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The annual Virtual Criminology Report, published today, warns that international international cyber espionage is set to be the biggest single threat to national security next year. Right there on the front line of this cyber cold-war is China, according to report authors McAfee. However, that is just the tip of this particular security iceberg as McAfee claims that some 120 other countries are also jumping on the web espionage bandwagon.

Primary targets include critical national infrastructure network systems with electricity, air traffic control, financial markets and Government computer networks taking centre stage. If any of these systems were successfully penetrated the consequences at national level could be devastating, highlighting the need for tightened virtual security according to McAfee which, of course, just happens to be in the business of providing virtual security solutions.

Dr. Ian Brown from Oxford University and Professor Lilian Edwards from the University of Southampton, consulted with more than a dozen security specialists at institutions such as NATO, the FBI and SOCA to arrive at key findings which include:

  • Governments and allied groups are using the Internet for web espionage operations
  • Many cyber attacks originate from China, and the Chinese have publicly stated that they are pursuing activities in cyber-espionage
  • Cyber assaults have become more sophisticated in their nature, designed to specifically slip under the radar of government cyber defences
  • Attacks have progressed from initial curiosity probes to well-funded and well organised operations for political, military, economic and technical espionage

According to NATO insiders, many governments are still unaware of the threats facing them from Web espionage and that some governments are leaving themselves open to cyber attack. These insiders believe the attack on Estonia, which disrupted government, news and bank servers for several weeks, is just the tip of the iceberg in cyber warfare: "Traditional protective measures were not enough to protect against the attacks on Estonia's critical national infrastructure. Botnets unsurprisingly were used but the complexity and coordination seen was new. There were a series of attacks with careful timing using different techniques and specific targets. The attackers stopped deliberately rather than being shut down. Cybercrime is now a global issue" says Jeff Green, senior vice president of McAfee Avert Labs and product development.

As Editorial Director and Managing Analyst with IT Security Thing I am putting more than two decades of consulting experience into providing opinionated insight regarding the security threat landscape for IT security professionals. As an Editorial Fellow with Dennis Publishing, I bring more than two decades of writing experience across the technology industry into publications such as Alphr, IT Pro and (in good old fashioned print) PC Pro. I also write for SC Magazine UK and Infosecurity, as well as The Times and Sunday Times newspapers. Along the way I have been honoured with a Technology Journalist of the Year award, and three Information Security Journalist of the Year awards. Most humbling, though, was the Enigma Award for 'lifetime contribution to IT security journalism' bestowed on me in 2011.

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