Govt Warns: Raise Your Shield

When one considers all the major hacking events including the Office of Personnel Management, this is truly a warning.

Sounds like they are telling us we are on our own but the advise is good and must be heeded.


National Counterintelligence and Security Center
Releases Social Media Deception Awareness Videos

Videos are second in a series released in the wake of the OPM records breach
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE                                                                      
ODNI News Release No. 21-15
October 23, 2015

Today the ODNI’s National Counterintelligence and Security Center released the second in a four-part series of videos from its “Know the Risk—Raise Your Shield” campaign.

The latest campaign videos focus on social media deception, and are intended to help build public awareness of the inherent dangers that the use of social media—Facebook, Twitter, etc.—could present when appropriate protective measures are not taken.  There are two videos: a shorter attention-grabber and a second longer video which provides details about social media deception, how government officials or the public can recognize threats and what steps can be taken to minimize the risk of being deceived.

“The information the social media deception videos and overall campaign convey will increase individuals’ awareness of the dangers in cyberspace and provide common-sense tools to protect themselves from bad actors, be they criminals or foreign intelligence entities,” said NCSC Director Bill Evanina.

The NCSC launched the campaign last month in the wake of the Office of Personnel Management records breach to help those individuals, government or otherwise, whose personal information has been compromised.  The launch videos focused on “Spear Phishing Attacks,” while the final sets of videos—to be released in November and December, respectively—will focus on human targeting and awareness for travelers.  Each release contains a 30-45-second overview video and a more in-depth two minute video.

The NCSC provides effective leadership and support to the counterintelligence and security activities of the U.S. Intelligence Community, the U.S. government, and U.S. private sector entities who are at risk of intelligence collection or attack by foreign adversaries.

Server-Gate or Deep Throat Part 2?

Hillary says often that the State Department gave her permission to use a private server and email. Think about that, who at State did that? She was HEAD of the State Dept, so did she give herself permission? C’mon….

Then there is the excuse that everyone does it so it must be okay right?

State Department’s Cybersecurity Weakened Under Hillary Clinton

From 2011 to 2014, the State Department’s poor cybersecurity was identified by the inspector general as a “significant deficiency.”

WASHINGTON (AP) — The State Department was among the worst agencies in the federal government at protecting its computer networks while Hillary Rodham Clinton was secretary from 2009 to 2013, a situation that continued to deteriorate as John Kerry took office and Russian hackers breached the department’s email system, according to independent audits and interviews.

The State Department’s compliance with federal cybersecurity standards was below average when Clinton took over but grew worse in each year of her tenure, according to an annual report card compiled by the White House based on audits by agency watchdogs. Network security continued to slip after Kerry replaced Clinton in February 2013, and remains substandard, according to the State Department inspector general.

In each year from 2011 to 2014, the State Department’s poor cybersecurity was identified by the inspector general as a “significant deficiency” that put the department’s information at risk. The latest assessment is due to be published in a few weeks.

Clinton, the front-runner for the Democratic presidential nomination, has been criticized for her use of a private email server for official business while she was secretary of state. Her private email address also was the recipient of malware linked to Russia, and her server was hit with malware from China, South Korea and Germany. The FBI is investigating whether her home server was breached.

State Department officials don’t dispute the compliance shortcomings identified in years of internal audits, but argue that the audits paint a distorted picture of their cybersecurity, which they depict as solid and improving. They strongly disagree with the White House ranking that puts them behind most other government agencies. Senior department officials in charge of cybersecurity would speak only on condition of anonymity. More here.

With Jake Tapper, Hillary laughed at this scandal…a weird moment in that interview.

Observer: Hillary Clinton emerged from Tuesday night’s inaugural Democratic debate in Las Vegas the clear leader in her party’s field. As Democrats attempt to hold onto the White House in 2016, polling demonstrated a revitalized Hillary campaign, which had been in the doldrums for months due to the ongoing scandal about her misuse of email as Secretary of State.

Mounting talk of Vice President Joe Biden entering the race–to take the place of an ailing Hillary–has dissipated in the wake of the debate, where Ms. Clinton dismissed the email issues as Republican-driven political theater. That Senator Bernie Sanders vigorously backed Ms. Clinton on the point helped her cause, as did her brusque dismissal of Lincoln Chafee’s efforts to raise the issue again, which got raucous applause from the crowd.

It’s evident the Democratic base agrees with Ms. Clinton that her emails are just GOP theatrics. President Obama reflected the sentiment in an interview with 60 Minutes airing two days before the debate, during which he allowed that Secretary Clinton had “made a mistake” with her email but it “is not a situation in which America’s national security was endangered.”

