Interesting article in the Atlantic from the perception of a Chinese student…
“.. Stuxnet is a computer worm that gained notoriety in 2010 as it took down about one fifty of Iran’s nuclear centrifuges. The New York Times describes it as may be “the most sophisticated cyberweapon ever deployed”. Many experts believe that it was developed by either the United States or Israel. And the official Chinese media asserted that Stuxnet is a joint U.S.-Israel project. (Interestingly, to lend itself credibility, one news report from the leading Chinese news agency is entitled “New York Times Confirms U.S.-Israel Development of Computer Worm Targeted at Iran”.)
Does the United States’ (possible) active use of cyber weapons legitimize their use by other countries? And more pertinent to my concern, is China’s insistence on the United States’ involvement in Stuxnet a sign of Beijing’s intention to capitalize on the legitimacy conferred by Stuxnet?
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Cyber attacks from China have been going on for more than a decade. The high-profile Titan Rain and Operation Aurora made it clear that networks belonging to the U.S. government, the defense industry, and other companies have suffered large-scale, sustained and highly sophisticated cyber attacks from computers located in China, though Beijing has denied any involvement. As with Stuxnet, the nature of cyber attacks makes it hard to trace to their origin, and even if an origin is found, there is no international legal authority that could hold the state responsible for the cyber activities of its individuals. The states can plead “plausible deniability” which is what makes it possible for many cyber attackers to operate with impunity, as seen in the case of Russian attacks on Estonia.
Regarding the China threat, many American security experts worry that in a dispute over Taiwan, China would disable and exploit U.S. computer networks. But some, like James Mulvenon, Deputy Director of Defense Group and a specialist on the Chinese military, go further to say that he observed a potential expansion of the People’s Liberation Army’s (PLA) intrusion set. He argues that the list of targets for both computer network exploitation and attack activities would encompass a wide range of countries and regions, including the East and South China Seas.
Moreover, experts point to China’s systematic training of its cyber warriors and its recruitment strategy. The cyber warriors are firstly trained in military institutions such as the PLA National University of Defense Technology, which built the “Tianhe 1A” supercomputer that surpassed U.S.’ Cray XT5 Jaguar as the world’s fastest computer by a large margin at the end of last year. Second, the PLA has included computer network operations (CNOs) in its military exercises since 2005 and aims at disabling target networks with its first attacks, according to Dr. Zheng Dacheng, a Taiwanese expert on the Chinese military.
In addition to trained cyber warriors, China can fully utilize the talents of its civilians who require the kind of security clearance for which only about 20% of U.S. population would qualify if the same cyber missions were carried out by United States, according to Kevin G. Coleman, security technology expert at Technolytics Institute.
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China’s efforts in cyber space have mainly been internally rather than externally focused. This would support the regime’s main concern of domestic stability, rather than an intensified confrontation with a foreign entity.
Chinese citizens’ limited access to foreign websites is often seen as one of the defenses China has in a future cyber war scenario. Aside from the infamous Great Firewall, China only has nine ports through which the Chinese Internet is connected to the foreign Internet (as last reported in 2008, after which all information on this is withheld). Therefore, it is conceivable that China could cut itself off the Internet and operate a de facto Intranet. However, it also means that in the case of a large-scale outbreak of domestic instability, the government can cut its people off from the outside world (as what happened in Egypt).
If the first use is the main purpose of China’s cyber setup, then the defense effort would be severely undermined because the government and big state-owned-enterprises are whitelisted to have full and unrestricted access to foreign networks, and many big private firms use satellite or microwave connections which do not go through the state’s control mechanism, thus they will not be effectively immune from a cyber attack.
The domestically-focused use of this cyber structure actually occurred in Xinjiang after the July 2009 riots when the Internet was shut down for 10 months. In fact, The National Defense Mobilization Law, enacted in July 2010, stipulates that the state has broad authority in times of national defense mobilization and can, according to Article 63(1), take control of the telecommunication industry, the media, the information networks, and the energy and the water supply systems, among other things.
– snip –
Perhaps most importantly, however, the United States is not vulnerable because of threats from China, but because it has done a poor job of building cyber-defenses. Recall the embarrassment when the Pentagon revealed last December that live video feeds from its $4.5 million Predator drones were hijacked using $26 software downloaded from the Internet. Regardless of what China does or intends to do, if United States does not take appropriate measures to defend itself, then it would continue to be exposed to threats from various state and non-state actors.
