Homeland Security Watch

News and analysis of critical issues in homeland security

March 25, 2010

Cyber security and the two homelands hypothesis

Filed under: Cybersecurity — by Christopher Bellavita on March 25, 2010

The deputy assistant director of the FBI’s cyber division, Steven Chabinsky, told a conference on Tuesday:

“The cyber threat can be an existential threat — meaning it can challenge our country’s very existence, or significantly alter our nation’s potential…. How we rise to the cybersecurity challenge will determine whether our nation’s best days are ahead of us or behind us.”

That’s serious language.

Several weeks ago I was with a group of homeland security executives who agreed the cyber threat was really important.  They were equally in agreement the nation would not get serious about the threat until we experienced the cyber equivalent of Pearl Harbor.

Why is that?

Beyond the usual “human nature” kinds of hypotheses, I think part of the answer has to do with the difficulty understanding what the cyber threat actually is.  Why should it have the same fear status as, say, a biological attack on the nation, a nuclear detonation in an American city, a Mumbai-style attack on multiple-cities — pick your own “challenge to our country’s existence” scenario?

Chabinsky talks about cyber terrorism, the theft of state and corporate secrets, and cybercrime.  I am sure there are detailed reports available that give more information about why cyber is a serious threat.  And I mean to find and read them.

I also mean to track down a copy of CNN’s “We Were Warned: Cyber Shockwave”  attack simulation.  I hear two stories about it: On the one hand, the “presentation was excellent and it highlighted some very real vulnerabilities.” On the other hand,  “This scenario is removed from reality. This could have possibly happened 9 years ago. The pillars of the private sector have developed contingency plans just in case of this type of “event”.   At best this is a poorly constructed “war game” at worst this is a piece of think tank propaganda.”

I am confused.  So I am looking to learn about the cyber threat and understand why it should be a high priority homeland security issue.

As a part of my education, I came across an out-of-frame essay in the Financial Times [free, but registration is required] that sees cyber space not as a way to exchange information, but as a “new continent,” rich in both resources and peril. And before too long, many of us will spend so much time living in the new continent that, “… almost any human interaction of any kind will require use of the internet.”

From this perspective, we will have two homelands: the United States and the Internet.

States embark on a scramble for cyberspace

By Misha Glenny
Published: March 17 2010 23:20 |
It is time to stop thinking of cyberspace as a new medium or an agglomeration of new media. It is a new continent, rich in resources but in parts most perilous. Until 30 years ago, it had lain undiscovered, unmined and uninhabited.

The first settlers were idealists and pioneers who set out from San José, Boston and Seattle before sending back messages about the exciting virgin lands that awaited humanity in the realm of the net. They were quickly followed by chancers and adventurers who were able to make fortunes by devising their own version of the South Sea Bubble.

It was inevitable that the wondrous materials found all over this territory would attract the interest of nation states. Now, the scramble for cyberspace has begun. Military and intelligence agencies are already staking their claim for the web’s high ground as civilian powers lay down boundaries to define what belongs to whom and who is allowed to wander where.

Cyberspace is being nationalised rapidly. In some parts of the world, this has been going on for a while. Russia has been running a programme known by the delightfully sinister acronym Sorm-2 (System of operational investigative activities) since the late 1990s. This ensures that a copy of every single data byte that goes into, out of or around the country ends up in a vast storage vault run by the Federal Security Service. You can read about atrocities committed in Chechnya if you wish but you can be confident that somebody will be looking over your digital shoulder.

China, of course, has its “great firewall”, filtering politically incorrect sites along with pornography and other forms of cultural contamination. But of even greater import is China’s demand, effectively conceded, that the US relinquish control of the internet’s language and domain names through the Californian non-profit organisation Icann. This is being transformed into a United Nations-style regulatory operation. China will soon have absolute say over the internet’s structure within its borders. [Note: this was written before this week's skirmish in the first war between nation states and virtual states: i.e., China v. Google.]

The legal mapping of cyberspace in the west is more chaotic. But we are now witnessing the establishment of myriad laws and rules by legislators and in the courts. In a hearing this week … in London following a major cybercrime trial, [an attorney] put his finger on it when he argued that “we are entering a world where almost any human interaction of any kind will require use of the internet”.

So while there is clearly a pressing need to define rules that apply in cyberspace, they are emerging at speed with little coherent strategy behind them. Nobody knows where this process will lead for two central reasons. The speed of technological change means that the traditional tools of state used to carve up the world in the 19th century, such as laws and treaties, are often inadequate, if not entirely irrelevant, when applied to this new domain.

Law enforcement agencies such as the FBI and the Serious Organised Crime Agency in Britain have invested considerable time and money in bringing down criminal networks on the web. But as the Internet Crime Complaints Centre in the US has just reported, the losses from cybercrime continue to climb at a staggering rate because criminals adapt at lightning speed to new policing methods.

In the commercial world, major legislation concerning copyright … is unlikely to withstand the second great variable – the coming of age of the net generation. Laws banning file-sharing are likely to prove as unpopular as the poll tax that helped bring down the Thatcher government. They also look utterly unenforceable.

As a harbinger of change, we are seeing political parties springing up throughout Europe with names such as the Internet party or the Pirate party, which understand the web as simply part of human DNA. “In the collision between the old and the new on the web,” argues Rex Hughes, a Chatham House fellow who is leading a cybersecurity project, “the old always wins the first few rounds but eventually they die off.” [my emphasis]

But the greatest battle is happening in the area of cyberwarfare and cyberespionage. Symbolically, the US designated cyberspace as the “Fifth Domain” last June and the first man-made one after land, sea, air and space. Nato lawyers are trying to work out how the laws of war operate in cyberspace. Hysteria is accompanying this new arms race, as when Admiral Mike McConnell, former director of US National Intelligence, claimed at a Senate hearing last month that “if the nation went to war today in a cyberwar, we would lose”.