Though the White House soon walked back on some of the president’s statements, which seemed to many to be inappropriate West Wing commentary regarding an ongoing FBI investigation, it’s apparent that the Clinton campaign and the Obama team have united around a message: this issue is fundamentally contrived by Republicans, and is certainly not a threat of any kind to national security.

Democrats unsurprisingly find this take congenial, but it’s less clear if other Americans consider it persuasive. Naturally, Republicans view Ms. Clinton’s email activities with a great deal of suspicion, but recent polls show even independents have concerns regarding EmailGate and Ms. Clinton’s honesty. While the Clinton camp is now confident the email problems will likely not bar her party’s nomination next summer, the issue may loom larger in the race for the White House next fall.

There’s also the matter of exactly what the FBI is investigating. Recent revelations hint that the compromising of classified information on Ms. Clinton’s “private” email and server was more serious than originally believed. While earlier reports indicated only a small percentage of the sensitive information that “spilled over” onto Ms. Clinton’s personal email was highly classified at the Top Secret level, that may be only a small portion of what was potentially compromised.

Particularly disturbing is the report that one of the “personal” emails Ms. Clinton forwarded included the name of a top CIA asset in Libya, who was identified as such. The source of this information was Tyler Drumheller, a retired senior CIA operations officer, who served as a sort of one-man private spy agency for Sid Blumenthal, the Clintons’ close family friend and factotum whose sometimes long-winded emails, particularly regarding Libya, have generated much of the controversy behind EmailGate.

Mr. Drumheller became a fleeting hero to liberals with his resistance to George W. Bush’s White House over skewed intelligence behind the 2003 invasion of Iraq, but he was never particularly popular at CIA and he left Langley under something of a cloud. His emails to Mr. Blumenthal, which were forwarded to Ms. Clinton, were filled with espionage-flavored information about events in Libya. In many cases, Mr. Drumheller’s reports were formatted to look exactly like actual CIA reports, including attribution to named foreign intelligence agencies. How much of this was factual versus Mr. Drumheller embellishing his connections is unclear.

What is abundantly clear is that the true name of an identified CIA asset is a highly classified fact and intentionally revealing it is a Federal crime, which Mr. Drumheller, a career spy, had to know. Why he compromised this person who was secretly helping the United States – possibly endangering his life in the process — may never be known because Mr. Drumheller conveniently died of cancer in early August.

Libya may have a great deal to worry about since new information continues to show just how slipshod Ms. Clinton’s security measures were for her “private” server. That Ms. Clinton’s server experienced multiple cyber-attacks from abroad, including by Russians, does not inspire confidence that any classified information stored in her emails remained in American hands.

To make matters worse, a recent investigation by the Associated Press demonstrates that even relatively low-skill hackers could have hacked Hillary’s unencrypted server, which was left vulnerable to exposure on the open Internet to a degree that cyber-warriors find difficult to believe. “Were they drunk?” a senior NSA official asked me after reading the AP report. “Anybody could have been inside that server – anybody,” he added.

Since the communications of any Secretary of State are highly sought after by dozens of intelligence agencies worldwide – a reality expressed by Secretary John Kerry recently when he said it’s “very likely” the Russians and Chinese are reading his email, a view that any veteran spy would endorse – Ms. Clinton putting her emails at such risk means they have to be assumed to be compromised. If the more skilled state-connected hackers in Russia can fool even NSA these days, they could have gotten into Hillary’s unprotected server without breaking a sweat.

This makes Mr. Obama’s quip that EmailGate represents no threat to American national security all the more puzzling in its dishonesty. Unsurprisingly, some at the FBI are not pleased the president made this pronouncement before the Bureau completed its investigation. “We got the message,” an FBI agent at the Washington Field Office, which is spearheading the EmailGate case, explained: “Obama’s not subtle sometimes.”

In 2012, while the FBI was investigating CIA director David Petraeus for mishandling classified information, Mr. Obama similarly dismissed the national security implications of the case at a press conference. Although FBI director James Comey pressed for serious charges against Mr. Petraeus, the White House demurred and the Department of Justice allowed him to plead guilty to a misdemeanor, sentenced to probation with no jail time.

Some at the FBI were displeased by this leniency and felt Mr. Obama showed his hand to the public early, compromising the Bureau’s investigation. Is the same happening with Ms. Clinton? It’s too soon to say, though the anger of some at the FBI has seeped into the media already. Comments to tabloids reflect the widespread frustration and fear among federal law enforcement and intelligence circles that Mr. Obama will let Ms. Clinton skate free from EmailGate.

For now, the FBI is pursuing its investigation with diligence, bringing other intelligence agencies into the case, and recent reports indicate that specific provisions of the Espionage Act are being re-read carefully, particularly regarding “gross negligence” – which may be the most appropriate charge that Ms. Clinton or members of her inner circle could face.

