Doom and gloom: on hackers, China and cyberwar

What do a departing FBI cybercop, former counterterrorism czar Richard Clarke and the NSA director have in common? They’re all painting a  picture of how the United States is faring in cyberwar, and it’s not pretty. Of course, all doom-and-gloom predictions are not created equal, and it’s wise to question the motives of anybody yelling “fire” on a crowded Internet. But there is no denying that news of hack attacks and network breaches has become commonplace.

• The hackers are winning, Shawn Henry, executive assistant director of the FBI, tells the Wall Street Journal. Henry, who is leaving the FBI for a private cybersecurity job, says that both government and businesses are taking “unsustainable” approaches to the security of their computer networks. He talks of cases in which the FBI has stumbled onto a previously unknown corporate breach in the middle of investigations into another attack. What he says needs to happen: Officials and executives must realize the severity of the problem; government and businesses should take the offensive, not the defensive; and organizations should keep their most valuable data off networks.

There are three different versions of cybersecurity legislation being discussed by U.S. lawmakers.

• Besides telling the Smithsonian Magazine that the Stuxnet worm — which infected the computer system of an Iranian nuclear plant — was created by the United States, former U.S. counterterrorism official Richard Clarke sounds the alarm that this nation’s “cyberoffense without a cyberdefense” could lead to heavy consequences. “There’s a big difference… between the kind of cyberespionage the United States government does and China. … We don’t hack our way into a Chinese computer company like Huawei and provide the secrets of Huawei technology to their American competitor Cisco,” Clarke said. He foresees “death of a thousand cuts” as the United States loses its competitiveness by having its research and innovation stolen by hackers.

Clarke literally wrote a book on cyberwar, coincidentally titled “Cyberwar.” Published a couple of years ago, it inspired the type of dismissal of the growing threat of cyberwar that Clarke rails against. “Like most cyberwar pundits, Clarke puts a shine on his fear mongering by regurgitating long-ago debunked hacker horror stories,” wrote Ryan Singel for Wired. “We’re just too bored to care,” wrote Jeff Stein for the Washington Post.

• Clark brought up China and Huawei, the perfect segue into a couple of other things.

National Security Agency chief Keith Alexander reportedly told the Senate Armed Services Committee on Tuesday that China is responsible for a “great deal” of data theft affecting the military, citing last year’s RSA Security breach as an example. As we have mentioned on GMSV before, the breach of the provider of online multi-factor authentication has been linked to an attack on defense contractor Lockheed Martin.

Also in the past couple of days, China-based Huawei Technologies has run into roadblocks. First, Symantec is wiggling out of a partnership with the world’s second-largest provider of Internet and telecom technology, according to the New York Times. The NYT’s unnamed sources say the Mountain View security software company was afraid the United States government would fail to share cyberthreat information with it because of its alliance with Huawei.

Second, Australia reportedly recently banned Huawei from bidding for contracts on a $38 billion broadband project because of concerns over security. The Chinese government is blasting the move. The Symantec and Australian developments are the latest examples of persistent suspicions surrounding the company with grand ambitions — the Mercury News’ John Boudreau gave us a peek into Huawei’s ambitions and more last year.


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  • David

    “Government and businesses should take the offensive, not the defensive; and organizations should keep their most valuable data off networks.”

    This means that the cloud will NEVER be a viable network infrastructure. Perhaps the cloud is still a viable technology for remote applications but it’s time to refocus on traditional LAN storage technology and get off this cloud hooplah.

  • Jeff

    At least the Shadows have some common sense. The US government is so corrupt its sickening to be doing business with Huawei

  • Jeff

    Aussies* not Shadows. Stupid auto correct on my phone…..