SA enters cyber cold war

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SA is shifting into a new phase of information security in which national interests will progressively conflict with the principles of Internet transparency while information security professionals are moving closer to the front lines.

So said MD of Performanta Consulting, Anthony Olivier, delivering the closing words at the ITWeb Security Summit.

He said the past year has seen national cyber security shift closer to centre stage. “We have watched and commented on cyber attacks and hacking incidents like, Aurora, Stuxnet, WikiLeaks, and Anonymous.”

These events have seen global cyber security shifting closer to centre stage, he added.

Olivier said governments will place national interests first and hacktivists – people who change or manipulate information on the Internet in order to convey a political message – will place principle first, and this will continue to be divisive and confrontational.

He said cyber attacks against South African organisations – especially information collection – will increase in both frequency and intensity as the country shifts into this new era.

Most recently, we have seen that these attacks are moving closer to home, he warned.

An example of this is hacktivst group, Anonymous, which reveals military involvement in cyber attacks and calls on South Africans to rally against the government because of poor service delivery, he said.
“A few months back, we have seen the Web sites like the ANC Youth League going under siege.”

This, Olivier said, is really worrying and it shows that the country has entered a new era of ‘cyber cold war’, in which national interests are served through ongoing covert activity.
“National interests are traversing the boundary into the world of commercial interests – and are in direct conflict with the libertarian aspirations of the open community’s desire for open access to information,” he pointed out.
“Today information security professionals are unwittingly finding themselves at the forefront of defending not only their companies, but also national interests. Information security, as a tool of national interest, has more overtly entered common parlance.
“With the shift to mobility, while we empower our populace, we also create a greater dependency on IT infrastructure.” This comes at a time when South African cyber policies are not a ratified policy document yet, he pointed out.
“Cyber legislation, or the policing thereof, is overdue. The quality of cyber inspectors and implementation of privacy legislation and awareness levels are low,” he said.

According to Olivier, neither the hactivists like Anonymous – nor any government – are true champions for libertarian aspirations.
“This new phase of information security threatens our individual freedom and we need to apply additional focus in classifying, securing and monitoring our assets.”

The travesty is that there is so much that can be done, from comprehensive awareness campaigns to data leakage prevention. “Security professionals need to seriously consider the state of our national information security defences.
“Finally – if we don’t defend the principles of open access, nobody will. As professionals, we are the gatekeepers. If we fail, successive generations will lose the freedoms we have now,” he said.