Posts Tagged ‘Cyber-Warfare’

The dangerous new cold war in cyberspace

November 28, 2018

When President Barack Obama was pondering what to do about Russian interference in the 2016 elections, his intelligence chiefs, according to New York Times reporter David Sanger,  considered the following possibilities for retaliation:

  • Reveal the secret tax haven accounts of Vladimir Putin and his oligarch friends.
  • Shut show the servers of Guccifer 2.0, DCLeaks and WikiLeaks, the web sites that disseminated confidential Democratic National Committee e-mails
  • Attack the computer systems of the GRU, the Russian military intelligence system.
  • Cut off the Russian banking system’s connection with SWIFT, the international clearinghouse for banking transactions.

Those are the kinds of things that are now possible.

None of these options were acted upon or even brought officially to the President’s notice.  The reason is that American computer systems would be virtually defenseless against retaliation.

It would be a new form of mutually assured destruction, less lethal than nuclear weapons, but still capable of destroying an industrial society’s ability to function.

For that reason President Obama chose to use economic and diplomatic sanctions instead.

Sanger in his new book, THE PERFECT WEAPON: War, Sabotage and Fear in the Cyber Age, described this new ongoing cold war and arms race in cyber weapons.

Nations are developing the capability to use the Internet to shut down each others’ electric power grids, financial institutions and other vital public services, as well as engage in espionage and political subversion.

Each country’s cyberwar aims are somewhat different, Sanger wrote.   Russia uses the Internet to spread propaganda and disinformation, but it also has “embeds” in the U.S. electrical grids and voter registration systems.

China’s interest is in electronic espionage to acquire U.S. intellectual property and trade secrets for its high tech industry.  North Korea and Iran just retaliate against U.S. economic sanctions.

He reported that the United States Cyber Command has the most powerful offensive cyber weapons, yet the United States is vulnerable to cyber retaliation from even as backward a country as North Korea.

One way to defend against this would be to strengthen defenses, by encouraging all American institutions to protect their data by means of secure cryptography.

Sanger reported that the FBI, CIA and NSA are reluctant to do this because they want access to private computer and communications systems themselves.

Cyber surveillance is, as he said, a powerful means to track spies, terrorists and criminals and, I would add, dissidents and protesters.

So we Americans are more vulnerable than we know to cyber attacks, and our government isn’t telling us about our vulnerability.

∞∞∞

The first major act of cyberwarfare, according to Sanger, was the unleashing of the Stuxnet virus against Iran’s nuclear development program in 2010.

The attack, according to Sanger, was planned by the National Security Agency and Israel’s Unit 8300 military cyber unit in order to appease Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, so that he would not order a bombing attack on Iran.

The operation, called Olympic Games, took out about 1,000 of Iran’s 6,000 or so centrifuges, and caused the Iranians to shut down many more out of fear, he wrote.

But a year later, Iran had 18,000 centrifuges in operation.  At best, its nuclear development program was delayed for a year, not stopped permanently.

The Iranians might never have been completely sure what hit them, except the the Stuxnet virus spread beyond Iran into industrial computer systems all over the world.  Computer scientists analyzed the virus and figured out its purpose.

He said the United States developed another plan, called Nitro Zeus, a cyber attack that, in case of war, would shut down all of Iran’s electrical and electronic systems.

 The significance, Sanger pointed out, was that it set a precedent, like the dropping of the atomic bomb on Hiroshima.

(more…)

When the shoe is on the other foot

July 17, 2018

Jack Goldsmith, who posts on the Lawfare blog, asked what will happen when Russia, China and Iran start naming and indicting U.S. officials for computer intrusions and interfering in their politics.

As the Snowden documents and David Sanger’s great new book and other books make plain, and as U.S. officials are wont to brag, the U.S. intelligence services break into computers and computer networks abroad at an astounding rate, certainly on a greater scale than any other intelligence service in the world.

Every one of these intrusions in another country violates that country’s criminal laws prohibiting unauthorized computer access and damage, no less than the Russian violations of U.S. laws outlined in Mueller’s indictment.

This is not a claim about the relative moral merits of the two countries’ cyber intrusions; it is simply a claim that each side unequivocally breaks the laws of the other in its cyber-espionage activities.  [snip]

Recall that President Obama boasted that U.S. offensive cyber capacities were the greatest in the world.

