Cyber threats from Anonymous – is Asia a target No1 in cyberterrorism?

Whilst the protests against black money and corruption are increasing in India, ‘hacktivism’ (a coinage created from activism and hacking) is creating mayhem in the virtual world. The movement, also referred to as Electronic Civil Disobedience, is not a new virtual phenomenon, and has now reached two decades of its existence. However, recent high-profile hackings of Sony, Google, Citigroup, International Monetary Fund (IMF) and the cyber-attack on the Senate website today are raising the alarm of both cyber and information security.

History seems to repeat itself

At the beginning of June, hackers, claiming to be from the Anonymous group, defaced the National Information Centre’s (NIC) website. They posted their logo and a message addressing the Indian Prime Minister, protesting against the recent police crackdown on supporters of Baba Ramdev. The Indian army website was also defaced, but quickly restored after outrage by Indians on Facebook and Twitter. In April, hackers allegedly compromised two servers created by Congress general-secretary Rahul Gandhi, and redirected users to an engineering college website. Back in 1998, a group called Milworm hacked into the Bhabha Atomic Reaserach Centre (BARC) by replacing the organisation’s website with an anti-nuclear message.

Malaysia under attack

It seems that no country is safe from hackers’ attacks. The hacker group said it would target the Malaysian government’s online portal (http://www.malaysia.gov.my/) from 19.30GMT today to “teach the country a lesson” for censoring whistle-blower site WikiLeaks in an attack codenamed “Operation Malaysia”.

“We have received word of this threat. There are many agencies involved in this and we will get to the bottom of this”, Malaysian police chief, Ismail Omar, told Reuters.

What triggers hackers’ activities?

The motivations behind the attacks are varied, ranging from protests related to anti-globalisation, animal rights, labour movements, biotech and genetically modified foods, anti-war movements and environmental causes.

“These attacks are often combined with or support them with action in the real world”, says managing director of Encurve (a Portland, Oregon-based, independent risk consulting firm), Kent Anderson.

Anonymous – who?

Anonymous, which also calls itself ‘The Legion’, is a group of global activists lobbying for Internet freedom, who frequently try to shut down the websites of businesses and other organisations they oppose.

Members of this group cripple websites by overwhelming them with traffic, in what are commonly known as “disturbed denial-of-service” (DDoS) attacks. The ‘hacktivists’ have also recently brought down websites in Syria, Tunisia, Egypt and India for political reasons, and are still causing huge mayhem on the web in other countries around the world.

Does anybody care?

“We read about these instances but nobody here appears to be taking e-security seriously, We erroneously presume that if management processes are in place, companies will be secure. The mere fact that the top e-security companies in India make most of their revenue from training rather than selling security solutions, is proof that we are not thinking about security,” rues Vijay Mukhi, a leading cyber-security expert.

Cyber attacks pose a serious risk to national, individual and corporate security and the threat remains very real. According to the Kaspersky Lab Q2 2010 Malware report, it was recorded that nearly half-a-billion infections attempts took place around the world within the past year. The countries most targeted were China (17.09% of all attacks), Russia (11.36 %), India (9.30%) and Vietnam (5.44%).

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