It will be weeks, even months, before the FBI’s investigation concludes and the Department of Justice has to decide whether any of the events surrounding EmailGate reach the threshold of prosecution. Many in the FBI and the Intelligence Community suspect the fix is already inside the West Wing to prevent that from happening, but it’s still early in this investigation.

It can be expected that if the White House blocks Hillary’s prosecution during the election campaign, leaks will commence with a vengeance. “Is there another Mark Felt out there, waiting?” asked a retired senior FBI official. “There usually is,” he added with a wry smile, citing the top Bureau official who, frustrated by the antics of the Nixon White House, became the notorious “Deep Throat”who leaked the dirty backstory to Watergate to the Washington, DC, media.

Mr. Obama and the Clinton camp should be advised to be careful about who they throw under the bus in this town.

Hacking of Dow Jones and CIA Director?

Out of control…exactly where are the upgrades to all government systems to prevent hacking further…what about those pesky personal email accounts that continue to pop up with classified material?

Heh….so Barack Obama takes an opportunity several weeks ago when the Chinese President was in town to say stop hacking us…or did he?

In part from WashingtonFreeBeacon: A U.S. cybersecurity firm that works with the government has evidence that Chinese government-linked hackers violated the cyber agreement reached between President Obama and Chinese President Xi Jinping less than a month ago.

The Wall Street Journal reported that CrowdStrike Inc. will announce Monday that some of its customers fell victim to unsuccessful cyber attacks that violated the leaders’ Sept. 25 agreement to stop state-sponsored cyber attacks on companies for commercial gain.

According to the firm, customers from the technology and pharmaceutical industries that will remain unnamed were targeted by hackers linked to the Chinese government. A pair of hacking attempts occurred on the days before and after Obama hosted Jinping for a state dinner at the White House during which the leaders reached the agreement. Other attempted hacks continued through October.

The Obama administration is “aware” of the report from CrowdStrike.

“We are aware of this report. We’ll decline comment on its specific conclusions. We have and will continue to directly raise our concerns regarding cybersecurity with the Chinese,” a senior administration official stated.

Director of National Intelligence James Clapper admitted last month that he did not have confidence that the deal between Obama and Jinping would stop China from launching cyber attacks on U.S. businesses.

*** So who exactly nailed the Director of the CIA, John Brennan? Well a Palestinian sympathizer who is a ‘stoner’. (No pun intended)

Teen stoner says he hacked CIA director’s AOL account

From NYPost: Hillary Rodham Clinton’s email scandal didn’t stop the head of the CIA from using his own personal AOL account to stash work-related documents, according to a stoner high school student who claims to have hacked into them.

CIA Director John Brennan’s private account held sensitive files — including his 47-page application for top-secret security clearance — until he recently learned that it had been infiltrated, the hacker told The Post.

Other emails stored in Brennan’s non-government account contained the Social Security numbers and personal information of more than a dozen top American intelligence officials, as well as a government letter about the use of “harsh interrogation techniques” on terrorism suspects, according to the hacker.

The FBI and other federal agencies are now investigating the hacker, with one source saying criminal charges are possible, law enforcement sources said.

“I think they’ll want to make an example out of him to deter people from doing this in the future,” said a source who described the situation as “just wild” and “crazy.”

“I can’t believe he did this to the head of the CIA,’’ the source added. “[The] problem with these older-generation guys is that they don’t know anything about cybersecurity, and as you can see, it can be problematic.”

In a series of phone conversations with The Post, the hacker described himself as an American high school student who is not Muslim and was motivated by opposition to US foreign policy and support for Palestine.

He wouldn’t reveal his name or say where he lived but made good on a promise to tweet “CWA owns John Brennan of the CIA” as a means of verifying his control over the @phphax Twitter account.

Hello guys this Twitter account is going now as things are starting to get hot, we will still be getting our words out though. 😉

If i go quiet on this account, the CIA losers have found me and I’m being tortured by their stupid methods of ruining a guys thoughts.

He explained “CWA” stood for “Crackas With Attitude,” which he said referred to him and a classmate with whom he smokes pot.

The hacker contacted The Post last week to brag about his exploits, which include posting some of the stolen documents and a portion of Brennan’s contact list on Twitter. The hacker’s Twitter page includes the Muslim Shahada creed, which translates as, “There is no god but Allah, Muhammad is the messenger of Allah.”

He said the stolen documents were stored as attachments to about 40 emails that he read after breaking into Brennan’s account on Oct. 12, more than six months after the controversy erupted over Clinton’s use of a private computer server to handle emails while serving as secretary of state.

The hacker said he used a tactic called “social engineering” that involved tricking workers at Verizon into providing Brennan’s personal information and duping AOL into resetting his password.

