A sharp increase in the number of cyber intrusions into government and corporate computer networks has caused the United States to launch a number of new initiatives in cyber security. Many of the initiatives have focused on protecting critical infrastructure control and command systems, preventing access to sensitive government information, and thwarting acts of fraud and theft targeting business financial systems.

In February 2011, the Director of National Intelligence indicated that since 2009 there had been a 3-fold increase in malicious cyber activity targeting U.S. computers and networks. Cyber threats can be unintentional or intentional. Unintentional threats can be caused when businesses and organizations attempt to upgrade their software or maintenance procedures and inadvertently disrupt their systems when no malice had been intended. Intentional threats include both targeted and untargeted attacks from a variety of sources, including criminal groups, hackers, disgruntled employees, foreign nationals engaged in espionage, and terrorists intent on inflicting mass causalities or destroying critical infrastructure.

The sources of cyber-attacks can use various means to exploit system vulnerabilities in compromising a particular computer, a software application, an IT network, or military and critical infrastructure command and control systems. Individuals or groups may intentionally target a specific cyber asset or indiscriminately attack a broad range of assets using a virus, worm, or malware distributed over the Internet. Thus, connectivity to the Internet poses a significant vulnerability and amplifies the threat to our telecommunication, electrical power grid, transportation and other systems providing essential services to the nation.

Cyber-attacks are largely achieved through one of three means: 1) through wired and wireless Internet connections, 2) through the uploading of malicious software, and 3) through hardware transfer devices such as thumb drives. The sources of cyber-attacks include criminal groups seeking financial gain, nation states involved with espionage and plans to undermine foreign governments through a weakening of national defenses, activist groups bent on gaining public opinion or punishing those who disagree with their agenda as well as lone individuals seeking fame or fortune. Terrorist groups can also be a source of cyber-attacks; however, their current capabilities are somewhat limited.

At the national level, cyber-attacks are often categorized as those affecting national security, those affecting commerce and intellectual property, and those affecting individuals. Reported incidents strictly within the State of Ohio are few in number; however, incidents are most likely to be under reported as organizations may be reluctant to report an incident so as not to bring further attention to any vulnerability in their systems. Reported incidents in Ohio include:

  • The Nuclear Regulatory Commission confirmed that in January of 2003 the Microsoft SQL Server worm know as Slammer infected the control system at the Davis-Besse nuclear power plant in Oak Harbor, Ohio. The plant’s safety monitoring system was disabled and the plant’s process computer failed, taking about 6 hours to repair.
  • David Shaw, former chief information officer from the Ohio Office of Information Security and Privacy, said that cyber hackers constantly are working to unlock security doors that lead to personal information.
  • In 2010, hackers were able to gained access to The Ohio State University computer network reaching some 700,000 records of former and current students.
  • In Steubenville Ohio, cyber threats were received by local police and other officials following a high-profile rape case involving local high school students.

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