If this decade has a “theme” when it comes to technology, it just might be the rise of the modern data center. While enterprises marvel at the power of data centers to make using business applications easier, and the rest of us take advantage of cloud services to store our data, it’s important to remember that the elements that make these centralized repositories of computing power so appealing can also have ominous implications when misused.
Traditionally, hackers have made use of individual computers, or a networked string of individual computers, to do their dirty work. Increasingly, however, more sophisticated hackers are turning to data centers to harness the very power we admire so much.
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Recent attacks on U.S. banks by hackers are breathtaking in their intensity, surpassing all previous scope and damage. Since September of last year, Bank of America, Citigroup, Wells Fargo, U.S. Bancorp, PNC, Capital One, Fifth Third Bank, BB&T and HSBC have all experienced similar attacks.
According to the New York Times, security researchers say that instead of exploiting individual computers, the attackers engineered entire networks of computers in data centers. The sophisticated and coordination of the attacks have led U.S. government officials to believe that it’s not simply a few malicious attackers seeing what they could accomplish: instead, security agencies are blaming Iran, and believe the attacks are retaliation for U.S. sanctions on the nation.
“There is no doubt within the U.S. government that Iran is behind these attacks,” said James A. Lewis, a former official in the State and Commerce Departments and a computer security expert at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington.
Analysts have not offered any direct proof of these assertions, but say that a clue is in the intent of the attacks: they were not orchestrated to steal money or customer data, but instead to simply wreak havoc.
The dedicated denial of service (DDoS) attacks have originated from data centers all around the world. The various cloud services and public Web hosting services involved have all been infected with a complex kind of malware that is able to elude current security protocols.
The attacks are similar in nature to attacks waged on the nation of Estonia and its banks and media outlets in 2007. Though it was never proven (or if it was, the information was never made public), the attacks were thought to be state-sponsored by the Russian government. (The trigger event was the Estonians' removal of a Bronze Soldier Soviet war memorial in the Estonian capital of Tallinn.)
While the world in general becomes a more peaceful place (qualified by a reduction in the number of global wars), it’s hard not to wonder if the next battle front won’t involve guns, missiles and armies, but organized cyber-terrorism intended to cripple entire nations and their critical networks.
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