Brennan’s account was disabled as of Friday, he said.

He claimed he has repeatedly prank-called America’s top spy since August, once reciting Brennan’s Social Security number to him.

“He waited a tiny bit and hung up,” the hacker said.

And he also got into the online Comcast account of Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson and posted a redacted screenshot of a billing page. He claimed that he listened to Johnson’s voicemails.

In a statement, the CIA said: “We are aware of the reports that have surfaced on social media and have referred the matter to the appropriate authorities.”

*** Then to Dow Jones….

Bloomberg states that the ongoing investigation conducted by US authorities was probing allegations that there is a Russian gang behind the Dow Jones hack.

Dow Jones has provided further information on the data breach that the company has recently suffered.

A week ago, the CEO of Dow Jones & Co disclosed the incident confirming that 3,500 people were affected.

The Dow Jones firm confirmed it discovered unauthorized access to its customer payment system that occurred between August 2012 and July 2015.

The investigators believe that the attackers were searching for contact information of current and former Dow Jones subscribers, whom records include name, addresses, email addresses, and phone numbers.

“As part of the investigation to date, we also determined that payment card and contact information for fewer than 3,500 individuals could have been accessed, although we have discovered no direct evidence that information was stolen. We are sending those individuals a letter in the mail with more information about the support we are offering. If you do not receive such a letter, we have no indication that your financial information was involved,” the letter states published by the Dow Jones Chief Executive William Lewis .

Yesterday Bloomberg reported that the ongoing investigation conducted by the FBI, US financial watchdog the SEC, and America’s Secret Service were probing allegations that there is a Russian criminal ring behind the attack. According to the investigators, the Russian gang was financially motivated, the hackers search for unpublished financial data and news articles and press releases from the Dow Jones computers to get an edge on the market. Attackers are now stealing sensitive information and selling it to traders and operators in the industry.

“A group of Russian hackers infiltrated the servers of Dow Jones & Co., owner of the Wall Street Journal and several other news publications, and stole information to trade on before it became public, according to four people familiar with the matter.” states Bloomberg Business.

Next up, Normalizing Relations with North Korea

Sheesh, this blogger has been predicting this….. THE MADNESS CONTINUES:

North Korea reportedly willing to sign peace treaty with US to end conflict

FNC: North Korea reportedly rejected the idea of resuming talks to abandon its nuclear program on Saturday, but said it would welcome negotiations for a peace treaty with Washington.

North Korea’s foreign ministry made the statement one day after President Obama and South Korean President Park Geun-hye said they were ready to open talks with Pyongyang on sanctions if they were serious about dissolving its nuclear program, according to Reuters.

“If the United States insists on taking a different path, the Korean peninsula will only see our unlimited nuclear deterrent being strengthened further,” the North said in a statement.

North and South Korea are still technically at war after signing a truce in 1953 to temporarily end their conflict. The U.S. also signed the deal after backing the South.

Obama, while meeting with Park on Friday, said Iran had been prepared to have a “serious conversation” about the possibility of giving up the pursuit of nuclear weapons. He said there’s no indication of that in North Korea’s case.

“At the point where Pyongyang says, `We’re interested in seeing relief from sanctions and improved relations, and we are prepared to have a serious conversation about denuclearization,’ it’s fair to say we’ll be right there at the table,” Obama told a joint news conference.

In a joint statement after Friday’s meeting, the U.S. and South Korea said that if North Korea decides to launch another rocket into space or test a nuclear explosion, “it will face consequences, including seeking further significant measures by the U.N. Security Council.” The statement also said they would never accept North Korea as a nuclear weapons state.

North Korea had walked away from talks involving the U.S. and four other countries in 2008 and continued to conduct nuclear tests. It claims the only way to end conflict with Washington is to sign a peace treaty.

Park’s visit Friday further strengthened South Korea’s ties with the U.S.

U.S. retains 28,500 troops in South Korea, a legacy of the 1950-53 Korean War, and nearly 50,000 troops in Japan. Obama called the U.S.-South Korean alliance “unbreakable.” Park called it a “lynchpin” of regional security.

In August, the two Koreas threatened each other with war after two South Korean soldiers were wounded by land mines Seoul says were planted by the North. The tensions have since eased, and the two sides have agreed to resume next week reunions of Korean families divided by the Korean War.

The Obama administration has faced criticism from hawks and doves alike for a lack of high-level attention on North Korea, which estimated to have enough fissile material for between 10 and 16 nuclear weapons. More details here.

From McClatchy:

Obama said the U.S. would be willing to talk with North Korea about sanctions relief and improved relations if it agreed to give up nuclear weapons. He said there’s no indication that the government in Pyongyang can “foresee a future in which they did not possess or were not pursuing nuclear weapons.”

