Homeland Security Watch

News and analysis of critical issues in homeland security

June 16, 2015

Baseball cyber attack. “Game changer” no longer a cliché.

Filed under: Cybersecurity — by Christopher Bellavita on June 16, 2015

To editorial cartoonists, opinion writers, bloggers, news and sports casters, and the rest of the commentariat: Merry Christmas.

From today’s New York Times:

St. Louis Cardinals Investigated by F.B.I. for Hacking Astros

The F.B.I. and Justice Department prosecutors are investigating front-office officials for the St. Louis Cardinals, one of the most successful teams in baseball over the past two decades, for hacking into the internal networks of a rival team to steal closely guarded information about player personnel.

Investigators have uncovered evidence that Cardinals officials broke into a network of the Houston Astros that housed special databases the team had built, according to law enforcement officials. Internal discussions about trades, proprietary statistics and scouting reports were compromised, the officials said.

The officials did not say which employees were the focus of the investigation or whether the team’s highest-ranking officials were aware of the hacking or authorized it. The investigation is being led by the F.B.I.’s Houston field office and has progressed to the point that subpoenas have been served on the Cardinals and Major League Baseball for electronic correspondence.

The attack represents the first known case of corporate espionage in which a professional sports team has hacked the network of another team. Illegal intrusions into companies’ networks have become commonplace, but it is generally conducted by hackers operating in foreign countries, like Russia and China, who steal large tranches of data or trade secrets for military equipment and electronics.
Major League Baseball “has been aware of and has fully cooperated with the federal investigation into the illegal breach of the Astros’ baseball operations database,” a spokesman for baseball’s commissioner, Rob Manfred, said in a written statement.

 

April 25, 2015

Apparently, Russian Hackers Read Obama’s Unclassified Emails

Filed under: Cybersecurity — by Christopher Bellavita on April 25, 2015

An eight sentence summary of a longer story from the New York Times:

WASHINGTON – Some of President Obama’s email correspondence was swept up by Russian hackers last year in a breach of the White House’s unclassified computer system that was far more intrusive and worrisome than has been publicly acknowledged, according to senior American officials briefed on the investigation.

White House officials said that no classified networks had been compromised, and that the hackers had collected no classified information.

The hacking happened at a moment of renewed tension with Russia – over its annexation of Crimea, the presence of its forces in Ukraine and its renewed military patrols in Europe, reminiscent of the Cold War.

Inside the White House, the intrusion has raised a new debate about whether it is possible to protect a president’s electronic presence, especially when it reaches out from behind the presumably secure firewalls of the executive branch.

While the White House has refused to identify the nationality of the hackers, others familiar with the investigation said that in both the White House and State Department cases, all signs pointed to Russians.

On Thursday, Secretary of Defense Ashton B. Carter revealed for the first time that Russian hackers had attacked the Pentagon’s unclassified systems, but said they had been identified and “Kicked off.”

Defense Department officials declined to say if the signatures of the attacks on the Pentagon appeared related to the White House and State Department attacks. The discovery of the hacking in October led to a partial shutdown of the White House email system.

The hackers appear to have been evicted from the White House systems by the end of October. 

One thing interesting to me is that the summary was prepared by a website: http://smmry.com/about.

The summary is not perfect. But that it can be done at all and as well is – to me – as amazing as someone hacking White House emails.

All this reminded my of a few paragraphs I read in an April 2000 Wired article written by Bill Joy:

“First let us postulate that the computer scientists succeed in developing intelligent machines that can do all things better than human beings can do them. In that case presumably all work will be done by vast, highly organized systems of machines and no human effort will be necessary. Either of two cases might occur. The machines might be permitted to make all of their own decisions without human oversight, or else human control over the machines might be retained.

If the machines are permitted to make all their own decisions, we can’t make any conjectures as to the results, because it is impossible to guess how such machines might behave. We only point out that the fate of the human race would be at the mercy of the machines. It might be argued that the human race would never be foolish enough to hand over all the power to the machines. But we are suggesting neither that the human race would voluntarily turn power over to the machines nor that the machines would willfully seize power. What we do suggest is that the human race might easily permit itself to drift into a position of such dependence on the machines that it would have no practical choice but to accept all of the machines’ decisions. As society and the problems that face it become more and more complex and machines become more and more intelligent, people will let machines make more of their decisions for them, simply because machine-made decisions will bring better results than man-made ones. Eventually a stage may be reached at which the decisions necessary to keep the system running will be so complex that human beings will be incapable of making them intelligently. At that stage the machines will be in effective control. People won’t be able to just turn the machines off, because they will be so dependent on them that turning them off would amount to suicide.”

Moral for the future? Write your emails as if they will be hacked.  Read articles on the internet as if they were written by computers.

(Bill Joy’s Wired article is called “Why the future doesn’t need us.”  The quoted material was written by Ted Kaczynski, in his Unabomber Manifesto.)

 

April 13, 2015

“Security experts generally say to always have a backup and to never pay the ransom.” However….

Filed under: Cybersecurity — by Christopher Bellavita on April 13, 2015

From Networked World:

Megacode ransom paid to decrypt server shared by 5 law enforcement departments in Maine

After a law enforcement server shared by three city (town) police departments and a sheriff’s office was infected with ransomware and the cops in Maine chose to pay a bitcoin ransom to decrypt the files, what moral of the ransomware story did the sheriff learn? Lincoln County Sheriff Todd Brackett told the Boothbay Register, “Next time, we’ll just pay the ransom on the first day and be done with it. It’s like a jail — it’s very safe and secure, but that can mean nothing if you leave the door unlocked.”….

