The furry face of cyberwarfare

Image: Stockfresh

Nation states have nothing on wildlife when it comes to sabotaging infrastructure



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25 January 2017 | 0

Billy MacInnesIn this post-truth world, it’s becoming increasingly hard to distinguish between facts and alternative facts. So I wasn’t entirely sure what to make of a story in Ars Technica which makes some astounding claims about cyberwar.

We’ve all been led to believe that cyberwar is something conducted by a nation state against another, targeting its computers or networks, usually for the purposes of espionage or sabotage and to cause damage. A number of examples of cyberwar have hit the headlines over the years, generating much fear and angst in the process.

But according to the Ars Technica story, Chris ‘SpaceRogue’ Thomas, a former member of a hacking collective known as L0pht Heavy Industries and strategist for Tenable Network Security, has a whole new take on the threat posed by cyber-attacks on the electric grid infrastructure.

He thinks it’s over-the-top nonsense and he’s on a mission to “counteract the ludicrousness of cyberwar claims made by cyberwar hawks”.

Now, I know what some of you are thinking ‘He’s a former hacker, he’s bound to say that’. The cynics among you are going to get even more exercised when you hear his views on what he believes is the biggest danger to the electric grid: squirrels.

In a presentation entitled, 35 Years of Cyberwar: The Squirrels Are Winning at the Shmoocon conference (which you can view below), Thomas provided data gathered by CyberSquirrel 1, a project that collects data on outages caused by animals from sources on the Internet.

According to the data, squirrels were responsible for 854 attacks against power infrastructure but other animals, including snakes (77), rats (36), raccoons (72), martens (16) and birds (415) have done their bit as well. Jelly fish have caused 13 outages, mainly by getting stuck in the intake tanks, while caterpillars and slugs have also joined the fray. Overall, animals have caused 1,700 outages, Thomas claimed, “affecting nearly 5 million people. If you consolidated them into one location, it would basically take out the power for the San Francisco metropolitan area for two months.”

They’ve hit CERN three times, NASDAQ twice, as well as 76 schools, 34 universities, 16 hospitals, six government buildings, six airports and four military bases.

Worse still, the data found that eight people have been killed as a result of animal attacks on the power grid.

Thomas concluded that cyberwar had been prophesied for 35 years but “the risk is nowhere near the level of hype that cyberwar hawks have been spouting”.

Having watched it myself, I found his presentation thought-provoking, intriguing and entertaining.

There was one point he didn’t address however which I’m sure may of the cyberwar hawks would be very interested in finding out: were they red squirrels?


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