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The cyber terrorist’s number one CI target? The power grid and its cascading effects

Money (That’s What I Want) While Purdy acknowledges that the power grid is an attractive target, he believes that the fi nancial sector is more vulnerable. An attack on that sector, he says, would be much more disruptive and could undermine public confi dence in the economy. Rick “Ozzie” Nelson, director of the Homeland Security and Counterterrorism Program at the Washington, DC-based Center for Strategic and International Studies, shares Purdy’s concern about an attack on the fi nancial sector.

Nelson expressed his worries that hackers could gain access to account information of a major bank and release it to the public. “A release like that has the ability to undermine major fi nancial players and the US economy”, he concurs.

The proliferation of smartphones and their use in mobile banking has created millions of vulnerability points for the banking system, Nelson notes. “Smartphones are very vulnerable systems, and when individuals are accessing those accounts remotely, they are very


vulnerable to exploitation”, he adds. “Once a hacker gets into the system through one of those nodes, he or she can wreak havoc to [an] economy.” Greg Jones, director at London-based information security fi rm Digital Assurance, judges that the most exposed critical infrastructure sector in the UK is the fi nancial system. “An attack against the fi nance sector isn’t easily fi xed because it affects confi dence...It could undermine confi dence to the extent that the effects could be felt for a long time”, he says. “If you think about the stock exchange in London, they are constantly pushing out market-sensitive information guiding and steering billions of pounds worth of investment every second of every day… If you consider an advanced attack, where one is modifying the content of that information, [it] could potentially have a very signifi cant effect on the trades that are made by those systems….and that could cause a huge amount of damage and a loss of confi dence, which would affect the markets quite severely”, Jones warns.

Come Together

Experts on both sides of the Atlantic agree that public-private partnerships and information sharing about threats and vulnerabilities between the government and industry are among the best tools to improve the cyber defenses of critical infrastructure, given that the vast majority of that infrastructure is owned by the private sector. “Public-private partnerships are critical. Their most pressing challenge is expanding awareness and trying to get better at sharing the latest threat information faster, so that a problem in one area is known by everyone else”, comments Ed Savage, cybersecurity expert with London-based PA Consulting Group.

Savage noted that a few years ago the UK government set up the Centre for the Protection of National Infrastructure (CPNI) to provide cybersecurity information, advice, and expertise to industry through industry-specifi c groups. “Those networks of information sharing work very well indeed. As a result, the general level of awareness and approach is pretty good”, he asserts.

May/June 2012

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