Sheriff Brackett said he was “initially reluctant to pay the ransom” as it “goes against the grain,” but he authorized the payment [of around $300] “on the advice of specialists who were familiar with the ransomware and worked with other users it infected.”….

Looking for a bright side, Sheriff Brackett said the affected law enforcement departments are now “aware of such scams” and “how to deal with them.” More training is on the horizon, he said. “We’ll have more virus protection training where we go over how to tell if something might be a virus. Sometimes, it’s hard to tell, but you’ve got to keep an eye out for some of these documents that people (email) you. Sometimes it can be hard to tell if it contains a virus.”

Tracking down the cyberthugs behind megacode is allegedly a low priority for the FBI, which would neither confirm nor deny if it was investigating the ransomware dubbed a “common virus” by the sheriff who told WCSH6 that the FBI traced the bitcoin ransom payment to a deposit in a Swiss bank account before the “trail went cold.”

February 23, 2015

Cyber: making national security personal

Filed under: Cybersecurity — by Arnold Bogis on February 23, 2015

David  Sanger writes in today’s New York Times of the escalating cyber conflict between the United States and Iran:

A newly disclosed National Security Agency document illustrates the striking acceleration of the use of cyberweapons by the United States and Iran against each other, both for spying and sabotage, even as Secretary of State John Kerry and his Iranian counterpart met in Geneva to try to break a stalemate in the talks over Iran’s disputed nuclear program.

With all the talk about the threat of cyber theft, attack, and even warfare, we should remember that it isn’t a one way street.  Or, in other words, something only done to us:

It detailed how the United States and Britain had worked together to contain the damage from “Iran’s discovery of computer network exploitation tools” — the building blocks of cyberweapons. That was more than two years after the Stuxnet worm attack by the United States and Israel severely damaged the computer networks at Tehran’s nuclear enrichment plant.

The United States is undeniably the sole superpower.  Unsurpassed in military and economic might. Yet, apparently, we are still seduced by tools that seem to promise big bang for the buck:

“The potential cost of using nuclear weapons was so high that no one felt they could afford to use them,” said David J. Rothkopf, the author of “National Insecurity,” a new study of strategic decisions made by several American administrations. But the cost of using cyberweapons is seemingly so low, Mr. Rothkopf said, that “we seem to feel we can’t afford not to use them” and that “many may feel they can’t afford ever to stop.”

The problem is, unlike nuclear weapons, other states and non-state actors are similarly not restrained in employing cyber tools.  Even if, for the time being, they aren’t particularly sophisticated:

The main targets were the websites of Bank of America and JPMorgan Chase. By 2015 standards, those were relatively unsophisticated “denial of service” strikes that flooded the banks with data, so overloading them it was impossible for a time for customers to access their accounts.

What struck me about this article was that last bit. Sure, there are a lot of issues in the cyber domain involved with deterrence, attribution, escalation, and other issues of doctrine.  However what is new, to the United States at least, is that this form of conflict may connect national security and other foreign policy decisions with the everyday lives of Americans in a way that probably hasn’t existed for decades.

For so long, perhaps even during the Cold War but definitely following the collapse of the Soviet Union, the United States has acted with relative impunity around the world. The costs of our involvement in far flung engagements ranging from special forces deployments in Africa to full on war in the Middle East have not been transferred to the American population writ large.  Reasons for this range from our practical conventional military invincibility (at least when it comes to state actors, not insurgencies…) to an enormous nuclear deterrent (which keeps us out of serious conflicts with Russia and China) to an all volunteer force that has become an incredibly lethal and capable machine, but one removed from most Americans’ everyday lives. Even the reluctance of our elected leaders to pay for these actions through anything but borrowing against the future, rather than taxing in the present.

What’s different about cyber is that the U.S., or any other nation, has yet to demonstrate or develop dominance in this space.  We haven’t yet figured out how to deter various levels of cyber incidents.  We haven’t yet been able to articulate, never mind enforce or coerce acceptance, of “rules of cyber war” or their equivalent.  So what has resulted is an ever shifting landscape where Iran can (for now simply) inconvenience U.S. citizens in retaliation for our cyber attack on their uranium enrichment equipment. But how far off in the future is it when they can do more than simply inconvenience us?  Was that their current limit of capability or simply a warning shot across our cyber bow?  How soon until they are able to mine our systems for personal data that can be sold or simply given to malicious third party actors?

This potential to affect the lives of U.S. citizens in such a manner could very well bring into sharper focus our nation’s national security and foreign policy choices for a much broader audience than is currently engaged. Sure, the public likes the veneer in foreign policy of both competence (usually defined as the perception that every other country is doing what the U.S. wishes it would do, regardless of their own national interests) and strength (usually defined as talking tough/occasionally dropping bombs on other countries).

What changes when they perceive they have a lot more skin in the game?  Will elected officials be pressed as to what really are U.S. national security interests vis-a-vis an Iranian nuclear program?  Today, it sounds scary – Iranians are crazy, developing missiles, and want to wipe Israel off the map.  But if you, your parents’, and your neighbors’ financial or medical security and privacy are at stake, what will be identified as the most important threat – an unrealized nuclear program halfway across the world or loosing control of your own personal life?

After that threshold is crossed, what events or global security situations will be reconsidered in the same light?

National security is about to get personal very soon.

February 11, 2015

The Cyber Threat Intelligence Integration Center

Filed under: Cybersecurity — by Arnold Bogis on February 11, 2015

The Washington Post broke the news about a new government entity focused on cybersecurity.

The Obama administration is establishing a new agency to combat the deepening threat from cyberattacks, and its mission will be to fuse intelligence from around the government when a crisis occurs.

The agency is modeled after the National Counterterrorism Center, which was launched in the wake of the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks amid criticism that the government failed to share intelligence that could have unraveled the al-Qaeda plot.