Currently, with Cyber Command protecting the military networks and DHS protecting the rest of the government, everyone else is left on their own, and America’s critical infrastructures are not getting the best security technology this country has to offer. In China, however, cyber security has increasingly become a huge business. It has now contracted out the network security of the government and other crucial state-owned-enterprises to (semi-) private security firms: Venus Tech is responsible for the network security of the Ministry of Finance, National Grid, Civil Aviation Administration, etc.; NSFOCUS secures China Telecom, National People’s Congress, etc.; Feitian is responsible for securing Bank of China, the State Secrets Bureau, Ministry of Commerce, Sinopec, etc.; and Zhonghangjiaxin develops security systems for part of the People’s Liberation Army’s General Staff Department and Headquarter of the Armed Police ..”
Ella Chou, The Atlantic, 8 February 2011
http://www.theatlantic.com/technology/archive/2011/02/us-china-cyber-war-scenario-in-the-eyes-of-a-chinese-student/70855/ – last access 9 February 2011 – ( Full Article )
FBI serves 40 search warrants in Anonymous crackdown – coincided with the arrests of five UK youths accused of participating in the DDoS spree
“.. FBI agents executed more than 40 search warrants on Thursday as part of an investigation into coordinated web attacks carried out by the hacking collective known as Anonymous. The search warrants coincided with the early morning arrests of five UK youths accused of participating in the DDoS spree.
Word of the crackdown first surfaced in the US four weeks ago. Metropolitan Police in the UK confirmed their investigation in mid December.
“The FBI also is reminding the public that facilitating or conducting a DDoS attack is illegal, punishable by up to 10 years in prison, as well as exposing participants to significant civil liability,” the agency said in a press release.
Thursday’s arrests were part of an international police probe carried out by law enforcement agencies throughout Europe and the US. A French official told the Associated Press that a 15-year-old suspected of masterminding the attacks was arrested in December. The unidentified teen has since been released, but his computer was confiscated.
That same month, a 16-year-old boy in the Netherlands was arrested for allegedly carrying out attacks on Visa and MasterCard after the credit card companies stopped processing payments to WikiLeaks.
Researchers have said members of Anonymous modified a piece of open-source software to create what they call the Low Orbit Ion Cannon. The tool allows large groups of online protestors to simultaneously unleash torrents of data on websites they want to bring down ..”
Dan Goodin, The Register UK, 28 January 2011
http://www.theregister.co.uk/2011/01/28/fbi_crackdown_on_anonymous/ – last access 2 February 2011 – ( Full Article )
Reports of London Stock Exchange investigating cyber attacks.. not clear if they are isolated or related incidents ? although was it an inside job, was it a bug..
” .. The British and United States stock exchanges have reportedly enlisted the help of the security services after finding out they were the victims of cyber attacks.
According to media reports, the London Stock Exchange (LSE) is investigating a terrorist cyber attack on its headquarters last year, while US officials have traced an attack on one of its exchanges to Russia.
A report from The Times said that it had been told by ‘well-placed intelligence sources’ that the London Stock Exchange was trying to find the source of the attack, while a cyber security expert is reported as saying that the threat is ‘advanced and persistent’.
The Associated Press said that officials suspect the attacks were designed to spread panic among markets and destabilise western financial institutions .. ”
SCmagazine UK, Dan Raywood, 1 February 2011
http://www.scmagazineuk.com/stock-exchanges-in-the-uk-and-us-come-under-advanced-and-persistent-attack/article/195398/ – last access 2 February 2011 – ( Full Article )
– snip –
” .. GCHQ director Iain Lobban said last year that worms have already been designed to cause significant disruption to government systems, while former White House security advisor Richard Clarke told the RSA Conference Europe that the US and UK are woefully underprepared for an attack on critical infrastructure.
Uri Rivner, head of new technologies at RSA Security speculated that the attack may have been an inside job .. ”
Phil Muncaster, V3.co.uk, 31 January 2011
http://www.v3.co.uk/v3/news/2274505/london-stock-exchange-cyber#ixzz1CpKtEy18 – last access 2 February 2011 – ( Full Article )