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Cyberattacks Seem Meant to Destroy, Not Just Disrupt

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Officials at a South Korean computer security agency.

Officials at a South Korean security agency study an attack that disabled 32,000 computers.

Credit: Jung Yeon-Je/Agence France-Presse Getty Images

The criminals behind recent cyberattacks on U.S. financial companies seem intent on destroying their targets, instead of simply disrupting business operations.

"The attacks have changed from espionage to destruction," says the SANS Institute's Alan Paller. "Nations are actively testing how far they can go before we will respond."

One group behind many of the attacks over the last six months calls itself the Izz ad-Din al-Qassam Cyber Fighters. The group says it is retaliating for an anti-Islamic video posted on YouTube last fall. However, U.S. intelligence officials and industry investigators say they believe the group is a cover for the Iranian government.

North Korea and Iran are the two countries most worrisome to security experts. "These countries are pursuing cyberweapons the same way they are pursuing nuclear weapons," warns the Center for Strategic and International Studies' James A. Lewis.

The Obama administration has publicly urged companies to be more transparent about cyberattacks, but security experts and lawyers often give the opposite advice. However, the increasing brazenness of cyberattacks is beginning to change private-sector opinion. "Companies are much more concerned about this and much more willing to see a government role," Lewis says.

From The New York Times
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