Some like this concept, while others don’t.

“The cyberthreat is one of the greatest threats we face, and policymakers and operators will benefit from having a rapid source of intelligence,” Lisa Monaco, assistant to the president for homeland security and counterterrorism, said in an interview. “It will help ensure that we have the same integrated, all-tools approach to the cyberthreat that we have developed to combat terrorism.”

“It’s a great idea,” said Richard Clarke, a former White House counterterrorism official. “It’s overdue.”

Others question why a new agency is needed when the government already has several dedicated to monitoring and analyzing cyberthreat data. The Department of Homeland Security, the FBI and the National Security Agency all have cyber-operations centers, and the FBI and the NSA are able to integrate information, noted Melissa Hathaway, a former White House cybersecurity coordinator and president of Hathaway Global Strategies.

“We should not be creating more organizations and bureaucracy,” she said. “We need to be forcing the existing organizations to become more effective — hold them accountable.”

Christian Beckner, this blog’s founder, points out that there are limits to the comparison of this new entity with the NCTC:

My initial reaction to this proposal is one of caution and uncertainty, in large part because of the inherent limits in making an analogy between counterterrorism-related intelligence and cyber threat-related intelligence. While there are some areas of commonality, the following four differences are significant:

[Note: Christian goes into some detail about these difference, which you can read here: http://www.securityinsights.org/2015/02/the-nctc-and-cyber-threat-intelligence-the-limits-of-analogy/]

Given these distinctions between the two domains, it is important that any decision to establish an “NCTC for cybersecurity” needs to be carried out carefully, with the new CTIIC being organized and staffed in a way that adopts the most relevant attributes of NCTC (e.g. its access to all relevant terrorism-related intelligence, and its role in developing and coordinating finished intelligence products for senior policy makers) but also is different in critical ways.

For example, given the role of the private sector in cyber threat analysis, CTIIC may want to consider finding creative ways to integrate private sector and other non-governmental analysts into its activities.

He also wonders whether legislation is needed to properly establish this new center:

One issue left unclear by the announcement yesterday of a new Cyber Threat Intelligence Integration Center (CTIIC) is whether the Administration intends to seek legislation as part of its proposal to establish the Center. The President’s Homeland Security Advisor Lisa Monaco addressed this obliquely in her remarks at the Wilson Center, when she referenced authority that the Director of National Intelligence has in Sec. 102A(f)(2) of the National Security Act, which says that the DNI “may establish such other national intelligence centers as the Director determines necessary,” and indicated that the CTIIC would be established pursuant to this authority.

But that is a weak statutory basis for establishing such a center, especially in comparison with the authorities in law given to the National Counterterrorism Center (NCTC), as codified in Sec. 119 of the National Security Act. NCTC’s statutory language provides it with a clear set of missions and responsibilities, and clarifies its role (at least in part) with respect to its key interagency partners.

Ronald Marks, also writing at the Security Insights blog, is pleased that the government is finally starting to “do something.”

The US Government’s reaction to the insecurity of this vital new frontier has been fragmented along 20th century bureaucratic lines. The FBI, the Department of Homeland Security, NSA, Commerce Department, State Department, the Defense Department have all been drawn into the operational fray. Coordinating out of the White House has been difficult with each player needing to deal with their own interests and constituencies in the law enforcement, military and private sectors. Information needs are massive, yet quite scattered in collection.

 So, before all the bureaucratic sniping begins, and the negative talk of another bureaucracy rings forth, let’s remember that whatever CTIIC turns out to be, at least with regards to sharing and analyzing threats in cyber space, we’ve quit talking and started to do something.

You can watch Lisa Monaco, Assistant to the President for Homeland Security and Counterterrorism, announce the creation of the CTIIC during a speech at the Wilson Center here or below.

January 12, 2015

George Washington University creates Center for Cyber and Homeland Security

Filed under: Cybersecurity,Education — by Christopher Bellavita on January 12, 2015

From the web: http://homelandsecurity.gwu.edu/george-washington-university-establishes-new-gw-center-cyber-and-homeland-security

January 12, 2015

The George Washington University establishes new GW Center for Cyber and Homeland Security

WASHINGTON—Today, The George Washington University announced the establishment of the GW Center for Cyber and Homeland Security (CCHS), which integrates and builds upon the activities of two existing policy centers within the George Washington University: the Homeland Security Policy Institute (HSPI) and the GW Cybersecurity Initiative. This new Center will build on the longstanding track record of these two entities and continue to engage in policy-relevant research and analysis on critical issues and challenges related to cybersecurity, counterterrorism, and homeland security.

The new Center will be governed by a Board of Directors and a Policy Advisory Committee, and will continue HSPI’s longstanding Senior Fellows program. It will carry out its work through four standing task forces that will shape the Center’s research and policy agenda and whose members will be drawn largely from the ranks of its governance committees and Senior Fellows:

Counterterrorism and Intelligence Task Force
Cybersecurity Task Force
Homeland Security Strategies and Emerging Threats Task Force
Preparedness and Infrastructure Resilience Task Force.

The Center is also establishing a corporate membership program, to provide a means for companies with interests in these areas to support the work of the Center and participate in its activities, including through events developed with the specific interests of its corporate members in mind.

The Center will operate under the continued direction of Frank Cilluffo, a former Special Assistant to the President for Homeland Security, and Christian Beckner, a former senior staffer with the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee [who also started Homeland Security Watch].

The goal of these efforts is to establish and strengthen the re-named Center as a leading venue for independent and non-partisan policy analysis and research on homeland security, counterterrorism, and cybersecurity issues; and to provide valuable insights and context to key stakeholders in government, the private sector, and the media.

