Cyber-intruder Sparks Massive Federal Response — And Debate: Washington Post

Dec 10th, 2011 cyber attack, Cyber Command

On December 8th, 2011, Ellen Nakashima wrote for the Washington Post on a computer virus that redefined how the United States looks at cybersecurity.  The article takes an in-depth look at a particular piece of malware called Agent.btz.  In 2008, Agent.btz infected military systems through a regular flash drive.  The circumstances of the infection are unclear, but Agent.btz ultimately made its way to the SIPRNet and JWICS networks.  According to the article, it wasn't until Agent.btz attempted to "phone home", or contact the broader internet and transmit classified files, that US authorities took notice.

The article goes on to describe the joint effort between the military and the NSA to hunt down Agent.btz.  That operation was called "Buckshot Yankee", and required US military members to stop using flash drives for a while.  Buckshot Yankee was ultimately successful through a step-by-step process of hunting down the virus.

However, the story doesn't end with the neutralization of Agent.btz.  The article points out that Agent.btz started a huge debate over the national response to cyberthreats, and was really the catalyst for the creation of CyberCommand.  The entire episode also highlighted the turf wars between various US government agencies and how those agencies could/should respond to a cyberattack on US systems.  Can the military take unilateral action within the US to protect civilian networks?  What about civilian critical infrastructure?  The article notes that the military, DOJ, CIA, NSA, DHS, and State Department all have competing claims to cybersecurity responsibility. 

The debate is summed up quite nicely when the article quotes Gen. Keith Alexander, head of CyberComm/NSA: “Right now, my mission as commander of U.S. Cyber Command is to defend the military networks . . . I do not have the authority to look at what’s going on in other government sectors, nor what would happen in critical infrastructure. That right now falls to DHS. It also means that I can’t stop it, or at network speed . . . see what’s happening to it. What we do believe, though, is that that needs to be accounted for. We have to have a way to protect our critical infrastructure.”

My summary can't possibly do justice to the depth of Nakashima's article, so I highly suggest you to take a look, it's definitely worth the time.

The rest of the article can be found here.

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One Response to “Cyber-intruder Sparks Massive Federal Response — And Debate: Washington Post”

  1. William Snyder says:

    And, this story is generating a massive response and debate, too. The number of people who have forwarded this Washington Post story to me is unprecedented. I think that part of what caught people’s attention are the sentences: “This article, which contains previously undisclosed information on the extent of the infection, the nature of the response and the fractious policy debate it inspired, is based on interviews with two dozen current and former U.S. officials and others with knowledge of the operation. Many of them assert that while the military has a growing technical capacity to operate in cyberspace, it lacks authority to defend civilian networks effectively.” By all accounts, those sentences are correct. Thus, this article goes right to the heart of the interdisciplinary issues that we try to address at

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Professor William Snyder

Professor William C. Snyderis a member of the faculty of the Institute for National Security and Counter-terrorism at Syracuse University after fifteen years with the United States Department of Justice.

Ryan D. White

Ryan D. WhiteRyan is currently a third year law student at Syracuse University College of Law, and is also pursuing a Master of Public Administration degree from Syracuse’s Maxwell School of Citizenship and Public Affairs. Ryan spent time with Homeland Security Investigations while pursuing his undergraduate degree at Wesleyan University, and spent his first summer of law school as clerk for the U.S. Attorney’s Office in the Western District of New York. He is a member of Syracuse Law Review, the Journal on Terrorism and Security Analysis, and participates in the Veteran’s Legal Clinic. Full biography

Shelby E. Mann

Ryan D. WhiteShelby is a second year law student at the Syracuse University College of Law. She is the 2018-9 Editor in Chief of the Syracuse Law Review, as well as a member of the Journal on Terrorism and Security Analysis, and the senior editor for the Syrian Accountability Project. During her final year at the University of Missouri, she served as a full-time news producer for ABC 17 News. Shelby spent her first summer of law school at the Shelby County District Attorney General's Office in Memphis, Tenn., in the Public Corruption and Economic Crimes Unit. Full biography

Christopher w. FolkChristopher W. Folk

is a 2017 graduate of SU College of Law. A non-traditional student, Christopher returned to academia after spending nearly twenty years in the high tech industry. Christopher served in the Marine Corps, graduated from Cornell University with a B.S. In Applied Economics and Business Management, attended Northeastern University’s High-Tech MBA Program and received a M.S. In Computer Information Systems. Christopher previously worked in Software Engineering. Christopher is currently serving his second term as Town Justice for the Town of Waterloo. Christopher externed with a Cybersecurity firm in the Washington, D.C. area between his first and second year at SU College of Law. Full biography

Anna Maria Castillo

Anna Maria Castillois 2016 graduate of Syracuse College of Law. She also holds a Master of Arts in International Relations from Syracuse University's Maxwell School of Citizenship and Public Affairs. She has interned at a London-based think-tank that specializes in transnational terrorism and global security and at the legal department of a defense contractor. She served as an executive editor in the Syracuse Law Review. Full biography

Jennifer A. CamilloJennifer A. Camillo

is a 2015 graduate of Syracuse College of Law and is a prosecutor. She has served as a law clerk in the United States Attorney’s Office for the Northern District of New York and the Cayuga County District Attorney’s Office and as an extern in the Oneida County District Attorney’s Office. She was a member of the Syracuse National Trial Team and was awarded the Tiffany Cup by the New York Bar Association for her trial advocacy achievements.

Tara J. PistoreseTara J. Pistorese

holds Juris Doctor and Masters of Public Administration degrees from Syracuse University's Maxwell School of Citizenship and Public Affairs and its College of Law. She wrote for this blog when a student. She is now a member of the U.S. Army Judge Advocate General's Corps.

Benjamin Zaiser

is both a scholar and a Federal Agent of the Federal Criminal Police Office of Germany. (Opinions expressed here are his own and not any part of official duty.) Full biography


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