminals to be able to do things that they couldn't do when things were offline," said Ramsey.

Ramsey's warnings follow those from numerous security experts at the London 2012 Cybergeddon press conference, all concerned about the potential damage a successful attack on critical infrastructure could have.

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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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