December 18, 2014

We can see the future battle order

Filed under: Cybersecurity — by Philip J. Palin on December 18, 2014

0210Russian Imperial Fleet under attack at Port Arthur (February 1904)

It sounds like a stupid film.  Good riddance.

But someone — almost certainly North Koreans, probably with paid help — successfully attacked and digitally destroyed a leading multinational corporation.

Then this week they made gratuitous threats of a Christmas Day kinetic attack.

Response so far: Basically total capitulation.

We have been warned of a Cyber-Pearl Harbor.

We probably just experienced our Battle of Port Arthur.  In making the comparison I do not predict the rise of an imperial Pyongyang.  But just as the Japanese showed the Russians (and others) that naval power was more than a European skill, we have been shown another powerful asymmetry arising.

July 3, 2014

Hope, fear, and prospect theory

CBP and 8 year old

Photograph by Jennifer Whitney  for the New York Times

Chris Bellavita hopes the QHSR  will advance homeland security.  I fear too few will engage the QHSR to produce a sufficient effect. (Chris, btw bases his hope on evidence from the first QHSR while I deploy mostly worry and cynicism.)

Parents in Honduras, El Salvador, Guatemala, and elsewhere hope their children will find a better life in the United States. Others in Virginia’s Seventh Congressional District, Murietta, California, and elsewhere fear these children will unravel the rule of law.

Some Sunni Salafist fighters hope they are creating the foundations of a just and righteous society across what is now Northern Syria and Iraq, eventually the whole world.  Many Shia faithful and others fear they are numbered among the unrighteous to be converted or killed.

Google, Facebook, Yahoo, Twitter and many geeks still unknown, hope to bring the whole world into our hand-helds, opening exciting opportunities for meaningful relationships and untold riches.  Some of us fear our credit-scores — and more substantive identities — are being delivered into the hands of criminals, terrorists, con-artists, corporate voyeurs, NSA spooks and more.

The current Executive hopes to establish and consistently apply a rigorous set of principles and due process by which evil can be prevented and sacred values preserved (while sources and methods are protected).  Senators Paul and Wyden among others fear that any hidden act claimed as lawful is a hot-house of hubris where the very best intentions will be incrementally reversed.

They want to retire to the beauty of the shore or mountainside or river or forest or such.  The prospect of hurricane, flood, earthquake, and fire prompt some second-thoughts.

We are tempted — especially those of us in homeland security — to treat risk as something that might be measured as accurately as an average shoe-size… if only we can gather enough shoes.  Imelda where art thou?

But the risk that matters most may be imagined more than measured.  Big hirsute Hobbit feet may be the common heuristic, no matter how many ballerinas bounce about us.

Over thirty years ago Tversky and Kahneman showed us, “Decision making under risk can be viewed as a choice between prospects or gambles.”  It is how we frame our expectations that decide our perspective on risk and thereby determine what choices seem rational.

For most our frame-on-reality is decided by a reference point: typically an expectation of the status quo persisting.  If we are more-or-less satisfied (or psychologically risk-averse) we worry more over the prospect of losing than embrace an opportunity to gain.  This can apply even if we have little to lose.  We  tend  to over-weight the downside and under-estimate positive likelihood.

Unless we are risk-seeking. As is typical with criminals, terrorists, and teenage boys. By the early 1990s Tversky and Kahneman had found, “Risk-seeking choices are consistently observed in two classes of decision problems. First, people often prefer a small probability of winning a large prize over the expected value of that prospect. Second, risk seeking is prevalent when people must choose between a sure loss and a substantial probability of a larger loss.”

There are other variations of human rationality that do not square with “expected utility” (rationality according to economists).  But risk-seeking has particular relevance for homeland security.

When my great-grandfather returned to England from another colonial war and had the audacity to marry a Scots seamstress of another (Christian) faith, they faced the disdain of family and very constrained prospects. Perceiving only losses to lose, he and she set out for Philadelphia.  The risk was real, but seemed less to them than remaining in Newcastle.

Nineteenth century Newcastle had a murder-rate considerably less than today’s Tegucigalpa (10 per million versus 1690 per million).  Who says the parent of the eight-year-old in the picture above has not made a reasonable calculation?

Today I will purchase a lottery ticket with a small probability of winning a large prize.  Early this week a new Caliphate was proclaimed.  Was the self-styled Caliph’s reasoning all that different than mine?

There are too many whose reference point is a land-of-loss, especially loss of hope.  The risks they are willing to take — heroic or demonic depending on taste — are worth our notice, a touch of fear, and some courageous creativity.  If reduction of risk-seeking is a goal, our target is their prospective imagination.

March 11, 2014

Privacy is theft

Filed under: Cybersecurity,General Homeland Security,Privacy and Security — by Christopher Bellavita on March 11, 2014

News item:

The Custom and Border Protection (CBP) official at Hartsfield–Jackson airport scanned Martin Bryant’s fingerprints.

“What’s that little device you’ve got clipped on?” he asked.

Bryant was entering the United States from the UK.  He was wearing a Narrative Clip.  The Clip is “a tiny camera that takes a photo of what’s in front of you every 30 seconds.”

Narrative-Clip-1.jpg_2022572542

Bryant planned to use the Clip to document his trip, to “capture the flavor of his journey.” As he approached the CBP official, “a terrible realization dawned on me – I’d forgotten to take the Clip off.”

The story has a sort of happy ending.  Bryant had to delete the airport pictures he took — or rather, the Clip took, but he was eventually allowed to continue his travels.

