OnQ Blog

Bolder Cyberattacks Pit Safety Against Privacy

With the growing proliferation of botnets, hackers and denial-of-service attackers, cybersecurity is on the forefront of government legislation and concern.

May 21, 2013

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Back in March, The New York Times described a high-profile attack between a Dutch hosting company and an online group that fights spam, which escalated into “one of the largest computer attacks on the Internet, [causing] widespread congestion…around the world.” Even though the duration of the attacks was brief, millions were impacted with online delays and inaccessibility to certain sites.

Though this scenario is not new, what is causing concern for security experts is that the attacks seem to be getting bigger and bolder. This concern is prompting governments around the world to start cracking down with tough legislation—some of which are being called out by privacy experts as overreaching.

Last month, the U.S. House passed a cyber security bill called CISPA, which gives companies immunity from lawsuits when they voluntarily share information on computer threats. The Obama administration, as well as some civil rights advocates, say the bill is flawed. Bloomberg reported that an April 16th statement released by the White House threatening to veto the bill says it “doesn’t require companies ‘to take reasonable steps’ to remove personal information when sharing cybersecurity data with the government or other companies.”

Regardless of the privacy implications, many officials are working to drive home the idea that an increased threat level is very real. Jonathan Evans, the outgoing head of Britain’s domestic intelligence agency MI5, told the BBC in 2012 that the level of cyberthreats was “astonishing.” In the U.S. Chinese hackers have been linked to known cyberattacks on media outlets such as The New York Times, Wall Street Journal, Washington Post and Bloomberg News as well as sites such as Facebook and Twitter. In October, Defense Secretary Leon Panetta warned that the U.S. could face a “cyber–Pearl Harbor,” which could have widespread financial and security implications.

Conversely, open-source advocate Glyn Moody, questions whether this is just excessive government intervention based on ignorance and fear or a legitimate response.

“Anything that uses ‘cyber’ in its title is a con and should be laughed out of the room,” Moody wrote in a column in Computerworld UK.  

Politics aside, most of us do wonder what can be done to keep the Internet safe? The answers will come from collaboration between the public and private sectors. Increasing awareness is part of the solution. Stay tuned for more updates here.

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