Citing the U.S. outreach to Cuba and the agreement to limit Iran’s ability to build nuclear weapons in exchange for the lifting of economic sanctions, Obama said the U.S. is “prepared to engage nations with which we have had troubled histories.” He stressed that he and Park reaffirmed that neither country would accept North Korea as a nuclear weapon state and will insist that Pyongyang abide by its obligations.

“These are both countries that have a long history of antagonism towards the United States,” he said of Iran and North Korea. “But we were prepared to have a serious conversation with the Iranians once they showed that they were serious about the possibility of giving up the pursuit of nuclear weapons.”

Saying nothing of human rights violations, the official White House statement is here:

2015 United States-Republic of Korea Joint Statement on North Korea

On October 16, 2015, President Barack Obama of the United States of America and President Park Geun-hye of the Republic of Korea committed to the following.

The United States-Republic of Korea alliance remains committed to countering the threat to peace and security posed by North Korea’s nuclear and ballistic missile programs as well as other provocations. We will maintain our robust deterrence posture and continue to modernize our alliance and enhance our close collaboration to better respond to all forms of North Korean provocations.

The United States and the Republic of Korea share deep concern about the continued advancement of North Korea’s UN-proscribed nuclear and missile capabilities and commit to address the North Korean nuclear problem with utmost urgency and determination.

We reaffirm our commitment to our common goal, shared by the international community, to achieve the complete, verifiable, and irreversible denuclearization of North Korea in a peaceful manner. North Korea’s continuing development of its nuclear and ballistic missile programs is an ongoing violation of multiple UN Security Council resolutions and is contrary to North Korea’s commitments under the 2005 Joint Statement of the Six-Party Talks. We strongly urge North Korea to immediately and fully comply with its international obligations and commitments.

We oppose any actions by North Korea that raise tensions or violate UN Security Council resolutions. In particular, if North Korea carries out a launch using ballistic missile technology or a nuclear test, it will face consequences, including seeking further significant measures by the UN Security Council.  In this regard, we are committed to working with the international community to ensure the effective and transparent implementation of all UN Security Council resolutions, including sanctions measures, concerning North Korea, and we encourage all states to exercise strict vigilance against North Korea’s prohibited activities.

The United States and the Republic of Korea maintain no hostile policy towards North Korea and remain open to dialogue with North Korea to achieve our shared goal of denuclearization. Recognizing the common interests of our Six-Party Talks partners in the denuclearization of North Korea, we will continue to strengthen our coordination with China and the other parties in order to bring North Korea, which has refused all offers of denuclearization dialogue, back to credible and meaningful talks as soon as possible.

We reaffirm that we will never accept North Korea as a nuclear-weapon state, and that its continued pursuit of nuclear weapons is incompatible with its economic development goals. Along with the rest of the international community, we stand ready to offer a brighter future to North Korea, if North Korea demonstrates a genuine willingness to completely abandon its nuclear and ballistic missile programs, and agrees to abide by its international obligations and commitments.

The United States appreciates President Park’s tireless efforts to improve inter-Korean relations, including through repeated overtures to North Korea, and welcomes President Park’s principled approach that resulted in a peaceful resolution of the August tensions.  The United States will continue to strongly support her vision of a peacefully unified Korean Peninsula, as envisaged in her Dresden address. We will intensify high-level strategic consultations to create a favorable environment for the peaceful unification of the Korean Peninsula.

The Republic of Korea and the United States join the international community in condemning the deplorable human rights situation in North Korea as documented in the 2014 UN Commission of Inquiry report. We look forward to supporting the work of the UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (Seoul). We remain dedicated to working with the international community to improve the human rights situation in North Korea and ensure accountability for human rights violations, as well as to improve the livelihood of the people in North Korea.

