Cyberwar, Cyberdouchery, and Where The Rubber Meets The CyberRoad
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CYBER CYBER CYBER CYBER WAR! (A new song by Culture Club soon!)
I have been more quiet lately due to being a little burned out on the whole INFOSEC scene. The usual groups of factions are bellowing their usual bloviations and rutting like wild animals online, locking horns with others for dominance. It all frankly makes me just want to step back into my blind and clean my weapon, but, it also gives me pause to think and reflect on it all. It has been in this mode that I have sat and watched the “cyberwars” continue to amp up with the Kaspersky’s of the world finding more and more malware to write neat little papers on how they work and how “nation-statey” they are (oddly though never Russian in origin.. Gee I wonder why?)
Others out there are writing treatises on how “Cyberwar” will work all the while there has been no real definition put down and agreed upon by the masses as to what “cyberwar/Cyber-War/Cyber-Warfare” really is. It has not been codified really, even with the recent UN Tallinn document:
“A cyber attack is a cyber operation, whether offensive or defensive, that is reasonably expected to cause injury or death to persons or damage or destruction to objects.”
Tallinn Manual on The International Law Applicable to Cyber Warfare – Michael N. Shmitt
Without a common definition we are all left with a great amount of confusion and gray area to move forward and commit actions that may or may not be “war” because there is no set ground rules, law, or definitions. So, here we are, we have all these people making a great hue and cry, plans and deeds, all without really understanding perhaps the potentials for their actions, all eager to get in on the ground floor of the “new war” and yes, you gentle INFOSEC reader are also part and parcel, willing participants to it all as well. The “cyberdouchery” it seems cannot be washed from your hands as well, and this includes me I think.
Mea culpa.. Mea culpa…
While reflecting in my recently infected state (pre-con flu) I sat down with the laptop and watched “Cyberwar: Not what we were expecting” a BruCon presentation that I had a hand in with Josh and Brian. The presentation went well, and as I had seen and thought about the material before, having had discussions with both in the process of creation, I began to have a bit of a paradigm change in thought on this after the final presentation. I looked back at my own mind set and writings on the douchery and realized my own shortsightedness, I too had fallen prey to the “cyberwars” and the only conclusion I could have now is that they are upon us, no matter the definition and I had better think on that.
Let’s face facts here… No matter how many times we call douchery, it’s here…
For all of the high handed railing that I have done in the past, I perhaps had missed the salient fact that people are people, and that we as a society will always latch on to the new “thing” that is super cool, but may in fact be the worst thing for us (think of the iPhone madness) We as a species, tend to go, like many other creatures, say parrots or cockatiels, for the “shiny things” It’s just our nature. So how much more shiny than anything else is the notion of a clean “cyberwar” where we take out the enemy with a click of the button, no, not with kinetic explosions but instead with the lights just going out or a centrifuge breaking.
Yeah, sound familiar?
This neat idea though could in fact cause some dystopian scenarios to happen and yes, in the idea of “war” as we commonly know it, kinetic actions (i.e. tanks and planes and bombs) would likely be employed as well, but, this in fact may not be the end goal of “cyberwar” in the minds eye of those dreaming and plotting it. After all, I would say that we are in the era of the “cyberwars” now in fact, and the only use of kinetic force seems to be only taking place in the non declared wars in Afghanistan and now the Horn of Africa right?
The “cyberwars” though, have been playing out mostly quietly, bits and bytes doing their non kinetic (mostly) damage, stealing data for financial gain or other espionage goals. Both nation state as well as personal, group, non nation state, whatever you decide to name the actors as, they are doing it, right now.. You can almost hear the clicks of the hard drives now right?
It’s really just a war of packet attrition… But then again I hear you thinking,
“But, you said war.. and well, that’s not war.. That’s espionage and maybe sabotage”
Well, yes, but, then there’s this notion of “Cold War” to deal with.
“Christ, I miss the Cold War.” (Cold War vs. Hot War)
The above quote was one of my favorites from “Casino Royale”, the recent re-boot of the James Bond story line. I find it apropos to this discussion as even with Josh and Brian, the idea of the nomenclature of war has been somewhat nebulous really. The idea of a “cold war” seemed elusive to them and perhaps even to me in some way, though I lived through the cold war and was actually in East Germany briefly just before the wall fell. Seeing the “cold war” first hand kind of gives you a new perspective I guess, so I was a little more pliable to the idea that a cold war was in fact a war, just not one where we have outright battles being fought in the “open” and that’s the key here.
Cold War Noun:
A state of political hostility existing between countries, characterized by threats, violent propaganda, subversive activities, and…
The state of political hostility that existed between the Soviet bloc countries and the US-led Western powers from 1945 to 1990.
Cyberwar, is the new “black” of Cold War.
See what I am getting at here? Sure, there can be an all out war that employs a “digital aspect” to it, (i.e. disrupting comms and supply chains) but also, the mainstay thus far of digital warfare is “information war” and this is much closer to “cold warfare” as it has ever been as you can see from the standard definition. Case in point, we are trying to contain Iran from having its own nuclear weapons. What have we been doing? Well, sanctions, propaganda, espionage, and now, post Stuxnet, digital sabotage of their programs as well as great swaths of digital thievery of their data to see just how far along they are.
Now, look up at that definition again and think about it… See what I’m saying here? Of course this is one element though and there are others like the kinetic typical warfare also described. Actions in tandem (digital and physical/kinetic) like that of Estonia but you get the point. It’s mostly, at this point, about cold war tactics to manipulate an enemy without committing to all out warfare and that’s the rub. Of course there are many war planners out there looking at plans to do more than just manipulate an enemy politically, that’s more the bailiwick of the likes of the CIA and other three letter agencies.
