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Cyber war rages, blame hard to pin

25 June 2014, 13:45Duncan Alfreds, Fin24

Cape Town - While it is clear that some governments are involved in cyber warfare, assigning blame is difficult, especially given the obfuscation tools agencies use, says a security professional.

"When it comes to the role of government, attribution is especially difficult. Just like missiles and aircraft carriers, governments can outsource offensive cyber-attacks to sympathetic third parties who offer that particular skill," Anton Jacobsz, managing director of Networks Unlimited told Fin24.

The US has consistently accused China of using a hacker army to infiltrate corporate networks to steal sensitive data.

Wang Dong, Sun Kailiang and others were indicted by US authorities on charges of cyber espionage on major American corporations that saw them steal a number of documents.

However, short of them applying for a visa to visit the US on holiday, it unclear how the FBI will execute the warrant.

Political agenda

China recently announced a ban on the latest version of the Windows operating system over security fears, but some have questioned it's a countermeasure against US companies over the indictment.

Assigning hacking to third parties gives governments or state actors a level of deniability if they are caught, but Jacobsz said that all countries that had the capacity were involved in espionage.

"There is certainly some level of government involvement, on all sides.  We just don’t know how much."

He cited the example of Estonia where hackers, allegedly from Russia, launched a wide-scale attack that saw the parliament's e-mail system being shut down as well as foreign access to the websites of banks and media organisations.

"The case of Estonia is an interesting one. That country was taken offline completely by attack that was thought to be directed by the Russian government.

"What we saw were people sympathetic to the position of the Russian government attacking Estonia from all over the world. What role did the Russian government play, it is impossible to say exactly," said Jacobsz.

The recent troubles in the Ukraine have also seen hackers utilise their skills to further their take political positions. Phone networks and other cyber infrastructure have been attacked while the country struggles with the real world threat of armed conflict.

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