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What Nations Are Most Vulnerable to Cyberattacks?

UMD Experts Created Global Ranking

By Chris Carroll

Cyber World

Graphics by Steffanie Espat

Graphics by Steffanie Espat

Reading panicky news stories about the perils of opening the wrong email, or frightening statistics on the prevalence of cyberattacks, you could get the idea that the United States is the No. 1 target of malicious hackers worldwide.

That may be conventional wisdom, but it’s wrong, UMD computer science researchers argue in a recent book, “The Global Cybervulnerability Report.”

SubrahmanianLead author V.S. Subrahmanian, a computer science professor with an appointment in UMD’s Institute for Advanced Computer Studies (UMIACS), used data provided by the computer security firm Symantec to track how often individual hosts, or computers, are targeted in various countries. His partners include Tudor Dumitras, an assistant professor of electrical and computer engineering and former researcher for Symantec.

What they found, analyzing over 20 billion reports generated by more than about 4 million computers (mainly personal and business machines) protected by Symantec products in 44 nations, was that the United States and its Northern and Western European allies are relatively safe. Overall, Scandinavian countries lead the pack.

Meanwhile, some of the world’s most dynamic developing economies, including India and China, were at or near the bottom. Russia, a country often viewed as a leading exporter of cyber mayhem, is also among the most vulnerable—perhaps, Subrahmanian says, because mounting an effective offensive cyber campaign is currently far cheaper and easier than defending against one.

Wealth appears to explain much of the difference, he says. Richer countries, where computer users have more money to spend on safe computing, generally do far better than poorer ones. (Going against the trend was relatively well-off South Korea, thanks to constant targeting by its aggressive northern neighbor.)

“The nature of the threat we face is just like those of other countries with our GDP,” he says, with one exception. American computer users seem to be uniquely vulnerable to what the book calls “misleading software”—usually fake antivirus or computer-cleaning programs designed to steal data.

Subrahmanian can’t say why that’s so—“I’m a data-driven guy,” he admits. But follow-up research will dig deeper into data to better understand what makes us vulnerable to online bad guys.

“Despite being one of the safest countries,” he says, “we’re still vulnerable and there is a great need to defend ourselves both as institutions and as individuals.”

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