HONOLULU (KHON2) — Homeland Security Investigations called Honolulu an enticing target for our enemies after they intercepted a cyber attack on critical infrastructure.
HSI isn’t naming the international hacking group it said was behind the attack.
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HSI did confirm an arrest has been made by Homeland Security Investigations agents, and international law enforcement agencies.
This comes as the war in Ukraine has heightened cyber security in the islands.
Homeland Security Investigations agents on the mainland gave the Honolulu agents a tip last week.
Officials said investigators identified an international hacking group responsible for the attack.
The potential attack came last week, but HSI said it disrupted the significant breach involving a private company’s servers associated with an under-sea cable.
“We tracked it from Asia we tracked it to Oceania, and then working with partners in that region we were able to actually get access to some electronic devices,” HSI special agent in charge John Tobon said.
Those devices helped HSI crack the case through computer forensics, thwarting a potential large outage of internet, cable service, and cell phones on Oahu.
“Everyone’s heard the term weapons of mass destruction. This is what we call weapons of mass disruption,” retired Marine Corps intelligence officer Hal Kempfer said. “It’s extremely disruptive. If you can’t communicate if you can’t use your cell phones, if you can’t send large amounts of data streaming back and forth across the Pacific, all these things slow everything down.”
Kempfer said he thinks these oceanic cables are highly vulnerable to an attack, and if successful could have a large impact on civilians and the military.
“Even though certainly Department Defense and other parts of federal government have different ways to communicate if they need to, day-by-day certainly for standard administrative communication and stuff like that, they use the same cables they use the same thing as everybody else,” Kempfer said.
While HSI declined to say what group was responsible for the attack, HSI has been on heightened alert since the war in Ukraine started. Ukraine says it thwarted a sophisticated Russian cyber attack on it’s power grid on Tuesday, April 12.
“It’s increased significantly because that is something that we have expected, continue to expect, and for the forseeable future be looking for in terms of those cyber attacks that we know that frankly Russia is incredibly capable of pulling off as they’ve done in the past,” Tobon said.
There are also criminal organizations that launch cyber attacks for ransom, but Kempfer said Russia and China are known to use criminal organizations to execute cyber attacks on their behalf.
“Both Russia security services and the Chinese security services, use ostensive criminal organizations as kind of a as a walled off, cut out if you will, to go do nefarious acts for them,” Kempfer said.
Tobon said no matter who it is, Hawaii will continue to be a target with it’s military significance.
“Our enemies want to create disruption here because that way they would be in a better position to conduct bigger attacks on the mainland,”
Cyber attacks are not limited to infrastructure or military, they can be used on private businesses as well as residents.
“HSI Honolulu is on the frontlines of the cyber fight every day, and our expertise in this area is unmatched,” said Special Agent in Charge John F. Tobon. “We live in paradise, but that does not mean there is a diminished threat, particularly in the cyber world. Our goal is to interrupt the hackers before serious damage is done.”
“We’re all responsible as far as cybersecurity and the greater cybersecurity, not just ours but obviously once one person’s information is breached, that can open doors to other individuals and networks,” Tobon added. “So really it’s about maintaining that heightened sense of awareness when you’re being phished, when they’re trying to get you to click on things in emails.”
HSI did not say what company was targeted, but Hawaiian Telcom says the attack was not on their systems. Spectrum has not responded to an inquiry.
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Officials said there is no immediate threat at this time.