How close is World War 3.0?

Examining the reality of cyber war in wake of Estonian attacks

Five things Estonia did right in battling hacktivism

Here's what worked in Estonia to battle the recent denial-of-service attacks:

1. Admitting what's going on. The Estonian government didn't deny or try to hide the attacks. Because the attacks were globally sourced, ISPs that provide transit to Estonia could see that something was wrong. The Estonian government was wise not to try to deny the attack as a sign of weakness or cover it up as an embarrassment.

2. Asking for help. The Estonian Computer Emergency Response Team reached out to its peers in the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) and the service provider community to help it stop the flood of traffic before it hit their networks.

3. Rapid response. Experts converged upon Estonia to assist government officials and network service providers with attack analysis so they could start blocking traffic farther upstream.

4. ISP cooperation. Service providers worked together to help mitigate the attacks. Using such forums as the North American Network Operators' Group, ISPs have existing relationships that are useful when denial-of-service and other attacks occur.

5. State-of-the-art network-filtering techniques. Vendors including Arbor Networks and Cisco deployed high-speed gear to filter out selective types of traffic at line rates to minimize the DoS attacks. This gear helped keep targeted Web sites running.

10 steps to prepare for cyberwar

Security experts say CIOs should take the following steps to prepare for politically motivated network attacks:

1. Conduct a network inventory. You need to know what is on your network and what are the key network resources you must have available at all times to keep your business running. Make sure these key resources are geographically and logically dispersed.

2. Keep your private network logically and physically separated from the public Internet. This way it can't be shut down by a denial-of-service attack. Have your network audited to ensure that you understand your dependence on the public Internet.

3. Be vigilant. You need to have an around-the-clock, seven-day-a-week operational team monitoring your networks. They need to have network cognizance. They need to know what your infrastructure is and be able to monitor it.

4. Educate your work force about IT security practices. Train and educate your work force. They need to be educated to know when something is not right, and they need to know whom to call to report it.

5. Have security policies and plans in place and test them regularly. Empower your information security officers and their teams to be able to defend your networks.

6. Know whom to call at your ISP in case of an emergency. Get in contact with your ISP's technical staff before you have a problem. Make sure your SLA with your ISP is adequate to protect your infrastructure.

7. Have a backup plan. CIOs need a disaster recovery plan in case their Internet connectivity is affected. The plan should take into consideration long-term outages.

8. Reduce your profile. Use physical defenses such as fences and security cameras, not just cyberdefenses. Don't publicize where your corporate headquarters are located.

9. Beware of insiders. The recent car bombings in London demonstrate that terrorists will infiltrate an organization and wait several years before launching an attack. That could occur in an IT department, too. Someone could insinuate themselves into an organization over time or blackmail an employee.

10. Have an emergency response plan. If you don't have a response manual worked out and you fall under attack, you're going to have a problem. You should develop the plan in conjunction with your service providers. You should also know whom to contact in law enforcement.

Sources for this story: Jose Nazario (senior security researcher, Arbor Networks); Michael Witt (deputy director, U.S. CERT); Charles Kaplan (chief technology strategist, Mazu Networks); Eugene Spafford (executive director of the Center for Education and Research in Information Assurance and Security at Purdue University); Steve Bellovin, (professor of computer science, Columbia University)

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