03.26.13

One official dissenter

Posted in Cyberterrorism, Shoeshine at 3:54 pm by George Smith

If there’s a Congressional hearing on cyberwar always view it as a scripted exercise, one in which the “experts” are carefully chosen to throw a scare into laymen.

Such was the case with House meetings on the matter last week.

An Albany Tribune piece on one meeting collects the fear-mongering:

Computer attacks on South Korea underscore the growing threat of cyber warfare that starts with the flip of a switch, computer security experts told federal lawmakers Wednesday.

North Korea is a “wild card” when it comes to computer attacks because the country has the desire to launch attacks and a growing capability, said Frank J. Cilluffo, co-director of the Cyber Center for National and Economic Security at George Washington University.

Although North Korea is certainly a suspect behind attacks that shut down some South Korean banks and TV stations, President Obama and South Korean officials have not officially indicated that North Korea, China or any other nation is responsible.

Hacking by China and Russia is “brazen, wholesale and significant,” and Iran poses a growing threat, Cilluffo said.

“Both our national security and our nation’s economic security are at risk,” Cilluffo told the Homeland Security Subcommittee on Cybersecurity, Infrastructure Protection and Security Technologies. “It’s literally as easy as flipping a switch to attack.”

Note the use of the “flip the switch” meme twice, the idea that the US can be turned off, or at least parts of it, like a light bulb, from afar.

Iran’s cyberwar capabilities keep Texas Republican Michael McCaul “up at night,” the story adds. Iran, claims the politician, is “testing us,” seeing just how far it can go before we respond.

It’s outright lying by omission, a feature common to cyberwar discussions.

Iran has been the target of a US cyber-sabotage and espionage operations aimed at its nuclear program, one in which malware specifically written for the purpose has been put into its networks.

As I’ve written previously, the US is in a lousy position to make arguments, or even recommendations, on proper conduct in cyberspace. This is because it is an untrustworthy international partner, one which will not be held to standards of conduct it publicly demands from others. (The majority in American power find this of no consequence under the rationale that as the preeminent and transcendent world power, the United States can always act any way it wants and that hypocrisy or an establishment of untrustworthiness does not apply.)

Ours is a country that routinely uses feeble actors in cyberspace — like Iran — as bogeymen in public statements on the dangers of cyberwar without including in the narrative the fact that we provoked them.

Summarizing, I put it this way (it’s necessary to repeat stuff as part of any public information service):

However, in cyberspace the US government, in developing and unleashing malware on its enemies in the Middle East, has made a world environment where vulnerabilities are commodities and capabilities, information not to be shared because of applications in cyber-weaponry …

Paradoxically, the US government has contributed to the creation of a global Internet security environment where information is not to be shared because there is value in [hoarding and secrecy]. Critical vulnerabilities have great worth in cyber-weapons development. This has created a gray market in which the vulnerabilities, information of zero social value, are sold at good profit.

As with [any] discussions [going forward on] cyberwar and the creation of cyber-weapons, the American government, by its actions, has cut the ground from under its feet on being in position to take the high [position], right from the start. . .

Congressional hearings call panels usually top-heavy with “experts” who are merely there to mine and spread fear.

Frank Cilluffo, for example, goes way back to the time when the propagandizing fell under the phrase “electronic Pearl Harbor.”

Here’s Cilluffo, from the old Crypt Newsletter’s timeline on the official propaganda on “electronic Pearl Harbor,” dating from the Nineties:

December 15, 1999: “Future War in Cyberspace” was the title of a special broadcast on the Voice of America US government radio station. Disclosure: Crypt News made an appearance in it.

“At least twice this year, [the Pentagon’s] Dr. John Hamre has said the United States was in the middle of a cyber war — and the pace of attacks on US Military computers has increased since then,” read the announcer

John Hamre said: “We are in a day to day, virtual cold war. In that sense that we have people trying to disrupt the Department of Defense’s computers on a daily basis. So far, we are staying ahead of the problem. But just barely.”

Frank Cilluffo, of the Center for Strategic and International Studies think tank said the danger of cyberterror “is real and constant.”

“The myth persists that the United States hasn’t been invaded since 1812. I’d like to inform you otherwise. And that is the fact that invasion through cyberspace is now a daily occurrence,” Cilluffo said for Voice of America.

” . . . George Smith is skeptical that offensive military operations will work very well in cyberspace.”

“For years, Mr. Smith has been writing a newsletter on computer break-ins . . . He says Pentagon officials are overstating the danger from computer hackers and intruders.”

“Nevertheless, [Smith] expects the United States and many other nations to try to create ‘cyber-attack’ forces: ‘I think it is likely that people will try, I think it is unlikely they will have any impact.'”

“Mr. Smith says armies in Bosnia and the Gulf War faced computer problems, including viruses. He says they coped with them in much the same way they coped with flat tires on vehicles, or worn out parts on aircraft.

“[Smith] said] the idea that small groups of people, armed only with keyboards, could seriously hurt a powerful military force belongs in Hollywood — not the battlefield.”

Take time to review the entire archive. It’s the only one like it on the Internet, the only record of US (and western) cant on the then emerging subjects of cyberterrorism and cyberwar. You’ll see how the arguments have remained fantastic, self-serving and delivered for maximum scare.

