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Scientific bodies more attractive hacker targets than is apparent

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May 2, 2016

Internet security expert Craig Searle says that, on any given day, the overall manipulation of small amounts of data among large data sets could be an unrecognised threat to scientific organizations.

Searle is the original founder of Melbourne-based security consultancy Hivint. He adds that altering a few data points inside important databases, say those held by meteorological organizations could also be an overlooked objective of state-based attackers, who aim to skew subsequent scientific projections.

Searle is affirmative when he says that hacking teams could engage in exploits like stealing credentials, with that activity drawing defenders' attention to mask subtler attacks that aim to alter key data points.

Governments all over the globe will rely on all kinds of data potentially impacting decision-making and ultimately overall prosperity to many people.

“It may seem odd that attackers would go after oceanographic data (what would they want with it?) but they use the data to make critical projections,” Searle told the WAHckon security conference in Perth, Australia, Saturday.

“You only need to change a few things while causing a distraction over there. What then are the options? You might be able to restore from backups, or compare data for changes, but that’s probably not feasible,” he asserted.

Fellow security researchers at the conference say that manipulation of data may not be found during post-breach forensic investigations, since there are many variables that impact the ability to determine what hackers have stolen or altered.

Scientific bodies, including meteorological organizations, are more attractive targets than is immediately apparent, since some are responsible for national response to critical incidents.

The value of that kind of information is probably better understood by the belligerent nation than by the world at large.

In December 2015, the Australian Bureau of Meteorology was found to have suffered a major security breach that unnamed insiders blamed on China.

Source: Craig Searle.

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