The latest report from Clusit (the Italian Association of Internet and IT Security) states that 2016 was the worst year ever for the evolution in cyber threats and their impact. The Interministerial Commitee for the Security of the Republic, chaired by Prime Minister Gentiloni, has devised a national cyber security plan.
Clusit stresses the phenomenal rise (+1,166%) in phishing attacks – by means of which cyber scammers persuade victims to hand over personal and financial data or login credentials by masquerading as bona fide companies – and social engineering scams – i.e. techniques of studying individual people’s behaviour in order to extort information. Malevolent common malware virus attacks also rose (+116%), and were not only small scale attacks, but also aimed at attacking important targets with significant impact.
There was a dramatic rise even in cyber warfare related attacks (+ 117%), which aim to increase geopolitical pressure or manipulate public opinion. Examples of cyber warfare attacks include those on political parties’ or institutions’ email accounts, but potential targets also include critical infrastructure such as energy, water, communications and transport services, attacks on which rose by + 15% compared to 2015.
So-called cybercrime – i.e. offences committed in order to extort money or information – represented 72% of global attacks in 2016. There has been a consistent upward trend in cybercrime since 2011, when the percentage was 36%. 32% of attacks use unknown techniques, which is 45% up on 2015.
In 2016 the healthcare sector was under increased serious attack (+ 102%) from ransomware – i.e. viruses that encrypt data on victims’ devices only released if the victims pay a ransom – and data theft. There was also a substantial rise in attacks against large scale retail distribution (+70%) and the banking and financial sector (+64%).
In geographical terms, in the second half of 2016 attacks against European targets rose from 13% to 16% and against Asian targets from 15% to 16%, whereas the number of victims in the USA seems to have dropped slightly, even if the USA remains the area most hit by cyber attacks. The tendency to attack mostly important and transnational targets was confirmed. An example of one of the most important global attacks was that against the Italian Ministry of Foreign Affairs.
The Interministerial Commitee for the Security of the Republic (Cisr) has launched a multi phase national plan for cyber security with a new decree – “indications for cybernetics protection and national information security”, which replaces the old Council of Ministers Presidential Decree of January 24th, 2013.
The new measure acknowledges the NIS (Network and Information Security) European Directive and reinforces the role of the Cisr which will issue directives with the aim of raising the level of national cyber security and will avail itself of the support of interministerial coordination on the part of the so-called “Cisr tecnico” (the Technical Interministerial Commitee for the Security of the Republic) and the Security Intelligence Department (Dis).
The new decree assigns the Director General of the DIS the task of defining appropriate courses of action to ensure the required levels of security in both public and private strategic systems and networks, identifying and removing their vulnerabilities. So as to successfully carry out these initiatives the involvement of both the academic world and the world of research is envisaged, as is the idea to use top quality resources in addition to setting up extensive co-operation with businesses in the cyber sector.
At an operational level, the Cyber Security Unit (Nsc) – now part of the Dis – will guarantee a coordinated joint response to any significant cyber attack on national security, together with specialists from all relevant Government Departments.