It was the first time the CBP officials had seen that particular device.  Bryant writes that he

…expected stern faced, intolerant treatment from officials who wanted to get rid of an odd British geek’s weird little camera as soon as possible, and instead they took the time to understand what they were dealing with and respond in an appropriate manner.”

News item:

Homeland security students contemplate how wearable technology, like Google Glass, can assist first responders for event security, disaster response, and other tasks.

Wearable glass technology could be valuable in reinforcing the [TSA’s]… security techniques for its Behavior Detection Officers…. A computerized eyeglass device could assist in gauging a passenger’s physiological responses, such as pupil dilation or micro facial expressions. The technology could also potentially monitor a traveler’s walking gait to determine if the person is concealing an item, as well as provide a remote feed where other officers can analyze what the wearer is seeing.

google-glass-diarrhea-540x600

News item:

The PEW Research Center issues a report on Digital Life in 2025, reminding readers that the World Wide Web is 25 years old on March 12.

Among the report’s good news bad news hopes:

Augmented reality and wearable devices will be implemented to monitor and give quick feedback on daily life….

People will continue – sometimes grudgingly – to make tradeoffs favoring convenience and perceived immediate gains over privacy; and privacy will be something only the upscale will enjoy.

25-birthday-candles

There is no need to worry about this Brave New World

Here are three slogans from the David Eggers book, The Circle. Repeating them 15 minutes twice a day will put any concerns you might have to rest, once in the morning and once before you turn off all your devices and go to sleep.

Sharing is caring.

Secrets are lies.

Privacy is theft.

Here’s an excerpt from The Circle (208 ff).  An elected official decides to provide ultimate transparency by wearing a steroids version of the Clip during every waking moment.

Everything she does will be streamed in real time.

Showing care by sharing everything.

Embracing truth by having no secrets.

Demonstrating honesty by shedding privacy.

I intend to show how democracy can and should be: entirely open, entirely transparent,  Starting today… I will be wearing [the Clip on steroids]. My every meeting, movement, my every word, will be available to all my constituents and to the world.

“And what if those who want to meet with you don’t want a given meeting to be broadcast?” she is asked.

‘Well, then they will not meet with me.… You’re either transparent or you’re not. You’re either accountable or you’re not. What would anyone have to say to me that couldn’t be said in public? What part of representing the people should not be known by the very people I’m representing?

It begins now for me… And I hope it begins soon for the rest of the elected leaders in this country – and for those in everyone of the world’s democracies.

Before too long, in Eggers’ transparent new world, no one gets elected or appointed to any office unless they promise to wear “the Device.”

Why would they refuse to wear it?

What are they trying to hide?

TheCircle-Jacket

News item:

Happy birthday, World Wide Web.  Without you, life would be

February 13, 2014

Private-Public Cybersecurity Framework

Filed under: Cybersecurity,Private Sector,Resilience — by Philip J. Palin on February 13, 2014

Wednesday the White House “launched” the long-under-way Framework for Improving Critical Infrastructure Cybersecurity (41-page PDF).   A snow day has given me the chance to read it.

You need to turn to someone else for a technically competent reading-between-the-lines.  I have no particular competence in cyber hermeneutics.

Information Week reports, “Experts believe NIST’s voluntary Cybersecurity Framework will become the de facto standard for litigators and regulators.”

Several others suggest the voluntary standards are a reasonable step forward given the collapse of earlier efforts to draft legislation.  The US Chamber of Commerce continues to be suspicious of how even these kumbaya methods might be turned to satanic purposes.

The White House spin is well-set out in a detailed background briefing.

No one is suggesting the framework, even widely adopted, resolves vulnerabilities innate to the network.

Two aspects of the framework should not be taken for granted.  First, the methods to finalize the framework may be a model for future approaches to private-public problem solving.  The National Institute of Standards and Technology, a non-regulatory agency, played host and facilitator for a largely private-sector-driven process.  NIST did not try to drive the process in any particular direction, but was helpful in brokering practical paths for reaching consensus among sometime competitors and a variety of views.  ”Honest broker” is not the first thing many in the private sector usually attribute to the Feds.  It apparently worked here.

Second, several of the private sector “Big Boys” involved in the process (e.g. AT&T) have announced their intention to use audited compliance with the voluntary standards as a gateway for those enterprises from which they will purchase goods and services.

This tees-up the potential for a dynamic process of community self-enforcement that several studies (including many by my heroine Elinor Ostrom) have found are much more effective at proactive avoidance and prevention of problems, rather than after-the-fact sanctioning.  Given the “commons-like” characteristics of the cyber-domain this could be an important dynamic to consciously cultivate.

January 30, 2014

The mitigation message

East Rivers Elementary

Cobb County elementary school children sleeping Tuesday night in the gym

Last Tuesday my train pulled into Union Station, Washington DC, shortly before noon.  The station and surrounding city were unusually quiet.  The Federal Office of Personnel Management had given most of its employees liberal leave to stay home.   Most area schools followed this lead.

On Capitol Hill — where I still had some meetings — the snow did not really begin until about 2:00 and was not quite as bad as predicted even into the height of the typical rush hour, which given the OPM decision had much more rush than usual.

By the next morning there was nearly 4 inches of snow at Reagan Airport and over 8 at Dulles.  Wednesday got underway with official delays.

Still some were inclined to second-guess the Tuesday mitigation decision made with the best possible information Monday night.

I hope the second-guessers are giving close attention to the more recent news out of Atlanta.

Even at dawn Tuesday, January 28 the best information available to Georgia decision-makers — very much including the general public — was that the worst weather would track south and east of Atlanta.  Beginning between about 7 and 8 that morning the best information began to shift.  By 10 it was snowing in Bartow County on the northwestern edge of metro Atlanta.  By 11 it was snowing hard and icing.  At 11:23 Cobb County Schools (along the Northwest Atlanta beltway) closed and began busing students home.  At 12:15 Georgia DOT suggested private-sector workers head home.

