Cybersecurity chief: Attacks on US banks tough to pin down

Cybersecurity getting increased attention from US government after a wave of Internet attacks on US banks. Pentagon blames Iran, but cybersecurity expert Gil Shwed says they could come from any developed country.

Jacquelyn Martin/AP/File
In this September file photo, US Defense Secretary Leon Panetta speaks at a news conference at the Pentagon, in Washington. A wave of attacks on US bank websites has raised cybersecurity concerns among US government officials. The Pentagon blames Iran for the attacks.

The man often credited as being the father of Internet defense says it's still unclear where a recent wave of hacking attacks targeting the U.S. financial industry are coming from.

Gil Shwed is the co-founder and CEO of Check Point Software Technologies. Many recognize him and the company's other co-founder, Marius Nacht, as the world's pioneers in cyber-security. Shwed developed his expertise designing systems for an elite technology unit in the Israel Defense Forces years before the internet became a daily part of our lives.

 Shwed said today "Iran is definitely capable of launching these kinds of attacks but so is just about any other developed country."

 In the last several weeks reports have surfaced that several major American banks have been hit by a wave of Internet-based attacks slowing down or temporarily cutting off service.  Officials at the Pentagon were the first to point the finger at the government of Iran. Shwed agrees it is possible Iran is to blame but cautions it's very difficult to tell where attacks come from because they can be diverted over and over to cover up the actual source.

 Without admitting guilt, Iranian officials have boasted about their increasing capability to carry out such attacks.

 While the Islamic Republic of Iran is widely blamed, a group calling itself the Izz ad-Din al-Qassam Cyber Fighters Group has claimed responsibility. Their name comes from a Muslim leader that directed waves of murderous attacks targeting Jews living in the Middle East in the 1920s and 1930s.  The Izz ad-Din al-Qassam Cyber Fighters dubbed their internet attacks "Operation Ababil" (Ababil is Farsi for swallow — the Iranian government also has a fleet of Unmanned Aerial Vehicles by the same name).

 In a statement filed on the internet late Tuesday night the group said, "Operation Ababil is retaliation in response of the organized insulting to the Prophet of Islam done by some arrogant western governments." The statement then again took credit for attacks on several American banks and threatened to carry out more.

On Wednesday, a New York Times report said Iranian hackers were also able to break into the computer system of oil giant Saudi Aramco earlier this year and wipe out almost three quarters of the data saved on the company's servers.

 There are signs the U.S. Government is starting to take these threats more seriously. Earlier this month Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta sounded the alarm on the nation's cyber-security saying "an aggressor nation or extremist group could gain control of critical switches and derail passenger trains, or trains loaded with lethal chemical. They could contaminate the water supply in major cities, or shut down the power grid across large parts of the country... a cyber-Pearl Harbor that would cause physical destruction and loss of life, paralyze and shock the nation, and create a profound new sense of vulnerability.''

Shwed echoed the Secretary of Defense's comments saying "the risk is absolutely there. But it isn't just government and infrastructure agencies that need to be on guard.  Every individual with a computer is at risk. These organizations, wherever they are, can infect tens of
thousands or even millions of computers."

Shwed added keeping your company or your individual computer or mobile device's security software updated is essential.

Despite the recent wave of cyber-attacks Check Point's stock has taken a hit in the last six months, it's down about 30 percent. Shwed blames the drop in large part to concerns over the European slowdown and the impact that will have on growth. But he optimistically says "the company is doing well whether profits increase 20 percent or decrease 20 percent." He also noted despite the recent downturn, shares are up almost 35 percent over the last three years.

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