November 23, 2005 7:41 AM PST

Cyberterror 'overhyped,' security guru says

Fears of cyberterror could actually hurt IT security, a threats expert asserts.

Bruce Schneier, who has written several books on security and is the founder of Counterpane Internet Security, told ZDNet UK that officials claiming terrorists pose a serious danger to computer networks are guilty of directing attention away from the threat faced from criminals.

"I think that the terrorist threat is overhyped, and the criminal threat is underhyped," Schneier said Tuesday. "I hear people talk about the risks to critical infrastructure from cyberterrorism, but the risks come primarily from criminals. It's just criminals at the moment aren't as 'sexy' as terrorists."

Schneier was speaking after the SANS Institute released its latest security report at an event in London. During this event, Roger Cummings, director of the U.K. National Infrastructure Security Coordination Center, said that foreign governments are the primary threat to the U.K.'s critical infrastructure.

"Foreign states are probing the (critical infrastructure) for information," Cummings said. The U.K.'s (critical infrastructure) is made up of financial institutions; key transport, telecom and energy networks; and government organizations.

Schneier, though, is concerned that governments are focusing too much on cyberterrorism, which is diverting badly needed resources from fighting cybercrime.

"We should not ignore criminals, and I think we're underspending on crime. If you look at ID theft and extortion--it still goes on. Criminals are after money," Schneier said.

Cummings also said that hackers are already being employed by both organized criminals and government bodies, in what he termed the "malicious marketplace."

Schneier agrees this is an issue.

"There is definitely a marketplace for vulnerabilities, exploits and old computers. It's a bad development, but there are definitely conduits between hackers and criminals," Schneier said.

Click here to read the full interview with Schneier.

Tom Espiner of ZDNet UK reported from London.

2 comments

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Easy does it Bruce....
Although I'd agree that cyber terrorism is somewhat over hyped I'd be extremely careful not to put your considerable weight behind turning all the attention to ID theft and cyber crime (opinion wise - physically you are somewhat skinny).

You have quite a few ears out there listening to what you have to say and I think you and I both know that as far as ID theft is concerned, ID theft is mainly related to dumpster diving and mailbox pillaging. There is not anything cyber related - other than maybe purchases made under an assumed identity. That is not a cyber related issue; it's an education / physical security issue.

The "old computer" issue and the rest of the interview also has me in somewhat in a snit. I agree to a point that old computers and the future degradation of rights is an issue, but come on Bruce. Were you in a bad mood the day of the interview?

Most of the "latest / greatest" ID compromises were accomplished via "recently deployed" systems (NT4 and above  and yes there were other OSs involved) that were just not kept up to date with current patches or had bad custom programs written by the violated company installed on them. That IS NOT an issue for Government spending. That is an issue for the violated companies to address.

One thing that I would hope that you and I could agree on is that "better, faster, cheaper" never works. Pick two, but trying to do all three spells disaster.
Posted by Inetsec (40 comments )
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YOU have no clue....
Did you REALLY say "ID theft is mainly related to dumpster diving and mailbox pillaging"? What a clueless statement - you lost me there....
Posted by jmanico (55 comments )
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