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GCN : January 2013
GCN JANUARY 2013 • GCN.COM 9 NEWS ANALYSIS Agencies from the local to the federal level have for several years now been making some of their data sets available to the public as part of the open govern- ment movement. The idea is to allow developers to tap into that data to build applications, everything from traf c- ow apps to weather observation programs. But how does a device know what the app wants, and how to provide the resources the app needs to perform? That's the job of an application program- ming interface (API). The API interfaces the program or app with the underlying resource, whether that is hardware on a smart phone or a huge database server connected through the Internet. Essentially, it lets the different components in software communicate. It's as if R2D2 were the app, the API would be that data port it uses to con- nect with the computer on the Death Star. Actually, it would also be the form of the code signal passed through it, as well as the query language it uses to nd out all the Empire's secrets. Those pieces all make up the API in this highly geeky, increasingly out-of-control Star Wars analogy. Many public sector agencies that have been making data sets available are coming to the conclusion that they could serve innovation better by creating a publicly available API. That helps all sorts of folks make their own apps to access the data in different ways, and the best of the bunch ideally will bubble to the top. The U.S. Census Bureau last July released its rst public API for use with some of the 2010 census data. The bureau has set up a developer's forum, and is hoping for good feedback for the next time. The Energy Department also made more of its data sets available through APIs. FedScoop has put together a good instructional video that explains how an API interacts with the other parts of the app/device system. At the end is an extensive list of organizations that have started using APIs. • APIs grease the wheels for putting agency data to use [datapoint] Government --- in common with business sectors --- is being targeted by increasingly complex attacks with the intent of stealing data rather than money, according to the Verizon Data Breach Investi- gation Report. While most financially moti- vated attacks are against targets of opportunity, "when it comes to IP theft, the targeted nature of the attacks considerably changes how they are conceived and carried out," the report says. "The fact that it is usually a di erent kind of threat agent --- those looking for highly sensitive information to be used for a specific purpose, as opposed to those only looking for a quick cashout --- also changes the game." The typical attack profile is very di erent for government agencies than it is for financial targets, said Marc Spitler, senior analyst with the Verizon RISK (Research Investigations Solutions Knowl- edge) team. Rather than straight- forward hacking and malware attacks, agencies often face a lon- ger, more diverse attack chain that uses multiple types of threats. A typical attack chain might begin with a phishing expedition using social engineering, then move on to installation of malware, which can then be used for hacking, which can take advantage of errors in system configuration, followed by more hacking to access sensi- tive data. 29% Attacks targeting government info, intellectual property grow more complex Malware Hacking Social Engineering Misuse (user abuse of access privileges) Physical Error Source: Verizon Data Breach Investigation Report 47% 41% 51% 7% 7%