Cyberwar Fail


Okay, so it was pretend, could have been more realistic, and adding the natural disasters was a bit much, but today’s Cyber ShockWave proved a point, the United States is not ready to defend herself against an organized, large scale cyber-attack. The Chinese, Russians, and a myriad of other state and criminal entities probe our cyber-defenses 24 hours a day, seven days a week, looking for weaknesses. If one or more of these actors decided to launch a coordinated, sustained cyber-assault, we could be brought down to our economic knees in a crippling world of infrastructure cyberhurt.

Report: The Cyber ShockWave and its aftermath

When it comes to the protection of the nation’s infrastructure, the government is lacking in several areas. While they have the ability to act offensively, if they know who the enemy is, the trick is to collect enough information and retaliate without violating domestic and foreign policy and law. The Tech Herald was in Washington D.C. on Tuesday to witness Cyber ShockWave. Here’s what we walked away with.

What happened?

Cyber ShockWave started with a vulnerability in the operating systems used by various Smartphones. Thanks to a malicious application, celebrating the NCAA’s March Madness, Spyware was loaded onto Smartphones that included a keylogger and data intercept component. The application was then used to funnel millions of dollars to banks overseas. From there, the data and money snatching application morphs, and the malicious application turns the infected devices into bots and adds them to a telecommunications botnet.

The bots start to download videos showing The Red Army. The downloads and resulting spread of the video result flood the data networks of the major carriers, and slow them to a crawl before crippling them altogether. After that, the Malware on the Smartphones starts to replicate, thanks to sync programs linking information from the phone to a computer. Now that the computers are infected, the ISPs face the same issue the telecoms faced. In the end, both communications systems are crippled.

If this wasn’t enough, weather patterns resulting in a heat wave and hurricanes stress the electrical system. This is where things go south, on a major scale. A hurricane wrecks the petroleum refining and natural gas processing centers, and a stressed electrical grid is hurt more by Improvised Explosive Devices (IEDs) and what is assumed to be a Malware attack on the Secure Trade power trading platform.

Both incidents are deemed critical, and the former top US officials debated how to respond for most of the event. The problem is that by the end of the debates, during both sessions, there were no real answers.

Behold the confusion that is Cyber ShockWave

Can we nationalize the U.S. power system? Should the National Guard be called out? The FBI reports that they have traced the services used in the March Madness application to Russia, is retaliation called for? Two IEDs were detonated in two different power facilities, is it terrorism? According to a GNN (the news source for media information during the event), there was a cyber component to the electrical outage, later assumed to be related to patches on the Secure Trade software. Was this the work of an insider? These were the topics of note, and the confusion only led to more questions and few answers.

The downside to the ShockWave, as it were, is that there were just too many levels of attack at the same time. The Cyber ShockWave exercise was to create a possible attack scenario, but not one that is total chaos. However, by adding the botnet side to the telecom attack, adding in natural disasters as well as potential terrorism on and offline, they added too much to the “Perfect Storm” that they kept referring to it as.

The malicious application causing harm to telecom and ISP networks is one scenario that is highly likely, as more and more applications make it to market and more and more people switch to Smartphones. The odds of this happening at the same time that the power grid is attacked, and a hurricane kills off oil and gas production, is simply too high to compute.

The point of it all

The main point to take away from Cyber ShockWave, at least how we see it, is that there needs to be a solid level of cooperation inside the government first, and then after that, between the government and private sector. There is no “I” in team, and when it comes to protecting the assets within the backbone of the Internet, both private and government entities have a lot to look after.

One interesting point came up when debating the Russian server, the one the FBI said was linked to the telecom attacks. Why doesn’t the government simply shut it down? The reason is that doing so could be considered an act of war. No one knows, because there is no policy or precedence of such an action.

The mirror side to this would be the question, what if the Russian server was a jumping point to a server in the U.S.? If so, can we shut it down then? What would be the reasoning? While killing a server in a foreign country could be perceived as an act of aggression, doing so on our own soil could be a violation of various laws, unless a state of emergency is ordered. Once that happens, according to the panel, the President has a good deal of leeway.

There are few limits to what the government can do in response to a threat to national security. What limits that exist are those enforced by policy and U.S. law. What this means is that while there were several ideas passed around, many of them are without precedence, so they couldn’t be acted on.

For example there was a patch for the Smartphones, one that would fix the Malware issue. Yet, only 50-percent of consumers applied it. To prevent further attacks to the telecommunications system, you can ask the people to stop using phones, or simply force them to stop using them by turning them off. If the issue was forced, and the government did something to turn the phones off, then there would be serious consequences to deal with later.

In the end, the Bipartisan Policy Center, who put Cyber ShockWave together, had hoped that the gaps existing within the law and government policy related to cybercrime and cyberattacks would be exposed. The got their wish, as gaps in both areas were exposed. But when it comes to balance between the private and government sectors and security, it takes more than policy to make it work.

It would have added a ton of weight to the exercise if there was some sort of consultation with energy companies or telecom representatives. They were absent during the mock attacks, and their absence was felt when you consider that by the time the President was “briefed”, there was no solid plan of action as to how to deal with and recover from the incidents.

There were some smart and skilled people on the panel. Yet, the scripting made the panel come off as clueless when it came to the reach, intelligence, and overall skill of foreign attackers. The current cyber capacities of the various international terrorist groups were left completely off the table.

Overall, the Cyber ShockWave was more media hype than actual intelligence and insight. We had hoped to see some of the political heavyweights on the panel act with their full capacity and experience, but they either couldn’t or opted not to. If anything, the federal employees who attended learned that managing IT in the public world, and dealing with threats there, is nothing like attempting the same feat within the federal government.

See also:
U.S. Isn’t Prepared for Massive Cyber Attack, Ex-Officials Say
War game reveals U.S. lacks cyber-crisis skills
In a doomsday cyber attack scenario, answers are unsettling
Washington Group Tests Security in ‘Cyber ShockWave’
US networks and power grid under (mock) cyber-attack
Cyberattack simulation highlights vulnerabilities
Former officials war-game cyberattack
Former Government Officials Gather to Rehearse Cyberwar
Former top U.S. officials hold cyberattack exercise
Cyber ShockWave cripples computers nationwide (sorta)
Cyber Shockwave : Cyber-Attack to Test Government Response
Is The U.S. Ready For A Cyberwar?
25 ways to better secure software from cyber attacks
It’s Your Cyberspace Too, So Take Care Of It
Bipartisan Policy Center

/remember, this was only a test, had this been an actual emergency we would have been seriously [expletive deleted]

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