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What's Next on Hackers' Hit Lists -- The Disruptors

NEW YORK (TheStreet) -- From Lockheed Martin (LMT) to Citigroup (C) and even the CIA, the list of major organizations falling victim to hackers is growing at an alarming rate, fueling worries that core U.S. infrastructure is the next big target.

"If you are talking about hackers that work for foreign governments, then I think the focus would continue with defense contractors as well as anything related to the U.S. infrastructure," said Jim Stickley of cyber security specialist TraceSecurity. "That could include the power grids as well as oil refinery companies and phone systems."

Core U.S. national infrastructure is next on hackers' hitlists, say security experts

Underlining the importance of this issue, the National Security Agency has reportedly started a project called "Perfect Citizen," which aims to monitor key infrastructure such as power grids and nuclear reactors for potential cyber attacks.

Attacks that temporarily knock out an organization's Web site, such as the ones which recently targeted the CIA and the IMF, are also likely to proliferate, according to John D'Arcy, an assistant professor at the University of Notre Dame's Mendoza College of Business.

"The next likely target will be a high-profile government Web site or system, or else one of the larger U.S. companies' sites such as Google (GOOG)," he explained. "These hacking groups are really trying to make a splash by going after high-profile targets (such as the IMF site) and I expect that trend to continue."

TraceSecurity's Stickley also notes a new approach from some hackers shifting their approach away from individual consumers.

"The next generation of attacks will focus less on the home users and more on the employees of organizations," he said. "[For example] if I am a hacker and can infect one teller computer on a banking network, I can write automated code to use the credentials of that teller to gain access to the core processor and retrieve the confidential information of every single customer."

Set against this backdrop, Mike Prettejohn, a director of U.K.-based Internet services firm Netcraft told TheStreet that he expects to see businesses focus attention on application-level security. F5 Networks (FFIV), which sells all-in-one security "god boxes" is particularly well positioned, according to Prettejohn.

"I would expect to see more and more companies front their Web sites with an F5 device, as that covers a lot of key aspects -- reliability, load balancing, performance, and also application level security," he said.

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