By 1:00 many Atlanta highways were grid-locked, more the result of sudden volume than — yet — because of the weather.  (Should bring back unpleasant memories of similar events in Chicago and DC in recent years.)  As some of you know, traffic is not an unusual problem in Atlanta, even in fragrant and sunny springtime.

At 1:55 the Governor declared a State of Emergency; the most immediate effect being to pour state employees onto already packed roads.  Across the United States we are predisposed to evacuations.  It is a bad — sometimes, someplaces deadly — habit.

By mid-afternoon the snow and especially ice were adding to the problems.  You have probably seen the videos.  There were several hundred vehicle accidents just in the Atlanta area.

On Wednesday many Tuesday afternoon commuters were still stuck in their cars.  Some had abandoned their vehicles.  In several cases school buses were forced to retreat back to classrooms.  Several hundred children — the numbers are still unclear — spent the night in their schools. (See picture above.) My ten-year-old nephew got home from school, but neither of his parents could.  Shane spent the night at the neighbors.

There will be after-action analyses. There will be studies.  There will be hearings.  There will be blame-gaming. There will be lessons-learned.

What I hope someone will declare clearly and well is that 1) there are many things we cannot accurately predict, 2) especially in unpredictable contexts innate vulnerabilities are exposed, and 3) in densely networked environments, like cities, these vulnerabilities can sometimes meet and mate, propagating suddenly and prolifically.

So… for a whole host of risks we are wise to invest in mitigation and to keep in mind that what will always seem an over-investment before will likely pay profitable dividends after.

This principle applies well beyond the weather, including water systems, supply chains, fuel networks, bridges, and much, much more.

January 17, 2014

The President’s remarks on signals intelligence

Filed under: Cybersecurity,Intelligence and Info-Sharing,Privacy and Security — by Philip J. Palin on January 17, 2014

This is a cut-and-paste from the White House website of the President’s remarks given at the Department of Justice earlier today. The topic. as headlined by the White House, is “signals intelligence”. I have highlighted a few phrases in bold, toward the end of a long day and longer week. No particular insight is promised in the highlights. But especially with this President, a careful read of the whole is almost always worth it.

–+–

THE PRESIDENT: At the dawn of our Republic, a small, secret surveillance committee borne out of the “The Sons of Liberty” was established in Boston. And the group’s members included Paul Revere. At night, they would patrol the streets, reporting back any signs that the British were preparing raids against America’s early Patriots.

Throughout American history, intelligence has helped secure our country and our freedoms. In the Civil War, Union balloon reconnaissance tracked the size of Confederate armies by counting the number of campfires. In World War II, code-breakers gave us insights into Japanese war plans, and when Patton marched across Europe, intercepted communications helped save the lives of his troops. After the war, the rise of the Iron Curtain and nuclear weapons only increased the need for sustained intelligence gathering. And so, in the early days of the Cold War, President Truman created the National Security Agency, or NSA, to give us insights into the Soviet bloc, and provide our leaders with information they needed to confront aggression and avert catastrophe.

Throughout this evolution, we benefited from both our Constitution and our traditions of limited government. U.S. intelligence agencies were anchored in a system of checks and balances — with oversight from elected leaders, and protections for ordinary citizens. Meanwhile, totalitarian states like East Germany offered a cautionary tale of what could happen when vast, unchecked surveillance turned citizens into informers, and persecuted people for what they said in the privacy of their own homes.

In fact, even the United States proved not to be immune to the abuse of surveillance. And in the 1960s, government spied on civil rights leaders and critics of the Vietnam War. And partly in response to these revelations, additional laws were established in the 1970s to ensure that our intelligence capabilities could not be misused against our citizens. In the long, twilight struggle against Communism, we had been reminded that the very liberties that we sought to preserve could not be sacrificed at the altar of national security.

If the fall of the Soviet Union left America without a competing superpower, emerging threats from terrorist groups, and the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction placed new and in some ways more complicated demands on our intelligence agencies. Globalization and the Internet made these threats more acute, as technology erased borders and empowered individuals to project great violence, as well as great good. Moreover, these new threats raised new legal and new policy questions. For while few doubted the legitimacy of spying on hostile states, our framework of laws was not fully adapted to prevent terrorist attacks by individuals acting on their own, or acting in small, ideologically driven groups on behalf of a foreign power.

The horror of September 11th brought all these issues to the fore. Across the political spectrum, Americans recognized that we had to adapt to a world in which a bomb could be built in a basement, and our electric grid could be shut down by operators an ocean away. We were shaken by the signs we had missed leading up to the attacks — how the hijackers had made phone calls to known extremists and traveled to suspicious places. So we demanded that our intelligence community improve its capabilities, and that law enforcement change practices to focus more on preventing attacks before they happen than prosecuting terrorists after an attack.

It is hard to overstate the transformation America’s intelligence community had to go through after 9/11. Our agencies suddenly needed to do far more than the traditional mission of monitoring hostile powers and gathering information for policymakers. Instead, they were now asked to identify and target plotters in some of the most remote parts of the world, and to anticipate the actions of networks that, by their very nature, cannot be easily penetrated with spies or informants.

And it is a testimony to the hard work and dedication of the men and women of our intelligence community that over the past decade we’ve made enormous strides in fulfilling this mission. Today, new capabilities allow intelligence agencies to track who a terrorist is in contact with, and follow the trail of his travel or his funding. New laws allow information to be collected and shared more quickly and effectively between federal agencies, and state and local law enforcement. Relationships with foreign intelligence services have expanded, and our capacity to repel cyber-attacks have been strengthened. And taken together, these efforts have prevented multiple attacks and saved innocent lives — not just here in the United States, but around the globe.