There was one dissident in a House hearing entitled Cyber Attacks: An Unprecedented Threat to U.S. National Security, convened by the House subcommittee Europe, Eurasia and Emerging Threats, Martin Libicki of the RAND Corporation.

Reporter Andrew Conte of the Albany newspaper mentions him not at all although, mysteriously, he is included in the photograph accompanying the piece cited above.

This is standard behavior in US press stories on alleged, emerging or immediate threats. Critics, even the mildest, are edited completely out of the discussion in favor of direst claims. This is the way it has been for the past decade. Occasionally someone who goes against the assembled received wisdom of calamity is brought in. But the overall trend has been to stamp out anything like that.

In the House hearing, Libicki essentially testified that government ought to be careful with the fear-mongering talk of cyberwar.

From RT:

Earlier this week Martin Libicki, a senior management scientist at the RAND Corporation, warned the House Homeland Security Committee to be wary of the line between realistic projections regarding cybersecurity and fear-mongering.

“The more emphasis on the pain from a cyberattack, the greater the temptation to others to induce such pain — either to put fear into this country or goad it into a reaction that rebounds to their benefit,” he said. “Conversely, fostering the impression that a great country can bear the pain of cyberattacks, keep calm and carry on reduces such temptation.”

Libicki argued, very briefly (he was the last to testify), for the House hearing on the “unprecedented threat” — that if a “cyber-9/11” were to occur, because it is a cyberattack the US doesn’t have to rush off and do something rash. The inference, here, being baldly obvious. It was a worthwhile issue to take up, he said.

In doing so he cited the cost of the actual 9/11 attacks, in excess of 250 billion dollars, and a further trillion in the Iraq war.

In a cyberattack is is possible to “take the time to think things through,” Libicki told the committee. “Even though a computer is taken out, another may be close at hand…”

We should not back ourselves into a corner where we always have to respond, he continued.

“In some cases the narrative must allow the attacker to back down gracefully.”

“What are the norms of conduct?” he asked.

Substantively, in creating a public impression that cyberattacks have the most extreme consequences, an expectation has been created in which the country may be compelled to respond out of proportion to the actual impact. (The House page is here. However, the reader will find that the links to the text copies of the testimony are, conveniently, 404s. The video record is more difficult sledding.)

The fear-mongers of cyberwar have now latched onto the stratagem of using monetary figures to describe the losses to Chinese espionage. Currently, their story is that such espionage has cost the United States more than the 9/11 attacks.

This left the committee in a quandary. California Republican member, Dana Rohrabacher, who took the opportunity to give a little speech [1] on the perfidy of Chinese “elites,” was discomfited by it at the end.

Rohrabacher seemed unable to completely endorse the idea that Chinese cyberwar against the United States was more damaging to the country than 9/11.

However, Greg Autry, Senior Economist for the Coalition for a Prosperous America, used the committee to launch a full frontal attack on China. (The organization has a footprint of virtually zero in the news media. And its organizational website “about” page sheds no particular light on who funds or is behind it.)

Excerpted (all errors in transcription, mine):

“[China sees] us as weak and foolish, to be controlled …

“[We] need to make sure the internet is not debased by hoodlums or nations who do not appreciate the rule of law. The Chinese government cannot think of enough things to do from the money they are earning
from the economic warfare they have been executing against the United States …

“[Their] cyberattacks against the United States are in the same financial class as the 9/11 attacks. They are costing clearly billions
and, I believe, hundreds of billions of dollars … This results in loss of life of Americans as well …

I believe that if the [Chinese military cyberwar building, PLA Unit 61398] was a segment of the Iranian Republican Guard located in Tehran, that building would be a smoldering pile of rubble before I could testify…”

Near the end of the hearing RAND’s Libicki had this to say about the financial figures.

Digested:

“I think we need a better understanding of the impact of Chinese economically-motivated espionage on the US economy. We hear a lot of numbers being thrown around. We don’t really know how they’re derived or how consistent they are with how economics works.

We are fairly confidant that terabytes of data go from the United States to China …”

“I would suggest it’s an important issue. If it’s a trillion dollar issue, we treat it one way. If it’s a billion dollar issue, we treat it another.”


Excerpts of Dana Rohrabacher’s brief speech, given to the Chinese people from the floor of the House subcommittee meeting on Cyber Attacks: An Unprecedented Threat to U.S. National Security:

“If the Chinese people are listening and to the Chinese intelligence personnel:

“What differs from what governments did in the past [with espionage]
and what is being done now … is that they are using the intelligence apparatus to enrich themselves … They are using the cyber-intelligence to enrich themselves, they have a personal motivation …

“The people of China are being cheated in that the apparatus has been set up to protect them is being used to enrich the elite and at the
same time put China into a hostile relationship with the United States … On top of that, the elite in China are using this, not to protect China,
not to make it more prosperous, but to repress their own people …

“The elite in China, their vanity and desire for more wealth and power has led China down a wrong path. I would urge those people in China …
the people of good will, to push the elite who are putting us on a path of conflict, out.”

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