Arms Race, Cyber Defenses Fail

By: Damian Paletta, Danny Yadron and Jennifer Valentino-DeVries
Countries toiled for years and spent billions of dollars to build elaborate facilities that would allow them to join the exclusive club of nations that possessed nuclear weapons.
Getting into the cyberweapon club is easier, cheaper and available to almost anyone with cash and a computer.
A series of successful computer attacks carried out by the U.S. and others has kicked off a frantic and destabilizing digital arms race, with dozens of countries amassing stockpiles of malicious code. The programs range from the most elementary, such as typo-ridden emails asking for a password, to software that takes orders from a rotating list of Twitter handles.
The proliferation of these weapons has spread so widely that the U.S. and China-longtime cyber adversaries-brokered a limited agreement last month not to conduct certain types of cyberattacks against each other, such as intrusions that steal corporate information and then pass it along to domestic companies. Cyberattacks that steal government secrets, however, remain fair game.
This comes after other countries have begun to amass cyberweaponry on an unprecedented scale. Pakistan and India, two nuclear-armed rivals, regularly hack each other’s companies and governments, security researchers said. Estonia and Belarus are racing to build defensive shields to counter Russia. Denmark and the Netherlands have begun programs to develop offensive computer weapons, as have Argentina and France.
In total, at least 29 countries have formal military or intelligence units dedicated to offensive hacking efforts, according to a Wall Street Journal compilation of government records and interviews with U.S. and foreign officials. Some 50 countries have bought off-the-shelf hacking software that can be used for domestic and international surveillance. The U.S. has among the most-advanced operations.
In the nuclear arms race, “the acronym was MAD-mutually assured destruction-which kept everything nice and tidy,” said Matthijs Veenendaal, a researcher at the NATO Cooperative Cyber Defence Centre of Excellence, a research group in Estonia. “Here you have the same acronym, but it’s ‘mutually assured doubt,’ because you can never be sure what the attack will be.”
Governments have used computer attacks to mine and steal information, erase computers, disable bank networks and-in one extreme case-destroy nuclear centrifuges.
Nation states have also looked into using cyberweapons to knock out electrical grids, disable domestic airline networks, jam Internet connectivity, erase money from bank accounts and confuse radar systems, experts believe.
Large conventional militaries and nuclear forces are ill-suited to this new kind of warfare, which evens the playing field between big and small countries. Cyberattacks are hard to stop and sometimes impossible to trace. The West, as a result, has been forced to start reconfiguring its militaries to better meet the threat.
Access to cyberweapons, according to U.S. and foreign officials and security researchers, is far more widespread than access to nuclear weapons was at the height of the nuclear arms race, a result of inexpensive technology and the power of distributed computing.
More than two dozen countries have accumulated advanced cyberweapons in the past decade. Some Defense Department officials compare the current moment to the lull between the World Wars when militaries realized the potential of armed planes.
“It’s not like developing an air force,” in terms of cost and expertise, said Michael Schmitt, a professor at the U.S. Naval War College and part of an international group studying how international law relates to cyberwarfare. “You don’t need to have your own cyberforce to have a very robust and very scary offensive capability.”
For example, hackers aligned with the Syrian government have spied into the computers of rebel militias, stolen tactical information and then used the stolen intelligence in the ongoing and bloody battle, according to several researchers, including FireEye Inc.
Most cyberattacks linked to the U.S. and foreign governments in recent years involve cyberspying-breaking into a computer network and stealing data. More-aggressive covert weapons go further, either erasing computer records or destroying physical property.
“With some countries, we’re comfortable with knowing what their capabilities are, but with other countries we’re still lost,” said Andre McGregor, a former cyber special agent at the Federal Bureau of Investigation and now the director of security at Tanium Inc., a Silicon Valley cybersecurity startup. “We don’t have the visibility into their toolset.”
The Military Balance, a widely read annual assessment of global military powers published by the International Institute for Strategic Studies in London, tallies tanks, battalions and aircraft carriers. When it comes to national cyberforces it says “capabilities are not assessed quantitatively.”
In the U.S., the National Security Agency, Central Intelligence Agency, FBI and others all play roles in combing through intelligence.
U.S. officials say their biggest concerns are the cyberweapons held by the Chinese, Russians, Iranians and North Koreans, countries that have deployed advanced attacks that either dug inside U.S. government networks or targeted top U.S. companies. Even Israel, a U.S. ally, was linked to hacking tools found on the computers of European hotels used for America’s diplomatic talks with Iran, according to the analysis of the spyware by a top cybersecurity firm. Israeli officials have denied spying on the U.S.
Cyberarmies tend to be integrated with a country’s military, its intelligence services, or both, as is the case in China and the U.S.
In China, hackers are famous for the relatively low-tech tactic of “phishing”-sending a flood of disguised emails to trick corporate employees and government bureaucrats to letting them into their networks.
