NATO Cybersecurity Adviser Warns of Global Network Risks
Monday, March 28, 2016 | Comments

A majority of critical systems in the U.S and around the world remain unprotected from cyber attacks, said Curtis Levinson, cybersecurity adviser to the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO), during his keynote address at the International Wireless Communications Expo (IWCE).

Because of how interconnected the world is, a cyber attack can have devastating consequences for multiple countries or governments at the same time, Levinson said.

“This is absolutely cyber war,” he said. “It is warfare in a dark box by a lot of people in boxing gloves.”

Levinson highlighted the power grid shared between the U.S. and Canada as a prime example of a mostly unprotected target that could pose a serious threat to public safety if it went down.

“This is probably the 800-pound gorilla,” Levinson said. “This grid is very fragile.”

A blackout could not only threaten lives by preventing people from contacting emergency services or heating or cooling themselves, but also greatly impact daily activities, such as buying groceries with a credit card.

Supervisory control and data acquisition (SCADA) devices, which can control and monitor everything from water purity to a building’s heating, air conditioning and ventilation (HVAC) system are prime, and mostly unprotected, targets for hackers as well, Levinson said.

During his presentation, Levinson showed a map demonstrating different data streams. Each point where those streams connect represents a single point of failure and a potential vulnerability that hackers could exploit, he said. Because of the interconnectedness of different networks and countries, one network going down could drastically impact many others.

Levinson then showed an image of a smart grid, which does not have single points of failure and is therefore less vulnerable to cyber attacks. He noted that the image of the smart grid was in German and said he was unable to find a good image of a smart grid in English because many countries have not made a lot of progress in implementing them.

The key to limiting cyber attacks, Levinson said, is for agencies and businesses to think more actively about cybersecurity and make it more of a priority when it comes time for budgeting.

Additionally, it is vital for agencies, such as law enforcement and emergency services, to have strong policies and procedures surrounding cybersecurity, Levinson said. Educating employees about cybersecurity risks is a key part of that process.

Around 80 percent of hacks come through fishing or spearfishing techniques, where a hacker provides someone a link to click to get information, he said. “I tell everyone, ‘Please do not click the link.’ “

Levinson highlighted research done by the Australian Signals Directorate (ASD) that explores different methods for reducing cyber intrusions. Introducing those kinds of measures can reduce system vulnerability from 50 to 85 percent, he said.

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