© 2024 Milwaukee Public Media is a service of UW-Milwaukee's College of Letters & Science
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations

Protecting Yourself From Cyberattacks In the New Year


Since the United States accused North Korea of being behind last month's cyber attack on Sony, some Internet security experts suggested the blame may actually lie elsewhere. Among them was Norse Corporation, who are now working with the U.S. government on the Sony investigation. On the Norse website, there's a virtual war room map. You can see multiple attacks launched every second, hitting their targets halfway around the globe. Kurt Stammberger is the senior vice president at Norse. He says Norse uses a global network of eight million sensors disguised to look like attractive targets.

KURT STAMMBERGER: They pretend to be a point-of-sale machine - a credit card swiper, an ATM terminal. They pretend to be a piece of industrial equipment on a plant floor. And based on the intelligence that we get back from this network, we can tell who's attacking what types of devices. And we can also profile the types of actors that are unleashing these attacks.

RATH: The attack on Sony - was that different just in terms of the scale of the attack, or were the attackers using a different approach - a different way in - than these daily attacks that we're talking about?

STAMMBERGER: Well, we really can't comment in any depth about the Sony hack because all of the data that we've generated and the investigations that we've done have been turned over to the FBI. That being said, the attacks that we saw on Sony did not seem to be fundamentally unusual from a mechanical standpoint. They used pieces of malware that had been seen in the wild in the past. They used techniques that are well understood. Some of the interesting things about the Sony attack was how targeted it was. A lot of malware is a little bit like a Roomba. You know, it's a little robot that runs around the carpet and bumps into furniture and then turns right and then bumps into something else and turns left. And when it runs across a piece of dirt, it picks it up. This malware that was deployed against Sony was a lot less like a Roomba and a lot more like a cruise missile. It had credentials, server addresses, digital certificates - all these things that were built into the malware that allowed this malware to target that organization and extract information and be very destructive.

RATH: Kurt, finally, I think I want you to talk me down a bit because looking at that map - all these attacks happening every second of every day - it is scary. Should I feel so frightened?

STAMMBERGER: Frankly, yes.

RATH: Oh no.


STAMMBERGER: It should disturb you.

RATH: Now, we should say, in fairness, it serves your corporate interest to say it, right?


STAMMBERGER: Right. Exactly. 2014 was, by far, the worst year ever for cyber attacks. It grew by an amazing amount, both in terms of the dollars lost and the sheer destructiveness of the attacks. This is a war that the hackers are winning right now. So it behooves listeners and everyday citizens to take some basic steps to protect themselves - change their passwords, use different passwords at different sites. Keep basic security software on your machine up to date. Use a firewall. Ask a friend if this all intimidates you, and you're not quite sure how your machine is set up. And ask for help from professionals because this is real. It is growing very quickly. And it is impacting the flow of commerce on the Internet.

RATH: Kurt Stammberger is a senior vice president at the IT security company Norse. Kurt, thanks very much.

STAMMBERGER: Thank you for having us. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.