The Cyberwar Arms Race

We have become too dependent on cyber technology, much to our detriment.

From the Wall Street Journal

Countries toiled for years and spent billions of dollars to build elaborate facilities that would allow them to join the exclusive club of nations that possessed nuclear weapons.

Getting into the cyberweapon club is easier, cheaper and available to almost anyone with cash and a computer.

A series of successful computer attacks carried out by the U.S. and others has kicked off a frantic and destabilizing digital arms race, with dozens of countries amassing stockpiles of malicious code. The programs range from the most elementary, such as typo-ridden emails asking for a password, to software that takes orders from a rotating list of Twitter handles.

The proliferation of these weapons has spread so widely that the U.S. and China—longtime cyber adversaries—brokered a limited agreement last month not to conduct certain types of cyberattacks against each other, such as intrusions that steal corporate information and then pass it along to domestic companies. Cyberattacks that steal government secrets, however, remain fair game.

This comes after other countries have begun to amass cyberweaponry on an unprecedented scale. Pakistan and India, two nuclear-armed rivals, regularly hack each other’s companies and governments, security researchers said. Estonia and Belarus are racing to build defensive shields to counter Russia. Denmark and the Netherlands have begun programs to develop offensive computer weapons, as have Argentina and France.

In total, at least 29 countries have formal military or intelligence units dedicated to offensive hacking efforts, according to a Wall Street Journal compilation of government records and interviews with U.S. and foreign officials. Some 50 countries have bought off-the-shelf hacking software that can be used for domestic and international surveillance. The U.S. has among the most-advanced operations.

……Governments have used computer attacks to mine and steal information, erase computers, disable bank networks and—in one extreme case—destroy nuclear centrifuges.

Nation states have also looked into using cyberweapons to knock out electrical grids, disable domestic airline networks, jam Internet connectivity, erase money from bank accounts and confuse radar systems, experts believe.

Large conventional militaries and nuclear forces are ill-suited to this new kind of warfare, which evens the playing field between big and small countries. Cyberattacks are hard to stop and sometimes impossible to trace. The West, as a result, has been forced to start reconfiguring its militaries to better meet the threat.

Access to cyberweapons, according to U.S. and foreign officials and security researchers, is far more widespread than access to nuclear weapons was at the height of the nuclear arms race, a result of inexpensive technology and the power of distributed computing.

……For example, hackers aligned with the Syrian government have spied into the computers of rebel militias, stolen tactical information and then used the stolen intelligence in the ongoing and bloody battle, according to several researchers, including FireEye Inc.

Most cyberattacks linked to the U.S. and foreign governments in recent years involve cyberspying—breaking into a computer network and stealing data. More-aggressive covert weapons go further, either erasing computer records or destroying physical property.

……The Military Balance, a widely read annual assessment of global military powers published by the International Institute for Strategic Studies in London, tallies tanks, battalions and aircraft carriers. When it comes to national cyberforces it says “capabilities are not assessed quantitatively.”

In the U.S., the National Security Agency, Central Intelligence Agency, FBI and others all play roles in combing through intelligence.

U.S. officials say their biggest concerns are the cyberweapons held by the Chinese, Russians, Iranians and North Koreans, countries that have deployed advanced attacks that either dug inside U.S. government networks or targeted top U.S. companies….

Cyberarmies tend to be integrated with a country’s military, its intelligence services, or both, as is the case in China and the U.S.

In China, hackers are famous for the relatively low-tech tactic of “phishing”—sending a flood of disguised emails to trick corporate employees and government bureaucrats to letting them into their networks.

The U.S. suspects that is how they penetrated the Office of Personnel Management, using a phishing email to breach an OPM contractor and then crack the agency’s network. The records of more than 21 million people were exposed in the 2014 and 2015 data breach, disclosed this summer. China has said it wasn’t involved.

China’s army has divisions devoted to cyberattacks, and recent evidence shows links between the country’s military and hackers who appear to be pressing the country’s interests abroad.

“They used to be snap and grab—get in and dump everything they can,” said Tommy Stiansen, co-founder and chief technology officer at Norse Corp., a California cybersecurity firm that tracks nation-state activity. “Now they trickle out the information, stay hidden in the system. We’ve even seen Chinese actors patch and repair networks once they’ve broken in.”

China opposes the militarization of cyberspace or a cyberarms race, said Zhu Haiquan, a spokesman for the Chinese Embassy in Washington, adding China “firmly opposes and combats all forms of cyberattacks in accordance with law.”

China is a belligerent country ruled by a communist authoritarian regime. No one with half a brain should expect them to honor an agreement involving cyber warfare.  They hack into everything, including American weapons systems. China’s military buildup and cyber threat has picked up speed. In response to the cyber attacks, the Pentagon created a ‘Cyber Command’ in Utah under the auspices of the NSA. American companies who do business with China  help fund the military buildup. In turn, China arms North Korea and Iran.

Propping up a communist totalitarian regime with capitalist dollars is suicidal. China is an enemy and should be treated as such instead of having the privilege of being a business associate.  Doing business with a communist country will not transform it into a freedom-nurturing society. All of the money we pour into China has come back to bite us in the ass.

Russian hackers have targeted diplomatic and political data, burrowing inside unclassified networks at the Pentagon, State Department and White House, also using emails laced with malware, according to security researchers and U.S. officials.

They have stolen President Obama’s daily schedule and diplomatic correspondence sent across the State Department’s unclassified network, according to people briefed on the investigation. A Russian government spokesman in April denied Russia’s involvement.

“Russia has never waged cyberwarfare against anyone,” Andrey Akulchev, a spokesman for the Russian Embassy in Washington, said in a written statement Friday. “Russia believes that the cybersphere should be used exclusively for peaceful purposes.”

That’s bullshit on stilts. Aside from the White House, Russia hacked Pentagon and State Department computers.

Russia’s top hackers tend to be choosier in their targets, tailoring email attacks to those they believe might unwittingly open links or attachments.

“They are sitting there trying to think through ‘how do I really want to compromise this target?’ ” said Laura Galante, director of threat intelligence at FireEye, a Silicon Valley cybersecurity company that works closely with Washington. “The Chinese just want a foothold into the target. Russian theft is very personal.”

U.S. spies and security researchers say Russia is particularly skilled at developing hacking tools. Some malicious software linked to Russia by security researchers has a feature meant to help it target computers on classified government networks usually not connected to the Internet.

The virus does this by jumping onto USB thumb drives connected to targeted computers, in the hopes that the user—such as U.S. military personnel—will then plug that USB drive into a computer on the classified network.

Computer hardware and software is already being imported to the United States preloaded with spyware and security-sabotaging components.  It can originate from anywhere.

The world-wide dependence on computer technology can have disastrous consequences. Sabotage of computer servers will bring communications, banking, security, and commuter transportation to a screeching halt.  U.S. cyber defense strategy had better be prepared for the possibility of a real shooting war.

Related articles:

More than 60 countries are developing cyberweapons. A guide to nations’ programs and capabilities. (Wall Street Journal)

Related posts:


One response to this post.

  1. Reblogged this on Brittius.

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