And yet, in our rush to respond to a very real and novel set of threats, the risk of government overreach — the possibility that we lose some of our core liberties in pursuit of security — also became more pronounced. We saw, in the immediate aftermath of 9/11, our government engaged in enhanced interrogation techniques that contradicted our values. As a Senator, I was critical of several practices, such as warrantless wiretaps. And all too often new authorities were instituted without adequate public debate.

Through a combination of action by the courts, increased congressional oversight, and adjustments by the previous administration, some of the worst excesses that emerged after 9/11 were curbed by the time I took office. But a variety of factors have continued to complicate America’s efforts to both defend our nation and uphold our civil liberties.

First, the same technological advances that allow U.S. intelligence agencies to pinpoint an al Qaeda cell in Yemen or an email between two terrorists in the Sahel also mean that many routine communications around the world are within our reach. And at a time when more and more of our lives are digital, that prospect is disquieting for all of us.

Second, the combination of increased digital information and powerful supercomputers offers intelligence agencies the possibility of sifting through massive amounts of bulk data to identify patterns or pursue leads that may thwart impending threats. It’s a powerful tool. But the government collection and storage of such bulk data also creates a potential for abuse.

Third, the legal safeguards that restrict surveillance against U.S. persons without a warrant do not apply to foreign persons overseas. This is not unique to America; few, if any, spy agencies around the world constrain their activities beyond their own borders. And the whole point of intelligence is to obtain information that is not publicly available. But America’s capabilities are unique, and the power of new technologies means that there are fewer and fewer technical constraints on what we can do. That places a special obligation on us to ask tough questions about what we should do.

And finally, intelligence agencies cannot function without secrecy, which makes their work less subject to public debate. Yet there is an inevitable bias not only within the intelligence community, but among all of us who are responsible for national security, to collect more information about the world, not less. So in the absence of institutional requirements for regular debate — and oversight that is public, as well as private or classified — the danger of government overreach becomes more acute. And this is particularly true when surveillance technology and our reliance on digital information is evolving much faster than our laws.

For all these reasons, I maintained a healthy skepticism toward our surveillance programs after I became President. I ordered that our programs be reviewed by my national security team and our lawyers, and in some cases I ordered changes in how we did business. We increased oversight and auditing, including new structures aimed at compliance. Improved rules were proposed by the government and approved by the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court. And we sought to keep Congress continually updated on these activities.

What I did not do is stop these programs wholesale — not only because I felt that they made us more secure, but also because nothing in that initial review, and nothing that I have learned since, indicated that our intelligence community has sought to violate the law or is cavalier about the civil liberties of their fellow citizens.

To the contrary, in an extraordinarily difficult job — one in which actions are second-guessed, success is unreported, and failure can be catastrophic — the men and women of the intelligence community, including the NSA, consistently follow protocols designed to protect the privacy of ordinary people. They’re not abusing authorities in order to listen to your private phone calls or read your emails. When mistakes are made — which is inevitable in any large and complicated human enterprise — they correct those mistakes. Laboring in obscurity, often unable to discuss their work even with family and friends, the men and women at the NSA know that if another 9/11 or massive cyber-attack occurs, they will be asked, by Congress and the media, why they failed to connect the dots. What sustains those who work at NSA and our other intelligence agencies through all these pressures is the knowledge that their professionalism and dedication play a central role in the defense of our nation.

Now, to say that our intelligence community follows the law, and is staffed by patriots, is not to suggest that I or others in my administration felt complacent about the potential impact of these programs. Those of us who hold office in America have a responsibility to our Constitution, and while I was confident in the integrity of those who lead our intelligence community, it was clear to me in observing our intelligence operations on a regular basis that changes in our technological capabilities were raising new questions about the privacy safeguards currently in place.

Moreover, after an extended review of our use of drones in the fight against terrorist networks, I believed a fresh examination of our surveillance programs was a necessary next step in our effort to get off the open-ended war footing that we’ve maintained since 9/11. And for these reasons, I indicated in a speech at the National Defense University last May that we needed a more robust public discussion about the balance between security and liberty. Of course, what I did not know at the time is that within weeks of my speech, an avalanche of unauthorized disclosures would spark controversies at home and abroad that have continued to this day.

And given the fact of an open investigation, I’m not going to dwell on Mr. Snowden’s actions or his motivations; I will say that our nation’s defense depends in part on the fidelity of those entrusted with our nation’s secrets. If any individual who objects to government policy can take it into their own hands to publicly disclose classified information, then we will not be able to keep our people safe, or conduct foreign policy. Moreover, the sensational way in which these disclosures have come out has often shed more heat than light, while revealing methods to our adversaries that could impact our operations in ways that we may not fully understand for years to come.

Regardless of how we got here, though, the task before us now is greater than simply repairing the damage done to our operations or preventing more disclosures from taking place in the future. Instead, we have to make some important decisions about how to protect ourselves and sustain our leadership in the world, while upholding the civil liberties and privacy protections that our ideals and our Constitution require. We need to do so not only because it is right, but because the challenges posed by threats like terrorism and proliferation and cyber-attacks are not going away any time soon. They are going to continue to be a major problem. And for our intelligence community to be effective over the long haul, we must maintain the trust of the American people, and people around the world.