Diplomacy it seems, has a new tool in it’s little black bag…. As does the military sector.. Truly “Dual use” technology here.
State vs. Non State, War vs. Non War (What’s in a name?)
In the rubric though of “cyberwar” lately, we have seen arguments made (some unqualified, some quite qualified) about just what it constitutes and one of those factors has been whether or not the actors are “state or non state” actors. I would put it to you right up front, who’s to say who is or is not state actors to start with? Have none of you ever heard about proxy wars? I mean come on people, we lived through the 80’s and the wars being fought by proxy and still you guys don’t get it?
Afghanistan and the Mujahideen
The War on Drugs
The Current War on Drugs with boots on the ground in Mexico (CIA/MIL)
So, you are going to quibble over nation state and non nation state actors in cyber warfare? What’s more, you are going to do so when attribution is so damned hard? Wow, the hubris of it is just stunning on some people’s parts within this community. Talk about douchery, just take a look around people. Sure, there is a lot of douchery going around, but I just have to say look in the mirror here and take a good long look. I think we all could be blamed just as equally here.
Actions taken by entities, in this arena (cyber-warfare) no matter the attribution, which may be wholly wrong mind you, can always have a sliver of doubt attached to them as to whether they are a proxy of a nation. It’s as simple as that. So, in the case of say the Georgia DDoS that happened, who can be sure, unless they have a really solid HUMINT report in hand, that this attack was not in some way or shape condoned or sponsored by the Russian government or factions thereof?
*silence.. baleful stare*
All I’m really saying is that the world is grey and to make great pronouncements of “I know shit” isn’t going to cut it in reality, and that even goes for me. Like they say on the internets, photo’s or it never happened. What can be said though, is that it would seem, from all evidence within the media machine and the rhetoric of the governments of the world, that the Dr. Cyberlove’s of the world are beating the drums for “cyberwar” pretty damn hard… And that the governments are scurrying to get a piece of the action.
“A fool with a tool.. Is still a fool” (Or: Simians flinging digital poo)
Which brings me to my next diatribe. As the title above says, a fool with a tool.. Is still a fool. Folks, we have all kinds of work going on developing 0day’s and plans of action by various warfighting units new and old. It seems that whenever we, as a race, come up with a new way to get over on the other guy, we mass produce and refine it without really thinking about the ramifications of our actions. It’s just human nature it seems, but in cases like this we just rush headlong into it, like we did for so long with biological warfare.
“Surely digital warfare and code is nothing as bad as biological warfare” is what some of you are thinking out there now as you read these lines, and yes, you are right I think on the whole, but, there is always wiggle room for disaster right? The potentials for malware and unforeseen consequences are there and unlike Jericho’s take on the dangers of “cyberwar” now, I can give it a little more room for possible bad outcomes from what’s being created now. What will happen as we all reach the singularity that some are postulating as we network everything? Currently the grid is a big topic as we make the “smart grid”, a model that is already being attacked by hackers as well as perhaps nation states trying to gather intelligence on how it works/will work and how to manipulate it. This type of attack alone could be dual use, like the Stuxnet attack, it could be a way to manipulate a country and its policies, or the prelude to a further physical attack. Who’s to know until it happens right?
All in all, I just have to look on in wonder at the hubris of the whole affair. We truly are monkeys with digital guns. Unfortunately today we have political systems that are short sighted and, in the case of our own here in the US, groups of diametrically opposed morons in a political election cycle that looks much more like a high school election campaign for prom queen. These are the people in the political office that direct the policies and war plans for us, which now include the idealistic ideas of “clean cyber warfare, targeted and with little blowback or collateral damage”
Monkeys with digital guns…
Cyberwar and YOU
Well, so here we are, we are in the age of the “Cyberwars” as much as the term might stick in the craw of many in the community. I would put it to you that as a person with anything online, you are a target. Whether it be the cyberwarfare of the state, or the cyber machinations of the criminal gang seeking to steal your money or your data, we all are under the same threats. Infrastructure as well as your personal PC are targets within a larger game of digital Stratego. Face the fact, live with it a while, and then think about what you can do to insulate yourselves a bit better.
It seems that even if you do not have a computer (some don’t.. no, really!) you still have a digital presence online because the companies that you do business with have one. The governments have their records online and those records are your records! There is no escaping it really, you are a part of the picture and you should get used to the idea. The power that you suck up every day with your digital toys is somewhat vulnerable and a target, and even if the adversary cannot take out the whole country, let me tell you from experience, just take out one state and see the shit fly because people don’t have power. Where I live we had that big storm a year ago and when people could not get their gas to power their generators it started getting hairy, and that was with the power only being out a week or so. Imagine if it were in fact long term? It’s the people’s reactions (base and territorial) that worries me more than the power being off.
So, whether it’s your data, your power, or your money, you too are a cog in the vast cyberwar machine that is all the rage. Will bad things happen? Maybe. Will epic and tragically bad things happen? Maybe. I am not short sighted enough to say it won’t ever happen, nor can I say that these attacks will not be employed by some foreign power or Bondian villain. I’m just saying it is possible, not overly likely, but look at all the work going on at DARPA and other places looking into how to make it a reality.
The cyberwar is upon us and we had best start taking it seriously because people in power are making plans, and like biological warfare, it seems perhaps there could be unforeseen cirucmstances that could trigger bigger and worse things.
Plan accordingly and think a bit more cogently.