Meanwhile, the phenomenon of “anonymisation”, so useful for cybercrime, is a gift to intelligence agencies as they sniff into every corner of the web to find out who is up to what.

None of this would amount to a hill of beans were it not for [the attorney cited above’s] point that everything we do is somehow mediated by the web. Governments are becoming obsessed about the need to control the internet but have yet to work out how to do this without suffocating the noble goal of those pioneers who merely wanted to facilitate communication between ordinary people. Heaven forbid!

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4 Comments »

Comment by William R. Cumming

March 25, 2010 @ 8:57 pm

Great post! History of technology will definitely include this subject. James Burkes “The Axeman’s Gift” will require a supplemental chapter on the creative and destructive aspects of the cyber world. WWI was fought with landlines. WWII with radio. WWIII?
Personally I think the lack of critical thinking in the bureacracies of the west is the most alarming thing about cyber issues. MY immediate take is convert 2/3 of the money used for phyiscal security of critical infrastructure to cyber and computer security. And cyber and computer security are just flip sides of the same coin but totally stovepiped in the US by government funding and thinking.
And of course the lawyers who have headed DHS are computer illiterates (moi aussi) so that explains part of the problem. Law has always been slow both dealing with and adapting to technology. Major law firms in the US fought adoption of Lexis and computer searching. It was really the Law Librarians that pushed it for researching. The archaic system of legal research before lexis was designed in part to foil those who knew that one half of the legal professions work was information. The other half being judgement. And looking at the legal signoffs on the current financial sector we know how far judgement extended in that largely diminished profession. A recent book documents how the SEC is filled with the wrong profession–lawyers and not finance types. And we probably now have a military leadership as illiterate on the cyber world and computer security as the SEC is on modern debt finance arrangements. My immediate recommendation is that the CIO’s in each agency, established under Clinger-Cohen in early 90′s also be given the cyber security and computer security portfolios by statute and that arrangement be reflected in the WH. And the regulated industries and those with computer assisted control systems better be paying attention to this debate also.
Perhaps Chris not just a new continent but a new world?

Comment by christopher tingus

March 26, 2010 @ 5:43 am

Cybersecurity is foremost when it comes to our security not twenty years from now, but today!

It is time that our nation grows up! It is time to act responsibly.

The clock is ticking and instead of scientists and engineers leading the way as in China’s leadership, we keep taking from their program budgets and the psychological mind set of lawyers has crippled the innovativeness, the entrepreneurial spirit, the necessary risk taking, the imagination, the dreams!

What do you mean Admiral McConnel we would lose? To the Joint Chiefs of Staff, gentlemen, if this is true, then fix it! Enough is enough! This American mentality, our country – bankrupt – never mind its people….

From our Main Street USA perspective, the devoted folks at NSA, you at DOD, you can make decisions and the partisan gridlock retarding our growth in Washington is no longer tolerable – Time is slipping by, the world is slipping past us.

Everywhere my business in representing expertise in wastewater and water purification project development sees China already on site. I am now on the street seeking $100 million in financing of project after project and who will lend the monies to these profitable and much needed infrastructure development ventures, most likely the Chinese using our “fiat” dollars as a result of th void in leadership in washington, in our school systems who cannot produce Scientists and Engineers, just more and more attorneys w/the onging joke here in Boston that one could go to the window and call for an attorney passing by and the majority would identify themselves as lawyers – far too many!

For the most part, educators in this country with their graduate degrees and PHD’s, you haver failed! We have failed and Washington on both sides of the aisle has placed us far down the list in most global competitions and has placed this great Republic in peril!

Isn’t it interesting that in South Korea, its population uses their computers which are far faster than ours and its computer skills far more advanced.

The future has been written. Unless we truly see objective commitment from someone in Washington, the taxes and fees, the smugness in Pelosi smile will suffocate us here on Main Street USA and to you “Mr. Barney” your comment that the government needs to control the people…well, Sir, it is time for term limits for everyone engaged in public service whether local, state and national public service. The arrogance in power, the lustful ways have lined the pockets of the “entrusted” leadership which erodes those of us here on Main Street USA growing very intolerant of the warped perspective.

Real War looms in the not-too-distant future…..

Economic insecurity will grow despite the rhetoric from CNBC and the insiders and category by category, these supposed bright minds, the think tanks, the stroking of egos, the JD degree on the wall have all duped us and the nightmare surely evolving as we witness the final meltdown of Washington bureaucrats as well as our nation, well, turning a cheek to and frowning when the Constitution is referenced as well as the principles of a Judeao-Christian ethic, I ask what did all those men die for on the beaches in Normandy, the islands of the Pacific, the sands of the Middle East, we not only “outsourced” our manufacturing and production, jobs, jobs, jobs, but we compromised our soul! Now, we have even been willing to succumb to the President’s narrowmindness in abortion. Oh, yes, he’s an attorney as well, what can we expect?

We will be asking who turned our lights off one day?? It will probably not be another nation who crippled us and our soldier in the field so dependent on technology, but a bunch of high school “hackers” sitting in Korea or China!

We are at peril!

God Bless America!

Christopher Tingus
Harwich, MA 02645
chris.tingus@gmail.com

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