Cyber Roundup: Dutch pursue hackback law, don’t underestimate cyber spies, France on the cyberoffensive, and more . . .

May 3rd, 2013 Uncategorized

Here’s a quick survey of recent cyber news . . .


I’ve got to give top billing to this wonderful Foreign Affairs article by Richard Bejtlich.  I’m sure you know, but Richard Bejtlich works for Mandiant, the same company which released this bombshell report on Chinese cyberespionage and PLA Unit 61398.  I was a huge fan of both the report and the decision to release the report, but it has generated a lot of controversy.  In his article, Mr. Bejtlich looks at the tendency to play down the threat of cyberespionage.  A fair number of commentators pooh pooh cyberespionage, noting that it doesn’t rise to the level of cyberattack and perhaps isn’t worth serious concern.  Here are a few excerpts from Mr. Bejtlich’s article that illustrate his point:

Espionage of any kind is serious, of course, but some do not understand how spying in the cyber world is different from spying in the physical world. Few realize that the same tools required to conduct digital espionage could allow intruders to go a step further and commit digital destruction. Once an adversary has entered a computer system, the amount of damage he does or does not inflict depends entirely on his intent. Whether such actions qualify as war is largely a political decision, but the ability to escalate from espionage to destruction is often ignored.

Critics are quick to assert that espionage is a step below a full-fledged digital attack — which could constitute an act of war.

. . .

A better general understanding of digital defense, spying, and war is clearly needed.

. . .

Any adversary that can spy can also harm — the only limitation is his intent. As a result, depending on the target, cyber-espionage could quickly escalate to cyberwar — in which digital weapons are used to inflict physical damage.


At the risk of quoting too much of the Foreign Affairs article, I will bow out now and recommend you click through here.

I admit I’m quite biased, but I love Mr. Bejtlich’s argument.

Speaking for myself, I often see noted journalists and certain cyber experts falling over themselves to play down the risk of cyberespionage and cyberexploitation.  I understand certain criticisms of clear fear-mongering (notably, comparing cyberattacks to nuclear attacks), but I just find it bizarre how eager people are to play down genuine threats to this country and the threat that the PRC represents.


As if to illustrate Mr. Bejtlich’s point, Bill Gertz reported for The Washington Free Beacon on “a recent cyber intrusion” into the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers’ National Inventory of Dams that was traced “to the Chinese government or military cyber warriors.”  Gertz went on to say that “[t]he database contains sensitive information on vulnerabilities of every major dam in the United States.”

Here is a clear illustration of the danger of cyberespionage.  If this was truly traced to the Chinese (an uncertain assertion, I know, but the article makes the claim), then why are the Chinese spying on U.S. critical infrastructure vulnerabilities but to potentially one day exploit those vulnerabilities?  This may not be a cyberattack in the sense of Stuxnet, but this is not intellectual property theft either.

I remember that this influential NRC report went into an interesting discussion on whether scouting critical infrastructure for vulnerabilities might equate to an armed attack.


Via ZDNet’s Michiel van Blommmestein:

A bill proposed by the Dutch government that would give authorities wide-ranging powers to hack users’ devices has sparked a heated privacy debate in the Netherlands.

. . . .

Under the proposal (PDF), investigators would get the power to break into suspects’ computer systems, listen in to VoIP conversations such as those made over Skype, install spyware, hack smartphones and force suspects to provide access to encrypted files. The law would also extend to giving authorities’ access to servers which are physically located abroad.

Here’s a TechWeek europe article by Tom Brewster with more analysis. 


Valery Marchive reported via ZDNet on the French government’s cybersecurity strategy which apparently will put greater emphasis on the offensive.  Here’s the whitepaper laying out the strategy (in French, unfortunately).


Spencer Ackerman reported for Wired on how the Pentagon has warned that N. Korea could become a hacker haven.


David Inserra wrote for The Heritage Foundation and argued that the U.S. should stand up to China on cyberattacks (cyberexploitations?).


Paul Rosenzweig started an interesting segment for Lawfare where he highlights and discusses new technology.  For his first post, Mr. Rosenzweig looked at at Memoto, a tiny camera.


A very good article from Bloomberg’s Michael Riley & Ben Elgin on how the Chinese broke into and pillaged QinetiQ, a company “known for spy-world connections and an eye- popping product line. Its contributions to national security include secret satellites, drones, and software used by U.S. special forces in Afghanistan and the Middle East.”

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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.

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Christopher w. FolkChristopher W. Folk

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