Fed Hack Attack Highlights Growing Need for Cybersecurity

Not even the ultra-secretive U.S. Federal Reserve has been spared from aggressive cyberattacks - making cybersecurity an even bigger concern in 2013 than before.

The central bank acknowledged this week it was the victim of a "hack attack" after the group Anonymous claimed responsibility in a Tweet on Super Bowl Sunday.

"The Federal Reserve system is aware that information was obtained by exploiting a temporary vulnerability in a website vendor product," the Fed said in a statement. "Exposure was fixed shortly after discovery and is no longer an issue. The incident did not affect critical operations of the Federal Reserve system."

Anonymous claimed it had compromised 4,000 bankers' credentials on a private computer system the Fed uses to communicate with bankers in emergencies such as natural disasters and potential acts of terrorism.

Hackers also are believed to have accessed private information including data on banks the government agency oversees as well as Fed forecasts for future economic policy actions.

The Fed said all those affected by the breach had been contacted.

The cyberattack underscores the importance of cybersecurity at a time when high-profile attacks have grown more common.

Just a few days after the Super Bowl Sunday attack, Internet security company McAfee reported a hacking operation spanning at least five years had targeted 72 governments, corporations and organizations, 49 of them in the United States.

What McAfee dubbed "Operation Shady Rat" hit government agencies at the federal, state and county level and compromised classified government information.

Reuters reported organizations hacked in the attack included the United Nations, the Association of Southeast Asian Nations and the International Olympic Committee.

Other targeted organizations included those in defense, electronics, computer security, information technology, news media, and communications technology sectors.

The Main Cyberattack Culprit

While McAfee didn't name names, China is believed to be the prime suspect in "Operation Shady Rat." To date, China hasn't commented on the report.

McAfee said the attacks were in line with the trends in cybersecurity attacks.

"What we have witnessed over the past five to six years has been nothing short of a historically unprecedented transfer of wealth -  closely guarded national secrets (including from classified government networks), source code, bug databases, email archives, negotiation plans and exploration details for new oil and gas field auctions, document stores, legal contracts ... design schematics and much more has 'fallen off the truck' of numerous, mostly Western companies and disappeared in the ever-growing electronic archives of dogged adversaries," wrote McAfee's vice president of threat research, Dmitri Alperovitch.

And it's not just companies and the government being targeted. Today (Friday) it was reported the email accounts of the Bush families were hacked. Stolen were private photo of the former presidential families and security codes.

Cybersecurity a Growing Concern

By 2020, the number of Internet users is expected to total 4 billion. That kind of explosive growth comes with serious security issues like how governments' current policies will be able to cope with that kind of unprecedented online traffic and rein in the cyberattackers, according to Microsoft's (Nasdaq: MSFT) new Security Intelligence Report.

With the attacks threatening important U.S. industries as well as high-level government information, many in Washington are rallying support behind cybersecurity laws.

"The attacks on the U.S. banking industry and now major media outlets who dared publish stories critical of the Chinese government prove this is not a theoretical threat. Foreign cyberattacks are targeting every aspect of the American economy every day and Congress needs to act with urgency to protect our national security and economy," Rep Mike Rogers, R-MI, chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, told Politico.

The bulk of new online users will hail from emerging markets, regions severely lacking in malware and Internet security controls.

Currently, most cybersecurity treaties and codes-of-conduct are enforced in developed countries like the U.S. and U.K. As more and more people gain online access, global scale initiatives are imperative to address this growth and risky change.

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