Marie Szaniszlo, Boston Herald
Special to In Homeland Security
Recent revelations about China hacking U.S. computers have raised awareness of cyber espionage, but some of the greatest threats local governments face are cyber attacks that can be used to defraud people or to plunge an entire city or state into chaos, according to one security expert.
The most damaging attacks could target a community’s infrastructure, such as its water supply or electrical system, said James Caulfield of the Advanced Cyber Security Center in Boston.
“Fortunately, those attacks are more unlikely,” Caulfield told the Herald yesterday at the National Association of State Auditors, Comptrollers and Treasurers’ annual conference in Boston. “It’s not in the realm of anything we’ve seen to date. It would take as much effort to truck in a bomb.”
What’s more common, he said, are attacks — usually by organized crime — targeting personally identifiable information, or PII, such as Social Security numbers and dates of birth, for the purpose of defrauding the state or individuals.
“The PII stuff is what’s in the pantheon of the likely,” Caulfield said.
Other attacks are carried out by ideological groups to punish actions that run counter to the collective’s sense of justice, he said.
Last year, for example, the group Anonymous hacked the Boston Police Department’s website in retaliation for police action against Occupy Boston demonstrators.
Caulfield said he has never done a review of Boston’s or the state’s computer systems but meets regularly with their front-line staffs.
Still, state and local governments could do a better job at coordination and information-sharing, Caulfield said.
“Right now, if somebody gets hit, they stay mum about it,” Caulfield said. “More often than not, it’s the embarrassment and loss of confidence. But the same technique that was used against them can be used against someone else. Industry, government — we’re all getting hit daily, and we lack the information we need to address it. The federal government needs to get in the business of enabling that and not being in the way.” ___