How America’s biggest corporations became cyber vigilantes: Foreign Policy

On September 10th, 2012, Tim Maurer wrote for Foreign Policy on how corporations are “increasingly going on the offensive, turning from firewalls to retaliation.”

Just as a quick aside, Maurer referenced a Washington Post article, written by Ellen Nakashima, on how the U.S. military is contemplating offensive cyber operations to defend private computer systems.  I had totally missed this article and, needless to say, it’s quite significant.

Back to the Foreign Policy article.  Maurer noted a recent survey of cybersecurity experts where “more than half [of the respondents] thought their companies would be well served by the ability to ‘strike back’ against their attackers.”  The same survey found that 29% of respondents wanted the ability to “proactively strike” and 25% thought their data would be safer if afforded the ability to strike back.  Moreover, a Black Hat conference poll found that 36% of participants “had already engaged in retaliatory hacking,” and that percentage is likely understated!

Something else that I was previously unaware of, courtesy of Maurer: Google hacked back against the perpetrators of Operation Aurora.

The article goes on to debate the merits and drawbacks of hackback, noting that “eye for an eye” can be very dangerous.  Maurer then suggested my favored solution: what if the government sanctioned active defense, thereby removing the specter of legal ramifications for what companies may already be doing and certainly believe they should be able to do?  The primary impediment to hackback would probably be the CFAA, or Computer Fraud and Abuse Act.  What if, consistent with the CFAA, the U.S. government sanctioned hackback by private companies?

The article made one last great point: apparently companies have been increasingly coming to the U.S. government looking for cyber protection, but considering “little has changed since the 2009 [Operation Aurora] hack,” they have had little success.  Why, then, should we be surprised if a company “decides not to call Washington and takes matters into its own hands instead[?]”

As you can probably guess, I’m pretty geeked about the idea of hackback/active defense.  Please check out Tim Maurer’s article for Foreign Policy here.

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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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