Thursday, November 19, 2009



Through the week, the school of cyberwar vampire squid continued its preparations for feeding.

Spurred by 60 Minutes (see here), the big newsmedia followed with articles through the Wall Street Journal, US News & World Report, TIME and additional pieces from a host of information technology and business publications which exist only to regurgitate whatever received wisdoms the corporate infosecurity world needs pushed.

Overseas, the Telegraph, the Australian and the BBC were the waterbearers.

And after 60 Minutes, the biggest bucket of water to be carried was that provided by McAfee, in a convenient report on how the age of cyberwar was just about upon us. It was a thin read, its main purpose to get press. Containing no actual new information, it succeeded grandly. More interesting was who manufactured it, but more on this in a moment.

As far as these things go, this week's show was an unusually transparent rigged news push in which a small circle of national security businessmen provided all the paint for a backdrop into which no skepticism intruded. This is not so remarkable -- anymore -- but still a little surprising in that no one tries to disguise it even a little in 2009.

Cyberwar is about to break out and everyone is preparing, was the news. Report distributed by the computer security company responsible for the very first virus hype, Michelangelo, in 1992. (Your host, in the American Journalism Review in 1992, on the McAfee-led brouhaha.)

"Despite the secrecy, brief glimpses of several cyberwar incursions have surfaced recently," wrote a journalist at US News for an article entitled US is Striking Back in Global Cyberwar.

"Nuclear weapons labs, defense contractors, the State Department and other sensitive federal government agencies have fallen prey," wrote the Washington Post on November 11. "What experts do not know is exactly what has been stolen or how badly U.S. systems have been exposed. 'Given the intrusions into defense industry networks, multibillion-dollar weapons systems . . . may have already been compromised,' said James Mulvenon, a China expert with Defense Group Inc."

With enemies everywhere, according to US News, "[... Remotely] hacking into al Qaeda laptops, meanwhile, is within the purview of the nation's spy agencies, says researcher and former intelligence officer Mathew Aide, who recently wrote The Secret Sentry, a book about the National Security Agency. He says that the NSA's Tailored Access Operation Group employs a cadre of Navy computer technicians who spend their days in rooms protected by James Bond-esque retinal scanners deep inside NSA headquarters at Fort Meade in Maryland. But their activities are more often focused on monitoring communications than on remotely erasing hard drives or crashing power grids."

Thank heaven.

"More than two dozen professional hackers have set up operations in exurban Virginia beside a mock military headquarters made of plywood," the article begins. "Huddled over laptops, they are preparing to launch a vicious barrage of cyberattacks. Once they break into their targets' computer networks, the nefarious possibilities are myriad: shutting off phone lines, overloading citywide emergency response systems, or simply slinking around to pilfer passwords."

In the comments section, color furnished by a very young person:

"I was there," writes one young fellow.

"I found Cyber Dawn [cyberwar exercise] to be a very educational and informative event, not to mention the moments of hilarity after me and my dad took down a web server for Westpoint. But the fact remains that anyone can go on the Internet to get some fancy tools to attack anyones [sic] computer from a remote location.

"Oh, and I'm 13 and was on the 'Hackers' team."

It is good to know that joint the US government and military/corporate comsec businesses still realize that 'tweeners are the best at mastering networked computing technology because everyone knows they are on the Internet everyday, play computer games constantly, and are biologically and mentally more fit for it than anyone older.

See here.

Moving along from this circus, one in which the riding of unicycles or jumping on pogo sticks are portrayed as remarkable new things, DD returns to the McAfee report, entitled Virtually Here: The Age of Cyberwarfare.

The report was actually done by Good Harbor Consulting, Richard Clarke's front company.

In the report, Clarke is quoted, sort of like an independent expert. It lists him as a contributor at the very end. How cheeky!

"The lack of a clear doctrine for cyberdefense reminds Richard Clarke, former Special Advisor to the President for CyberSecurity at the White House, of the development of US nuclear strategy after World War II," reads the report.

