White House Blowing Smoke?

The White House Cybersecurity Coordinator Howard Schmidt wants us to believe that breaches into national infrastructure are simple acts of hactivism.  The following is based on a recent CSO interview with Schmidt:

As far as he's concerned, this isn't an online version of East against West or Allies against Axis. What we're seeing, he believes, is more about online riots and hacktivism, where a ragtag band of malcontents express their displeasure over government policy by launching distributed denial-of-service attacks like of the sort that pounded the networks of Estonia in 2007 (CSOOnline).

While I don't buy into the idea that we are on the verge of cybergeddon, I do believe governments around the world are integrating Internet espionage with their traditional intelligence gathering activities.  In addition, there is evidence that countries like China are adding defensive and offensive Internet attack training and testing to strategic military planning.  For example, according to a U.S. D.O.D. 2009 report on China military power:

In 2008, numerous computer systems around the world, including those owned by the U.S. Government, continued to be the target of intrusions that appear to have originated within the PRC. Although these intrusions focused on exfiltrating information, the accesses and skills required for these intrusions are similar to those necessary to conduct computer network attacks. It remains unclear if these intrusions were conducted by, or with the endorsement of, the PLA or other elements of the PRC Government. However, developing capabilities for cyberwarfare is consistent with authoritative PLA military writings on the subject.

Examples of attacks against U.S. strategic infrastructure include:

Even small events may be significant.  Many quick in-and-out events may be cyber versions of military perimeter probes, which look for information about defenses. 

While I agree that security efforts by private organizations are crucial to strengthening national infrastructures, I disagree that DoS attacks against major Internet providers should be dismissed as cyber-vandalism.  It may be that most of these attacks are just that.  However, it is naive to accept all major events are just hacktivism.

I have a hard time believing Schmidt believes what he is saying about these attacks.  If his comments were not simply political rhetoric designed to avoid "insulting" other governments, we have a problem.

Copyright © 2010 IDG Communications, Inc.

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