Destructive hacking attempts targeting critical infrastructure in the Americas are more widespread than commonly believed. Jeanne Yurman reports.
Computer hackers want more than to just steal data. They want to destroy it and manipulate equipment far more than widely believed. A survey by the Organization of American States or OAS of more than 570 critical infrastructure organizations in North and South America found surpassingly high numbers are targets of destructive attacks. Forty percent of respondents say hackers attempted to shut down their computer networks. Forty-four percent said they faced attempts to delete files. And fifty-four percent said hackers tried to control equipment. Reuters reporter Joseph Menn calls the figures mind-blowing. SOUNDBITE: JOSEPH MENN, REUTERS REPORTER (ENGLISH) SAYING: "These are the vital companies and public institutions that run dams, power plants, they run ports. These are the guys that you are most worried about in the event of a war, and these guys are seeing destructive attacks at perhaps ten times more often than the average person would have thought that those hacks were occurring." The public is well aware of data breaches like those affecting Target and Home Depot. It is less aware of destructive hack attacks like the one that hit Sony Pictures last year. Hackers took control of and distributed employee data and unreleased films, upset about the comedy "The Interview". These attacks - that companies usually keep private - take many forms. Dave Damato of computer security consulting firm, Mandiant. SOUNDBITE: DAVE DAMATO, MANAGING DIRECTOR, MANDIANT (ENGLISH) SAYING: "It could be where there's a ransom on a number of files that have been encrypted by an application known as cryptolock which is common malware which thieves use to extort money out of individuals. It may include deleting files that cover their tracks. It could be denial of service attacks that were launched on many banks last year." Businesses have improved their defenses but many aren't able to spend enough on computer security pointing to more Sony-like headlines ahead. SOUNDBITE: DAVE DAMATO, MANAGING DIRECTOR, MANDIANT (ENGLISH) SAYING: "I do expect a trend to increase where we see more destructive attacks on the scale of a Sony or some other organization where we see an entire company being impacted, critical infrastructure being impacted and that's simply based on past trends as organizations like terrorists or nation states like North Korea or Iran become more sophisticated and have the ability to attack." Experts say a great deal more funding and effort is needed to fend off destructive attacks, especially as hacking tools become more readily available to the hackers.