The massive cyberattacks on internet infrastructure this fall powered by networks of infected devices were probably orchestrated by “script kiddie” amateur hackers, a former senior CIA official warned Wednesday, heralding a “terrifying” new era in which disgruntled individuals could bring down the internet.
“Think about it,” former CIA Chief Technology Officer Ira “Gus” Hunt said. “It wasn’t a nation-state, it wasn’t organized crime … it was one individual who was ticked off with a gaming company,” according to media reports in the wake of the Oct. 21 distributed denial of service, or DDoS, attack. The attack, powered by millions of infected devices, temporarily crippled internet infrastructure provider Dyn and knocked major websites offline for several hours.
“That is a terrifying prospect,” Hunt said, “That is what we are facing with the Internet of Things.” Hunt, who now runs Accenture Federal Services’ cybersecurity practice spoke at a Washington, D.C., event organized by FedInsider.
He echoed a recent warning from NSA Deputy Director Rick Ledgett that the exponential growth of networked consumer devices was creating a pool of vulnerable computing power that could be turned against any target that hackers desire.
“We don’t have any conception and haven’t thought through what that means,” he said.
“It’s going to go from bad to worse,” he explained to CyberScoop after his speech. “We’re going to have to ride this out for a bit … [But] eventually capabilities will emerge that … shift the paradigm.”
In 2013, another former senior intelligence official, retired NSA and CIA Director Gen. Michael Hayden, warned about the possibility of a “digital mass shooter” — an outraged or deranged amateur hacker able to obtain cyberweapons currently available only to nation-states and organized crime. Such a super-empowered individual could attack critical infrastructure, Hayden warned.
In October, malicious software created by an Arizona teenager spread on iPhones and caused telephone denial of service attacks against 911 centers across the country.
“People have been warning about this possibility for some time,” Hunt told CyberScoop. “But now it’s actually happening.”