Hackers warn high street chains

Hackers warn high street chains
Hackers warn high street chains 

BBC News
25 April 2008

High street chains will be the next victims of cyber terrorism, some of 
the world's elite hackers have warned.

They claim it is only a "matter of time" before the likes of Tesco and 
Marks & Spencer are targeted.

Criminals could use the kind of tactics which crippled Estonia's 
government and some firms last year, they warned.

The experts were members of the infamous "Hackers Panel" which convened 
in London this week at the InfoSecurity Europe conference.

The panel includes penetration testers and so-called "white hat" 
hackers, who help companies tighten up their digital security by 
searching for flaws in their defences.

Previous panellists include Gary McKinnon, known as Solo, alleged by the 
US government to have hacked into dozens of US Army, Navy, Air Force, 
and Department of Defense computers.

The "hackers" usually remain anonymous, "for security reasons", but this 
year's panellists agreed to break cover.

Common cause

First up was Roberto Preatoni, the founder of the cyber crime monitoring 
site, Zone-H, and WabSabiLabi, a trading site for security researchers.

His appearance came just a few months after he was arrested by Italian 
authorities on charges of hacking and wiretapping, as part of the 
ongoing investigation into the Telecom Italia scandal.

Mr Preatoni told the audience that the attacks in Estonia were a 
harbinger for a new era of cyber warfare.

"I'm afraid we will have to get used to this," said Mr Preatoni, also 
known as SyS64738. "We had all been waiting for this kind of attack to 

"Estonia was just unfortunate to be the first country to experience it. 
But very soon, our own [western] companies and countries will be getting 
attacked for political and religious reasons.

"This kind of attack can happen at any time. And it will happen."

During the two week "cyber war" against Estonia, hackers shut down the 
websites of banks, governments and political parties using 
"denial-of-service" (DoS) attacks, which knock websites offline by 
swamping servers with page requests.

As many of the attacks originated from Russia, the Estonian government 
pointed the finger at the Kremlin. But Mr Preatoni said that, having 
spoken to contacts in the hacking community, he was clear that "Putin 
was not involved".

"In my opinion, this was a collection of private individuals who 
spontaneously gathered under the same flag.

"Even though Estonia is one of the world's most advanced countries in IT 
technology, the whole economy was brought to its knees.

"That's the beauty of asymmetric warfare. You don't need a lot of money, 
or an army of people. You can do it from the comfort of your living 
room, with a beer in your hand.

Gate control

His warning was echoed by Steve Armstrong, who teaches seminars in 
hacking techniques, at the SANS Institute for information security 

"If someone wants to have a pop at the UK, they are unlikely to go for 
the government web servers. They will go for the lower hanging fruit - 
companies which are seen as good representatives of the country.

"The likes of Tesco, Marks & Spencer and B&Q can be seen as legitimate 

"We have to get the message across to companies [to invest in 
information security].

"At the moment Chief Executives are only interested in the bottom line. 
But remember - if goes down, that's a lot of shopping."

Mr Preatoni said that the Estonian government's repeated failure to 
thwart the attacks was proof that we still have "no good solutions" for 
denial of service attacks.

The panellists then argued over whether Internet Service Providers 
should do more to tighten security, by helping customers' protect their 
computers from being "zombified" by hackers for use in distributed DoS 

"Actually, I don't think the ISPs should have any role in security," 
said Preatoni.

"In my opinion, that's like asking the Royal Mail to be responsible for 
the quality of your post."

But his view was immediately challenged by the third panellist, Jason 
Creasey, head of research at the independent Information Security Forum.

"I believe ISPs can play a phenomenal role in security, with a little 
bit of legal pressure," he claimed.

Net weakness

He was backed by an audience member, Angus Pinkerton, of Lynks Security 
Consulting. "The only way to defend against a distributed attack is with 
a distributed defence," he argued.

"I think it's unacceptable that ISPs are content to let their customers 
be part of bot-nets."

He challenged Steve Armstrong's view that asking ISPs to perform 
security duties was "fundamentally, censorship."

"This is not about free speech," said Mr Pinkerton. "Free speech does 
not entitle you to shout fire in a crowded theatre."

In the meantime, Mr Preatoni warned the audience it is "only going to 
get easier" to carry out a DoS attack, because he claimed the latest net 
address system, known as Internet Protocol Version 6 (IPv6), is actually 
more amenable to DoS.

Later, he told the BBC that the rise in cyber attacks originating in 
China was a convenient cloak for western countries to disguise their own 
cyber espionage activities.

"It's too easy to blame China," he said. "In fact, legitimate countries 
are bouncing their attacks through China. It's very easy to do, so why 

"My evil opinion is that some western governments are already doing 

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