Sanger reports that “the United States remains the world’s stealthiest, most skillful cyberpower.”

Then consider:

  • The wide array of U.S. cyber intrusions abroad revealed by Snowden.
  • Olympic Games, the operation against Iranian centrifuges that Michael Hayden compared in significance to the use of nuclear weapons in August 1945.
  • The Shadow Broker leaks of many of the NSA’s offensive tools and what the NSA was doing with those tools.
  • The U.S. Internet Freedom program, which (among other things) provides cyber tools and training to activists in authoritarian nations with the aim of achieving political change there.
  • U.S. officials assisting and urging U.S. social media giants such as Twitter to help activists bring down foreign governments.

This is but a bit of the public evidence—surely a tiny sliver of the overall evidence—of U.S. “interferences” abroad using offensive cyber tools of various sorts.

This is not to say, Goldsmith wrote, that Robert Mueller is wrong to pursue his investigation or that we Americans should not be concerned about securing our computer systems.

But if we want other governments to change their behavior, we must be willing to admit and change our own.

LINKS

Uncomfortable Questions in the Wake of Russia Indictment 2.0 and Trump’s Press Conference by Jack Goldsmith for Lawfare.  Worth reading in its entirety.

How to Stop Russian Election Interference by Ian Welsh.

(more…)

A brief history of cyber-scares

March 22, 2017

From Russia, With Panic: Cozy bears, unsourced hacks—and a Silicon Valley shakedown by Yasha Levine for The Baffler.   It’s a bit long, but well worth reading in its entirety.

Cyber war is real war – let’s not blunder into it

December 31, 2016

worldscyberforces2015aaeaaqaaaaaaaasyaaaajdblztcxndc4lwq0ntatngzmms1hzgiwlthmzmnlzgfmyzcwma

President Obama seems hell-bent on spending his 20 remaining days in office in pushing the United States into a cyber-war with Russia.

In terms of domestic partisan politics, this may be smart.  Foreign policy toward Russia is a wedge issue between Republican war hawks in Congress and President-elect Donald Trump.

In terms of the national interest, this is irresponsible as well as improper.

Much of the U.S. press it takes for granted that Russian intelligence services obtained confidential DNC e-mails and transferred the information to Wikileaks.  This may or may not be true.

The determination as to what happened and what to do about it should be made by the incoming administration, which will have the responsibility for dealing with the consequences.

I do not have confidence in President-elect Trump’s judgment, but he does have sense enough to see that there is no fundamental conflict of interest between Russia and the USA (except maybe over access to the oil and gas resources of the Arctic, which is not currently an issue).

(more…)

Russia accused of war by using weaponized truth

October 18, 2016

wireap_8cf7592f8cbc452287d88d28e2e8d9ec_16x9_1600

Russian intelligence services are accused of waging cyber-warfare by releasing embarrassing Hillary Clinton e-mails through Wikileaks.

There is no direct evidence of where Wikileaks got the Clinton e-mails, but the Russians have the capability and the motive to hack her system.

Would this be an act of war?  I for one would welcome war by means of weaponized truth.

If revealing accurate information about your geopolitical enemy is a form of warfare, I think escalation of this kind of warfare would be a good thing and not a bad thing.

I think the NSA and the CIA should retaliate by arranging the release of damaging secret information about Vladimir Putin—maybe through Wikileaks as a form of poetic justice.

In fact, there are those who think they already have done so, through the Panama Papers leak

(more…)

Russian cyber-warriors and the U.S. election

June 17, 2016

The Democratic National Committee charges that Russian hackers penetrated its files on Trump opposition research.   Some people also speculate that Hillary Clinton’s e-mails have been hacked.

If Vladimir Putin—I emphasize if—is intervening in the U.S. election on behalf of Donald Trump, this could backfire not only against Trump, but in a dangerous way against Putin and Russia.

Vladimir PutinPutin and Trump have repeatedly praised each other.  Trump advocates better relations with Russia (which I agree with) while  Clinton has compared Putin to Hitler, which is the worst thing you can say about a Russian leader.

