September 27, 2012
Credit: Credit: U.S. Air Force
Uncontrolled security threats on the Internet could return much of the planet to an era without electricity or automated transportation, top U.S. and Russian experts said on Thursday.
Former National Security Agency Director Michael Hayden warned that the United States had yet to resolve basic questions about how to police the Internet, let alone how to defend critical infrastructure such as electric generation plants.
And if recently discovered and government-sponsored intrusion software proliferates in the same way that viruses have in the past, “somewhere in 2020, maybe 2040, we’ll get back to a romantic time -- no power, no cars, no trains,” said Eugene Kaspersky, chief executive officer of Moscow-based Kaspersky Lab, the largest privately held security vendor.
The back-to-back presentations at a Washington conference painted the starkest picture to date about the severity of the cybersecurity problem.
The past two years have seen an escalation of such warnings, especially about what U.S. officials have termed an unprecedented theft of trade secrets and. more lately, mounting threats to infrastructure.
At the same time, Congress failed last month to pass legislation aimed at protecting vital facilities, which Hayden bemoaned, and Kaspersky earlier this year detected extremely sophisticated surveillance programs that infiltrated personal computers and energy facilities in the Middle East.
If previous viruses were like bicycles, Kaspersky said, then the Stuxnet worm that damaged uranium enrichment centrifuges at the Natanz plant in Iran two years ago would be a plane, and the latest programs, dubbed Flame and Gauss, would be “space shuttles.”
Researchers are still dissecting those heavily encrypted viruses. Kaspersky and others say they are related to Stuxnet, which officials have privately admitted was designed by U.S. and Israel intelligence forces.
But Kaspersky said Stuxnet, Flame and Gauss would become templates.