Sunday, 12 January 2014

Fwd: NSA: China has capability to launch large-scale attack to destroy computer operating systems


NSA: China has capability to launch large-scale attack to destroy computer operating systems

NSA reveals Chinese plot to attack computer BIOS

The National Security Agency detected and blocked Chinese state-run hackers from conducting a devastating attack on global computer operating systems the agency called the "Bios Plot." 

NSA's chief of cyber defense, Debora Plunkett, revealed the attack plans recently and said the attacks would have turned affected computers into "bricks." 

"One of our analysts actually saw that the nation state had the intention to develop and to deliver, to actually use this capability to destroy computers," Plunkett told CBS "60 Minutes." 

The cyber attack capability is designed to destroy computers, by attacking the operating system's basic input/output system, or BIOS. 

"The BIOS is a basic input, output system. It's, like the foundational component firmware of a computer," she said. "You start your computer up. The BIOS kicks in. It activates hardware. It activates the operating system. It turns on the computer." 

The cyber attack methodology involves a routine request to a computer user to conduct a software upgrade. If the user agrees, a virus is injected that infects the computer and destroys the operating system. 

"Think about the impact of that across the entire globe. It could literally take down the U.S. economy," Plunkett said. 

The attack capability is not theoretical and poses a serious threat.
"Don't be fooled. There are absolutely nation states who have the capability and the intentions to do just that," Plunkett said, without mentioning China as the developer. 

Computer security experts, however, identified the nation state as China, which is fast becoming one of the top three or four most sophisticated cyber warfare threats.
NSA Director Gen. Keith Alexander warned during the same program that the U.S. financial system is vulnerable to a devastating cyber attacks. 

"I believe that a foreign nation could impact and destroy major portions of our financial system," Alexander said. 

Could such an attack be thwarted? 

"Well, right now it would be difficult to stop it because our ability to see it is limited," Alexander said. 

NSA analysts also explained how social engineering of computer users to gain attack information remains a serious threat. 

States like China, Russia and Iran use social engineering – deceiving people into compromising their computer security – to penetrate networks. 

One analyst, identified only as Morgan, described the process. "So if I want to craft a social engineering message to lure you in so that I could potentially steal– your username and password to gain access to a network, I may go on your Facebook page and see if you like golfing. So if you like golfing, then maybe I'm gonna send you a e-mail about– you know, a sale at a big golf retailer near you." 

The attacker then sends an email disguised as an irresistible offer that leads the person to click on the link that begins the virus infection process. 

"The other real trick is, it's not necessarily one e-mail. It could be 50 emails," second NSA analyst, Charles, said. "In the new cyber paradigm, you can fail 50 times. You can ignore 50 emails. But if that 51st one is clicked, then that's it. Game over." 

The NSA is under fire from critics over disclosures from former contractor Edward Snowden over its electronic spying and Internet surveillance programs. 

As a result, the agency, the most secret intelligence agency within the 16-agency intelligence community, in recent weeks has begun to publicize its activities in an effort to gain public and government support. 

The 60 Minutes report was the first time the agency permitted news cameras inside its Fort Mead, Md. Headquarters. 

A White House panel of experts last week recommended new restrictions on NSA spying, including an end to the agency holding millions of telephone metadata records and transferring the holdings to private sector telecommunications companies. 

President Obama is expected to disclose which of the panel's more than 40 recommendations will be implemented. White House sources say the president likely will adopt most of the recommendations. 





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