Is Our Back Door Open?

Gee, I wonder which computer component manufacturing country might be responsible for this? Hmmm, let me think.

(you might want to skip to 51:47)

U.S. Suspects Contaminated Foreign-Made Components Threaten Cyber Security

Some foreign-made computer components are being manufactured to make it easier to launch cyber attacks on U.S. companies and consumers, a security official at the the Department of Homeland Security said.

“I am aware of instances where that has happened,” said Greg Schaffer, who is the Acting Deputy Undersecretary National Protection and Programs Director at the DHS.

Schaffer did not say where specifically these components are coming from or elaborate on how they could be manufactured in such a way as to facilitate a cyber attack.

But Schaffer’s comment confirms that the U.S. government believes some electronics manufacturers have included parts in products that could make U.S. consumers and corporations more vulnerable to targeted cyber attacks.

A device tampered with prior to distribution or sale could act as a “Trojan horse” in the opening wave of an international cyberwar. Contaminated products could be used to jeopardize the entire network.

See also:
DHS: Imported Consumer Tech Contains Hidden Hacker Attack Tools
Tomorrow’s cyberwarfare may be carried out by pre-infected electronics: DHS
Malware Comes with Many Gadgets, Homeland Security Admits
Supply chain security – DHS finds imported software and hardware contain attack tools
U.S. official says pre-infected computer tech entering country
Homeland Security Admits Hidden Malware in Foreign-Made Devices
Homeland Security Finds Your Electronic Device Poses Risks?
Threat of destructive coding on foreign-manufactured technology is real
Homeland Security Official: Some Foreign-Made Electronics Compromise Cybersecurity
White House’s Cyberspace Policy Review (PDF)

So, Mr. Schaffer “did not say where specifically these components are coming from.” Well, here, let me help, it’s obviously China. There, how hard was that? The next question is, what are we doing about it?

Our national power grid, electronics infrastructure, you name it, very few of the critical components are manufactured in the U.S. anymore and if there exists a series of back doors, enabling a hostile country, like China, to preemptively take it all down at once, we’re in serious, catastrophic trouble territory, so far up the proverbial [expletive deleted] creek without a paddle we’re no longer visible. And we’d be down for the count too, because we don’t have the U.S. manufacturing capability to pick ourselves up off the canvas

/the end game scenario this revelation portends would make Pearl Harbor look like a sorority pillow fight

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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]

The Cyberwar Rages 24/7

Corporations’ cyber security under widespread attack, survey finds

Around the world, corporations’ computer networks and control systems are under “repeated cyberattack, often from high-level adversaries like foreign nation-states,” according to a new global survey of information technology executives.

The attacks include run-of-the-mill viruses and other “malware” that routinely strike corporate defenses, but also actions by “high-level” adversaries such as “organized crime, terrorists, or nation states,” a first-time global survey by the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) in Washington has found. More than half of the 600 IT managers surveyed, who operate critical infrastructure in 14 countries, reported that their systems have been hit by such “high-level” attacks, the survey concludes.

A large majority, 59 percent, said they believed that foreign governments or their affiliates had already been involved in such attacks or in efforts to infiltrate important infrastructure – such as refineries, electric utilities, and banks – in their countries.

Such attacks, the survey said, include sophisticated denial-of-service attacks, in which an attacker tries to so overwhelm a corporate network with requests that the network grinds to a halt.

But they also include efforts to infiltrate a company. Fifty-four percent of the IT executives said their companies’ networks had been targets of stealth attacks in which infiltration was the intent. In two-thirds of those cases, the IT managers surveyed said company operations had been harmed.

The IT managers also believed that these “stealthy” attacks were conducted by “nation states” targeting their proprietary data, says the survey’s main author, CSIS fellow Stewart Baker, in a phone interview. Mr. Baker is a cybersecurity expert formerly with the Department of Homeland Security and National Security Agency.

“It’s all the same kind of stuff – spear-phishing, malware, taking over the network and downloading-whatever-you-want kind of attack,” he says. “Over half of these executives believe they’ve been attacked with the kind of sophistication you’d expect from a nation state.”

The CSIS report describes such attacks as “stealthy infiltration” of a company’s networks by “a high-level adversary” akin to a “GhostNet,” or large spy ring featuring “individualized malware attacks that enabled hackers to infiltrate, control and download large amounts of data from computer networks.” The GhostNet attacks, which Canadian researchers attributed to Chinese state-run agencies, bear similarities to recent attacks on Google and other high-tech companies, Baker says. Google attributed attacks on it to entities in China.

Read the report:
In the Crossfire: Critical Infrastructure in the Age of Cyber War

See also:
In the Crossfire: Critical Infrastructure in the Age of Cyber War
Report: Critical Infrastructures Under Constant Cyberattack Globally
Utilities, Refineries and Banks Are Victims of Cyber Attacks, Report Says
Critical Infrastructure under Siege from Cyber Attacks
Critical Infrastructure Vulnerable To Attack
Critical Infrastructure Security a Mixed Bag, Report Finds
Report shows cyberattacks rampant; execs concerned
Key infrastructure often cyberattack target: survey
Critical infrastructure execs fear China
SCADA system, critical infrastructure security lacking, survey finds

Ironically, the more dependent we become on interconnected network technology, the more vulnerable we become too.

/so keep your fingers crossed and your computers patched against hacking and intrusion, at least you can do your part to avoid being part of the problem