The U.S. suspects that is how they penetrated the Office of Personnel Management, using a phishing email to breach an OPM contractor and then crack the agency’s network. The records of more than 21 million people were exposed in the 2014 and 2015 data breach, disclosed this summer. China has said it wasn’t involved.
China’s army has divisions devoted to cyberattacks, and recent evidence shows links between the country’s military and hackers who appear to be pressing the country’s interests abroad.
“They used to be snap and grab-get in and dump everything they can,” said Tommy Stiansen, co-founder and chief technology officer at Norse Corp., a California cybersecurity firm that tracks nation-state activity. “Now they trickle out the information, stay hidden in the system. We’ve even seen Chinese actors patch and repair networks once they’ve broken in.”
China opposes the militarization of cyberspace or a cyberarms race, said Zhu Haiquan, a spokesman for the Chinese Embassy in Washington, adding China “firmly opposes and combats all forms of cyberattacks in accordance with law.”
Choosy in targets
Russian hackers have targeted diplomatic and political data, burrowing inside unclassified networks at the Pentagon, State Department and White House, also using emails laced with malware, according to security researchers and U.S. officials.
They have stolen President Barack Obama‘s daily schedule and diplomatic correspondence sent across the State Department’s unclassified network, according to people briefed on the investigation. A Russian government spokesman in April denied Russia’s involvement.
“Russia has never waged cyberwarfare against anyone,” Andrey Akulchev, a spokesman for the Russian Embassy in Washington, said in a written statement Friday. “Russia believes that the cybersphere should be used exclusively for peaceful purposes.”
Russia’s top hackers tend to be choosier in their targets, tailoring email attacks to those they believe might unwittingly open links or attachments.
“They are sitting there trying to think through ‘how do I really want to compromise this target?’ ” said Laura Galante, director of threat intelligence at FireEye, a Silicon Valley cybersecurity company that works closely with Washington. “The Chinese just want a foothold into the target. Russian theft is very personal.”
U.S. spies and security researchers say Russia is particularly skilled at developing hacking tools. Some malicious software linked to Russia by security researchers has a feature meant to help it target computers on classified government networks usually not connected to the Internet.
The virus does this by jumping onto USB thumb drives connected to targeted computers, in the hopes that the user-such as U.S. military personnel-will then plug that USB drive into a computer on the classified network.
Russian hackers also make efforts to hide stolen data in normal network traffic. In one example, a piece of malware hides its communications in consumer Web services to fool cybersecurity defenses. The code downloads its instructions from a set of Twitter accounts. It then exports data to commercial storage services. This tactic is effective because corporate cybersecurity systems often don’t block traffic to and from these sites.
Government investigators believe Iranian hackers implanted the Shamoon virus on computers at Saudi Arabia’s Saudi Aramco, the world’s largest energy firm, in 2012. The Aramco attack erased 75% of the company’s computers and replaced screen images with burning American flags. The attack didn’t affect oil production, but it rattled the company, and security officials, as it revealed the extent of Iran’s cybercapabilities. A spokesman for Aramco didn’t respond to a request for comment.
The move was at least partly in retaliation for the alleged U.S.-Israeli attack on Iran discovered in 2010 that deployed the Stuxnet computer worm to destroy Iranian nuclear centrifuges-considered to be the most successful and advanced cyberattack ever. The U.S. and Israel haven’t confirmed or denied involvement with Stuxnet.
Director of National Intelligence James R. Clapper has said that Iran used malware to destroy computers last year at Las Vegas Sands Corp., a casino company run by Sheldon Adelson, a major critic of the Iranian government. A Sands spokesman declined to comment.
Adm. Michael Rogers, center, director of the National Security Agency and commander of the U.S. Cyber Command, confers with Deputy Defense Secretary Robert Work ahead of testifying before the Senate Armed Services Committee in September. Photo: Win McNamee/Getty Images
Defense officials have also said Iranian hackers have temporarily overwhelmed the websites of numerous U.S. banks, in an annoying but relatively pedestrian technique known as a “denial of service” attack. The attack was allegedly in response to a YouTube video depicting the Prophet Muhammad. Some U.S. officials suspected it was retaliation for sanctions and the Stuxnet attack.
In 2012, Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei publicly announced the creation of the Supreme Council of Cyberspace charged to oversee the defense of Iran’s computer networks and develop “new ways of infiltrating or attacking the computer networks of its enemies.”
National Security Agency Director Adm. Michael Rogers said Iranian cyberattacks have slowed since nuclear talks intensified last year, but that Tehran appears “fully committed” to using cyberattacks as part of its national strategy.
A spokesman for the Iranian government didn’t respond to request for comment.
Sony hack
U.S. officials accused North Korea of destroying computer files and records at Sony Corp.’s Hollywood film unit in 2014, allegedly in retaliation for “The Interview,” a satirical movie about assassins of North Korean leader Kim Jong Un. The breach was considered one of the most successful nation-state attacks. North Korea successfully implanted malware on Sony computers, which allowed them to both steal and destroy company records, the FBI alleged.
South Korea has also accused North Korea of trying to hack a nuclear reactor, television networks and at least one bank.
