Imagine you wake up one morning to find out that your country has suffered a massive cyber-attack. None of the government, banking or newspaper websites are working.
They have all suffered a Denial of Service (DoS) attack. That is, the system has been bombarded by so many false requests for information that it crashes. All you get when you try to access the site is an error message.
Many of the private websites are also down, or have been replaced with foreign propaganda.
All the government can do is place all its efforts towards shutting the websites down, to prevent any loss of information.
Now, how would you feel if I told you that this attack is not a figment of my imagination but that it actually happened?
On 27 April, 2007, Estonia was ‘cyber-attacked’ after a row with Russia. The discussion was over the removal of a Soviet war monument from the centre of the capital, Tallinn.
Estonia claimed the cyber-attack came from Russia — yet Russia denied involvement. But attacks were not just coming from Russia. There were also many attacks from private users. You see, Estonia has a large population of ethnic Russians.
The attacks continued for several days. All Estonia could do to defend itself was to cut internet access from abroad.
Estonia is a small, high-tech country. And is one of the most advanced countries in Europe in terms of e-government. As you can imagine, internet is vital to its functioning.
The cyber-attack paralysed the country. And it brought on a new reality on what a cyber-attack could do to a nation.
Why do I tell you all this?
Cyber Attacks On the Australian Census
Last night Australia’s Bureau of Statistics (ABS) suffered four DoS cyber-attacks.
It happened during census night. The 7.8 million households that live in Australia had to log in and fill out their information.
ABS had time to prepare for the census, and spent millions of dollars in doing so.
But by 7:30 pm, the ABS had to shut the site down.
The ABS says the overseas hackers did not get a hold of any information. That the attack was only aiming to wreck the census, not to steal data.
But who can be sure?
There was a lot of debate surrounding the census before it happened. You see, in previous census versions, Australians could opt in to have their names kept in the ABS database.
In this census, the information was compulsory. And some people claimed that the Census endangered participant’s privacy.
Can you imagine if most of Australia’s household information had fallen into the hacker’s hands?
The attack on the ABS has shown how vulnerable Australia is to cyber-attacks.
Rapid7 recently compiled a list of countries most vulnerable to hacking attacks. Australia only ranked 4th. Even the security-concerned US ranked 14th.
And the attacks I mentioned weren’t as severe as they could have been.
What would happen if hackers hacked into government sites and destroyed all data? Or even if they cut our energy supply? Could a modern country function for days without access to computers?
The internet has made things a lot easier for us, but it has also made us more vulnerable to cyber-attacks. Governments and businesses are now waking up to the fact that they need to invest in cybersecurity.
And this is why cybersecurity companies may be gaining ground in the future.
For The Daily Reckoning
PS: Selva recently joined the Port Phillip Publishing team as our macroeconomic analyst. She works closely with The Daily Reckoning editor Vern Gowdie on his advisory service,The Gowdie Letter.