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Sandia faces 1.5 billion “cyber events” every day

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — Cyberwarfare is not a thing of the future, but a pervasive battle that’s well under way and growing at an alarming rate, according to John Zepper, Sandia National Laboratories’ director of computer and networking services.
Sandia faces 1.5 billion “cyber events” during every 24-hour cycle, Zepper told the Albuquerque Economic Forum on Wednesday morning. That includes many benign incidents in which someone simply mistypes a password. But it also includes many direct hacking attacks, such as fake “phishing” emails to get lab personnel to inadvertently download computer viruses and attempted break-ins on laboratory websites. 
Every day, the lab’s computer specialists see 10 to 20 new types of cyber aggression they had not seen before, Zepper said.
“It’s real, it’s here and it’s here today,” Zepper told the Forum.
Hacking attacks are impacting computer networks across the board, affecting businesses, government agencies and private individuals, Zepper said. And the aggression is coming from a range of cyber criminals, including groups seeking to steal money or property, professional hackers trying to acquire trade secrets and other data, and foreign governments conducting espionage against other countries.
“Cyber bad guys are constantly looking at what you do and what you click on,” Zepper said. “They profile you to find out what your interests are to then get you to click on things.”
As of 2012, the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington, D.C., estimated that cyber attacks were costing businesses worldwide about $445 billion per year. U.S. firms alone are losing about $100 billion annually, leading to the loss of about 200,000 jobs a year, according to the center. 
A number of high-profile cyber attacks since late 2013 have raised public awareness about cybersecurity and the dangers posed by cyber criminals. That includes a breach of Target Corp.’s networks during the Christmas 2013 shopping season that allowed hackers to steal about 40 million credit and debit card numbers and obtain personal information of about 70 million shoppers. Home Depot was also hit in September by a similar cyber assault.
And, an attack on Sony Pictures in December, which drove the studio to cancel release of the comedy film “The Interview,” exposed the American public for the first time to the potential of true cyberwarfare. The U.S. government said North Korea attacked Sony because its movie depicted the fictional assassination of North Korean leader Kim Jung-un, and that, in turn, provoked a new round of U.S. economic sanctions against North Korea.
“The cyber domain is really becoming the fifth domain of conflict after land, air, sea and space,” Zepper said.
Moreover, hacker tactics are becoming much more sophisticated, with attackers frequently downloading malware to computer networks that are used to spy on businesses or government agencies for years.
“Hackers break in and then go low and slow,” Zepper said. “They just sit there for a while to watch how the business or organization is run and obtain the ‘keys to the kingdom’ by learning how to use a business’ network to create their own accounts.”
Protecting networks requires constant vigilance and organizational agility to upgrade things as needed, Zepper said. Sandia, for example, does more than 1.5 million “patches” to its systems every year.
The lab is also working to develop new cybersecurity technology for commercial use. It recently created a program that will allow computers to generate virtual replicas of their hard drives that would act as decoys to absorb malware when surfing the web, thus blocking a virus from targeting the real hard drive. A California startup plans to market that product, with beta testing expected to begin this spring.

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