“Cybercapability, especially offensive cybercapability, is a relatively inexpensive method that a country can exploit to ‘hit above its weight class,’ which North Korea is fully aware of and is attempting to leverage,” said Steve Sin, a former U.S. Army counterintelligence officer who now researches unconventional weapons and technology.
Defense contractor Northrop Grumman Corp., meanwhile, has advertised for a “cyber operations planner” to “facilitate” offensive computer attacks with the South Korean and U.S. governments, according to a job posting it listed online.
A Northrop spokesman said the customer determines the scope of work performed.
A spokesman for North Korea couldn’t be reached for comment. The country hasn’t commented publicly on cyberprograms.
Many cybersecurity experts, however, consider the U.S. government to have the most advanced operations. When Kaspersky Lab ZAO, a Russian cybersecurity company, this year released a report on a group it called the Equation Group-which U.S. officials confirmed was a thinly veiled reference to the NSA-it referred to the operatives as the “crown creator of cyberespionage.”
Former National Security Agency contractor Edward Snowden leaked documents that showed the NSA had implanted malware on tens of thousands of foreign computers. That allowed the U.S. government secret access to data and, potentially, the industrial control systems behind power plants and pipelines. The Pentagon’s U.S. Cyber Command didn’t respond to a request for comment.
In some instances, Kaspersky found, the NSA was able to burrow so deeply into computers that it infected the code that controls how a hard drive spins. So-called firmware isn’t scanned by computer defenses.
“We, too, practice cyberespionage, and, in a public forum, I’m not going to say how successful we are, but we’re not bad,” Mr. Clapper, the Director of National Intelligence, told a Senate panel in September.
U.S. Cyber Command now has nine “National Mission Teams” with plans to build four more. These each comprise 60 military personnel that will “conduct full-spectrum cyberspace operations to provide cyber options to senior policy makers in response to attacks against our nation,” a Pentagon spokesperson said.
The Navy, Army, and Air Force will each build four teams, with the Marines building a single unit. Each will have a “separate mission with a specific focus area,” though these have so far remained secret.
Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. Mark A. Welsh III told a group of reporters in April that he wanted to see the military develop “blunt force trauma” powers with their cyberweapons. He gave examples of computer codes that could “make an enemy air defense system go completely blank” or have an enemy’s “radar show a thousand false targets that all look real.” He didn’t say the military had finished designing such powers.
Defense Secretary Ash Carter has made the development of new cyberweapons a priority, although the policy seems in flux after questions were raised by the Pentagon’s inspector general.
This activity has prompted other countries to join the digital buildup.
In 2014, the Netherlands announced it would begin training its own Internet troops through a domestic cybersecurity company, called Fox-IT. The head of the Dutch armed forces, Major Gen. Tom Middendorp, said in a symposium the group should be prepared to carry out attacks, not just block them, according to a Dutch media report. The Netherlands’ military strategy, laid out in various documents, refers to hacking as a “force multiplier.” A Dutch military spokesman confirmed the efforts but declined to make Gen. Middendorp available for an interview.
In 2013, Denmark’s Defense Ministry began allocating about $10 million a year for “computer network operations,” which include “defensive and offensive military operations,” according to government budget documents. That amount is just 0.24% of the Danish defense budget, reflecting the tiny barrier of entry.
Countries unable to develop their own weapons can buy off-the-shelf systems from private parties. Earlier this year, an attack and document leak on the Italian firm Hacking Team revealed the company had sold its surveillance tools to dozens of countries, including Sudan, Egypt, Ethiopia and Azerbaijan.
Hacking Team touted its product as “the hacking suite for governmental interception,” and computer security researchers who studied its program said it took advantage of holes in popular software to get onto opponents’ computers and mobile devices. The FBI is among the groups listed as clients of Hacking Team. An FBI spokesman said it didn’t comment on specific tools or techniques.
Most of these countries use surveillance software on domestic enemies or insurgent groups, according to officials with numerous countries and researchers.
States aren’t the only players. About 30 Arabic-fluent hackers in the Palestinian territories, Egypt and Turkey are building their own tools to hit targets in Egypt, Israel and the U.S., according to researchers at Kaspersky Lab.
And in August, the U.S. used a drone to kill Islamic State hacker Junaid Hussain in Raqqa, Syria, showing the extent to which digital warfare has upset the balance of power on the modern battlefield.
The British citizen had used inexpensive tools to hack more than 1,000 U.S. military personnel and published personal and financial details online for others to exploit. He helped sharpen the terror group’s defense against Western surveillance and built hacking tools to penetrate computer systems, according to people familiar with the matter.
National-security and cyberweapon experts are watching the growing digital arms stockpile nervously, worried that one-off attacks could eventually turn messier, particularly given how little is known about what each country is capable of doing.
“What we can do, we can expect done back to us,” said Howard Schmidt, who was the White House’s cybersecurity coordinator until 2012. The U.S. is thinking, “Yeah, I don’t want to pull that trigger because it’s going to be more than a single shot that goes off.”