The report itself is attributed to Paul Kurtz, another of Richard Clarke's men. Buttressing quote is furnished by Greg Rattray, another in a small circle of individuals all known for pushing the coming age of cyberwar.

Here, for example, is the Cyber-Conflict Studies Association, which coincidentally just happens to include Paul Kurtz of Good Harbor, James Mulvenon and Greg Rattray. For a research group, it looks almost entirely like a corporate national security strategic advice and services trade association.

But back to Richard Clarke, who featured in a post earlier this week here.

"We sit at a similar historical moment ... War fighting is forever changed," wrote Clarke for something advertising his new book, on cyberwar, threatened in early 2010.

The man is nothing if not consistent and tenacious.

In the August '99 issue of Signal magazine, Richard Clarke said there was "a very real possibility of an electronic Pearl Harbor."

"Without computer-controlled networks, there is no water coming out of your tap; there is no electricity lighting your room; there is no food being transported to your grocery store; there is no money coming out of your bank; there is no 911 system responding to emergencies; and there is no Army, Navy and Air Force defending the country . . . All of these functions, and many more, now can only happen if networks are secure and functional."

One of the way an observer can tell the current eruption over cyberwar and cyberattack is manufactured is its total irrelevance to the lives of average Americans. Other than as a petty background annoyance -- ancillary and constant admonitions to keep anti-virus software up-to-date, to blindly obey every nag to update something, to listen and take seriously every blandishment 'experts' emit because that is only way one will be educated on computer security and, in turn, made safe -- it serves no use other than to frighten.

Nevertheless, while the economy has crumpled and every day brings new front page stories about loss, rising unemployment and lives increasingly stunted by economic woe due to malfeasance and mischief in the US financial system, all the criers on cyberwar can talk about is how the banks and said system might be crippled by mysterious hackers and shadowy enemy nation cybersquads.

While rage at Wall Street, banking and finance is palpable in the middle class, threatening to make impossible any subsequent attempts to force recovery and build potential jobs, the fuglemen of cyberwar go on about how we must act now to save Wall Street, banks, the financial sectors, everything -- from black secret cyberwar.

It is delivered as if in a deaf, dumb and blind environment, ignoring the herd of elephants in the room -- how the economy was actually brought down and how everyone knows this.

DD did an Adobe scan of McAfee/Good Harbor's coming cyberwar report for the word "bank."

A "key finding" -- "Most experts agree that critical infrastructure systems -- such as the electrical grid, banking and finance, are vulnerable to cyberattack in many countries. Some nation-states are actively reconnaissance to identify specific vulnerabilities ... laying the electronic battlefield and preparing to use it."

". . . [they] will go in and shut down a banking system or they will manipulate financial data ..."

This next one is particularly ludicrous, whether true or utterly fabricated, in light of how everyone knows how the Iraq War and subsequent years really unfolded.

"[Our] cyberattack would have frozen Saddam Hussein's personal bank accounts and stopped payments to Iraqi soldiers for war supplies ... The risk of plunging the world into financial crisis was not worth it."

Yes, of course, the risk of plunging the world into financial crisis wasn't worth the attack. Thanks, US cybermen, for keeping your hands off the kill switch.

Fictitious scenario: "Confidence in the bank is [put] at risk, potentially causing a classic run on the bank ... While it may be theoretical, this scenario is not impossible."

"... [Banking] and finance ... are ... likely targets in future wars."

The arguments and claims, self-serving as they are, display a rancidity in thought, a purposeful denial of any perspective or recognition of what actual pressing problems face the nation and the daily impact of them on the security of average Americans.

"But the enemy will cyber-bomb Wall Street soon!" the salesmen warn.

One wishes they say it, more loudly, but to try singing it at tea-parties and townhalls in middle America instead of to the usual reporters, influential fools and keepers of the purse. The silence could be deafening except for the sound of pitchforks being sharpened.


Anonymous SoVaSec said...

You're the first other person who I've seen writing about this, and you are totally correct. The cyber-sycophants are using the supposed threat of cyber war and cyber terrorisim to line their own pockets.

11:15 AM  

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