Brazil’s Armed Forces Grapple With Cybersecurity Challenges

By Dialogo
October 29, 2012



Representatives of Brazil’s Air Force recently convened in São Paulo to discuss the prevention of cyber attacks against defense systems. Their objective is to safeguard their various units’ activities by strengthening information systems and preventing enemies from infiltrating sensitive networks.
The event signals the Air Force’s growing role in cybersecurity. Until now, the Brazilian Defense Ministry concentrated almost all computer-related security issues with the Army.
The working group took place a month after Brazil suffered its largest cyber attack ever. Local hackers associated with the LulzSec group, which temporarily crashed the CIA’s website in June, interrupted several Brazilian government web portals that same month.
Similar attacks targeting big private companies and even military sites have been on the rise for several years. Some specialists even blame hackers for a 2005 power outage north of Rio de Janeiro, as well as a 2007 blackout in Espíritu Santo state that plunged millions of people into darkness.
Brazil suffered 400,000 computer attacks in 2011, according to Brazilian government’s National Computer Emergency Response Team (known by its Portuguese acronym CERT). The think tank says home-grown hackers perpetrated most, though not all, of these incidents.
Such hackers don’t necessarily work alone, however, as evidenced by the more recent international LulzSec operation, in which at least three people were arrested for breaking into the corporate website of Sony Pictures, stealing the personal data of thousands of customers and posting it online.
CERT: Cyber threats on the rise
CERT says the increasing number, magnitude and sophistication of these attacks raise questions about the effectiveness of Brazil’s nascent cybersecurity efforts. This is of special concern to the Brazilian Armed Forces, whose very mission includes safeguarding the country’s networks and other critical infrastructure.
“Continued technological advancement of cyber threats and the increasing reliance on information systems to increase operational efficiency of the Air Force requires attention and monitoring of cyber defenses, which should be constantly reformulated and updated,” explained Col. Ricardo de Veiga Queiroz, EMAER working group coordinator for the Brazilian Air Force.
Information security is one of the three pillars of Brazil’s 2008 National Defense Strategy. With the aim of meeting its objectives, the government will invest nearly $200 million over the next four years to protect Brazil’s networks, said Army Gen. José Carlos dos Santos, director of Brazil’s Cyber Defense Center.
“The military’s interest in cyber defense goes beyond the concept of cyber warfare where, for example, state nuclear facilities could be manipulated or compromised,” said Gaston Schulmeister, a specialist in South American security issues and professor at the Argentine University of Business (UADE) in Buenos Aires. “Questions are being raised regarding the control of such things as electrical networks and dams — mostly under civilian control — that, confronted with a virtual attack, could compromise a country’s critical infrastructure.”
Brasília-based CDCiber readies for World Cup, Olympics
In 2012, the Brazilian government earmarked $45 million for the army’s Cyber Defense Center, established two years earlier. The first task of CDCiber, as it’s referred to locally, was to secure networks ahead of the United Nations’ Rio+20 sustainable development conference in June. Now it will focus on getting systems ready for the 2014 FIFA World Cup and the 2016 Summer Olympics.
“The Brazilian Army is preparing itself to confront threats of the modern world of electronic warfare in general, and of cyber defense in particular,” Brazilian Defense Minister Celso Amorim said after visiting CDCiber’s Brasília headquarters in June.
Earlier this year, the Armed Forces completed the $3.3 million purchase of an antivirus, cyber attack simulating program. That program will train army officers in 25 different cyber attack scenarios in networks similar to their own.
Beyond individual initiatives, Brazil’s Armed Forces are forging ties with partners like the United States to improve the likelihood of success in cyber protection. In April, Amorim met in Brasília for the first time with U.S. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta under a new cooperative agreement that makes cybersecurity a priority, along with technology transfer, humanitarian assistance and disaster response.
“We are talking about a global reality whose architecture and governability relies on a new set of non-state actors, which support the world’s technological platform and makeup the principal components of this new virtual system for mankind,” Schulmeister said.
These are times when uncertainty keeps its prominence, while nation states are losing it, even though they continue to be the main actors of the system. Cyberwar is coming to the periphery and we are not properly prepared to face it. Thanks to Brazil who for many reasons realizes the threat that looms, the countries of the Southern Cone have a chance. From this excellent article is inferred that we must not lose it. Thank you for bringing to light problems of our time.
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