On March 7, 2012, senior officials of the Obama administration conducted a cyberattack simulation for 50 United States Senators. The Washington Post Blog described the simulation:
The scenario: a computer attack on the electricity grid in New York City during a summer heat wave.
Using PowerPoint graphics, officials explained that the attack is launched by a software virus inserted into the system when an unsuspecting power company employee clicks on an infected attachment in an e-mail — a technique known as “spear phishing.”
The virus spreads unchecked through the system, causing power outages and blackouts. The effects, officials said, could cascade. People living on the upper floors of high-rises could lose water. They might not be able to withdraw cash from ATMs, which no longer work.
The bill, S 2105 The Cybersecurity Act of 2012, is co-sponsored by Sens. Joseph I. Lieberman (I-Conn.), Susan Collins (R-Maine), John D. Rockefeller IV (D-W.Va.), and Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.). According to Secretary Napolitano , the power companies “would have performance standards that could have prevented the spear phishing attack.” This would be accomplished by more mandatory reporting of cyberattacks and increased penalties for violations of the law.
It is interesting that the attack vector chosen to demonstrate the need for this law was spearphishing. As Cisco reported in it June 2011 study, “Email Attacks: This Time It’s Personal“, spearphishing uses unique and previously unseen exploits to compromise systems. Because these attacks are previously unseen, knowing about attack A does not defend against attack B. Spearphishers do not infiltrate systems with attacks on computers, they infiltrate systems by tricking email recipients. You can see how this works by watching Spearphishing – The Movie.
When the cyberattacks target the human, the human must be hardened. A tool that hardens the human is available now from Iconix. That tool is SP Guard from Iconix.
SP Guard provides the recipient with three confirmations that a message is real:
- List View. There is an integrity indicator in the list view of the email client.
- Message. The open message has a further indicator of authenticity.
- Mouseover. Mousing over the authentication indicator in the message prompts the display of a certificate that further identifies the sender.
SP Guard now offers a fraud filtering enhancement. This additional protection is becoming increasingly important given the latest generation of highly targeted spear-phishing emails which are so well crafted that users cannot tell real from fake.
SP Guard is available now from Iconix. For further information, contact us at 408-727-6342, ext 3 or use our online form.