Paul Manafort, Trump’s main campaign adviser, managed the comeback of the pro-Russian Viktor Yanukovitch as President of Ukraine in 2010.   A Hillary Clinton protege, Victoria Nuland, helped engineer the overthrow of Yanukovich in 2014.  A leaked phone conversation in which she discussed strategy may well have come from Russian intelligence services.

So you have an American election aligned with factions in a conflict in a foreign country.  This is not good.

It is true that Russians, Chinese and other foreign hackers are attacking U.S. computer systems all the time, and that the CIA and NSA hack foreign systems.  It is true that U.S. intelligence agencies have been interfering in foreign elections for decades.  And it is true that foreign lobbyists actively try to influence American policy.

But this would be the first time a foreign intelligence service was caught intervening on behalf of a presidential candidate in an American national election.

We don’t know the full story yet.  Maybe this is less sinister than it seems.   But maybe Putin sees electing Trump as a way of crippling the United States without a nuclear strike.  Or maybe somebody is playing some sort of double game.  We’ll see how it plays out.

(more…)

Stuxnet computer virus spread beyond Iran?

November 12, 2013

The Stuxnet computer virus, which disrupted the Iranian nuclear program, is believed to have been created by the Israeli or U.S. intelligence services.  Its workings are explained in the video above, which was aired by the Australian Broadcasting Company in 2011.

Now a version of the virus has been detected in a Russian nuclear power plant and the International Space Station, Eugene Kaspersky, a Russian cyber-security consultant, said in a talk at Australia’s National Press Club.

So far as I know, his statement has not yet been confirmed by anyone else.  If true, this is seriously bad news because there is no reason to think these are the only sites outside Iran that are infected.

It is easier to let genies out of bottles than to put them back.

(more…)

We’re already in the middle of a cyber-war

June 13, 2013

Evolution of Warfare

The United States is in the middle of an undeclared war with Iran, a cyberwar that is a much greater threat to the nation and its institutions than Al Qaeda ever was or could have been.   Nations depend on computer systems and Internet communications for everything from electrical distribution to banking.   Computer viruses and malware that disrupt these systems could be devastating.

nsaThe nature and seriousness of the cyberwar is revealed in two new articles, one by James Bamford in Wired magazine and the other by Michael Joseph Gross in Vanity Fair.   Bamford, who has reported on the National Security Agency for more than 30 years, profiled General Keith Alexander, who is director of the National Security Agency, chief of the Central Security Service and commander of the U.S. Cyber Command, which gives him command the Tenth Fleet, the 24th Air Force and the Second Army.  Alexander’s aim is full spectrum dominance of cyberspace, equivalent to U.S. military domination of the air and space.

The cyberwar with Iran was begun in the mid-2000s with the launching of the Stuxnet malware system to shut down of the Iranian nuclear facility at Natanz.   As with the dropping of the atomic bomb on Hiroshima, Stuxnet took warfare to a new technological level, and it was the United States that led the way.

 Since then there have been other computer attacks on Iran and Iranian interests, and what appear to be counterattacks.   A computer virus wiped out the memories of the Aramco computer system in Iran, and there was a “distributed denial of service” attack on U.S. banks in May.  Both of these are a foretaste of what may happen.  Somebody hacked into the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers records on 13,991 high-hazard dams—dams whose failure could result in loss of human life.

In parallel to this, the NSA has conducted a massive and highly successful electronic espionage campaign against China, according to Matthew M. Aid in Foreign Policy magazine.   This is spying, not sabotage.   But it may explain why Chinese President Xi Jinping probably isn’t impressed with President Obama’s complaints about Chinese espionage.   And it also may explain why Edward Snowden may think he can get political asylum in Hong Kong.

The significant thing about all this, for me, is that the United States has been plunged into virtual war in secret, without any public knowledge or debate until after the fact.   We have a visible government and an invisible government, and the invisible government is the more powerful of the two.

Click on the following for more.

NSA Snooping Was Only the Beginning.  Meet the Superspy Leading Us into Cyberwar by James Bamford in Wired.

The Changing and Terrifying Nature of the New Cyber-Warfare by Michael Joseph Gross in Vanity Fair.

Inside the NSA’s Ultra-Secret China Hacking Group by Mathew M. Aid in Foreign Policy.

(more…)