This effort will not be completed overnight, and given the pace of technological change, we shouldn’t expect this to be the last time America has this debate. But I want the American people to know that the work has begun. Over the last six months, I created an outside Review Group on Intelligence and Communications Technologies to make recommendations for reform. I consulted with the Privacy and Civil Liberties Oversight Board, created by Congress. I’ve listened to foreign partners, privacy advocates, and industry leaders. My administration has spent countless hours considering how to approach intelligence in this era of diffuse threats and technological revolution. So before outlining specific changes that I’ve ordered, let me make a few broad observations that have emerged from this process.

First, everyone who has looked at these problems, including skeptics of existing programs, recognizes that we have real enemies and threats, and that intelligence serves a vital role in confronting them. We cannot prevent terrorist attacks or cyber threats without some capability to penetrate digital communications — whether it’s to unravel a terrorist plot; to intercept malware that targets a stock exchange; to make sure air traffic control systems are not compromised; or to ensure that hackers do not empty your bank accounts. We are expected to protect the American people; that requires us to have capabilities in this field.

Moreover, we cannot unilaterally disarm our intelligence agencies. There is a reason why BlackBerrys and iPhones are not allowed in the White House Situation Room. We know that the intelligence services of other countries — including some who feign surprise over the Snowden disclosures — are constantly probing our government and private sector networks, and accelerating programs to listen to our conversations, and intercept our emails, and compromise our systems. We know that.

Meanwhile, a number of countries, including some who have loudly criticized the NSA, privately acknowledge that America has special responsibilities as the world’s only superpower; that our intelligence capabilities are critical to meeting these responsibilities, and that they themselves have relied on the information we obtain to protect their own people.

Second, just as ardent civil libertarians recognize the need for robust intelligence capabilities, those with responsibilities for our national security readily acknowledge the potential for abuse as intelligence capabilities advance and more and more private information is digitized. After all, the folks at NSA and other intelligence agencies are our neighbors. They’re our friends and family. They’ve got electronic bank and medical records like everybody else. They have kids on Facebook and Instagram, and they know, more than most of us, the vulnerabilities to privacy that exist in a world where transactions are recorded, and emails and text and messages are stored, and even our movements can increasingly be tracked through the GPS on our phones.

Third, there was a recognition by all who participated in these reviews that the challenges to our privacy do not come from government alone. Corporations of all shapes and sizes track what you buy, store and analyze our data, and use it for commercial purposes; that’s how those targeted ads pop up on your computer and your smartphone periodically. But all of us understand that the standards for government surveillance must be higher. Given the unique power of the state, it is not enough for leaders to say: Trust us, we won’t abuse the data we collect. For history has too many examples when that trust has been breached. Our system of government is built on the premise that our liberty cannot depend on the good intentions of those in power; it depends on the law to constrain those in power.

I make these observations to underscore that the basic values of most Americans when it comes to questions of surveillance and privacy converge a lot more than the crude characterizations that have emerged over the last several months. Those who are troubled by our existing programs are not interested in repeating the tragedy of 9/11, and those who defend these programs are not dismissive of civil liberties.

The challenge is getting the details right, and that is not simple. In fact, during the course of our review, I have often reminded myself I would not be where I am today were it not for the courage of dissidents like Dr. King, who were spied upon by their own government. And as President, a President who looks at intelligence every morning, I also can’t help but be reminded that America must be vigilant in the face of threats.

Fortunately, by focusing on facts and specifics rather than speculation and hypotheticals, this review process has given me — and hopefully the American people — some clear direction for change. And today, I can announce a series of concrete and substantial reforms that my administration intends to adopt administratively or will seek to codify with Congress.

First, I have approved a new presidential directive for our signals intelligence activities both at home and abroad. This guidance will strengthen executive branch oversight of our intelligence activities. It will ensure that we take into account our security requirements, but also our alliances; our trade and investment relationships, including the concerns of American companies; and our commitment to privacy and basic liberties. And we will review decisions about intelligence priorities and sensitive targets on an annual basis so that our actions are regularly scrutinized by my senior national security team.

Second, we will reform programs and procedures in place to provide greater transparency to our surveillance activities, and fortify the safeguards that protect the privacy of U.S. persons. Since we began this review, including information being released today, we have declassified over 40 opinions and orders of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court, which provides judicial review of some of our most sensitive intelligence activities — including the Section 702 program targeting foreign individuals overseas, and the Section 215 telephone metadata program.

And going forward, I’m directing the Director of National Intelligence, in consultation with the Attorney General, to annually review for the purposes of declassification any future opinions of the court with broad privacy implications, and to report to me and to Congress on these efforts. To ensure that the court hears a broader range of privacy perspectives, I am also calling on Congress to authorize the establishment of a panel of advocates from outside government to provide an independent voice in significant cases before the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court.

Third, we will provide additional protections for activities conducted under Section 702, which allows the government to intercept the communications of foreign targets overseas who have information that’s important for our national security. Specifically, I am asking the Attorney General and DNI to institute reforms that place additional restrictions on government’s ability to retain, search, and use in criminal cases communications between Americans and foreign citizens incidentally collected under Section 702.

Fourth, in investigating threats, the FBI also relies on what’s called national security letters, which can require companies to provide specific and limited information to the government without disclosing the orders to the subject of the investigation. These are cases in which it’s important that the subject of the investigation, such as a possible terrorist or spy, isn’t tipped off. But we can and should be more transparent in how government uses this authority.

I have therefore directed the Attorney General to amend how we use national security letters so that this secrecy will not be indefinite, so that it will terminate within a fixed time unless the government demonstrates a real need for further secrecy. We will also enable communications providers to make public more information than ever before about the orders that they have received to provide data to the government.

This brings me to the program that has generated the most controversy these past few months — the bulk collection of telephone records under Section 215. Let me repeat what I said when this story first broke: This program does not involve the content of phone calls, or the names of people making calls. Instead, it provides a record of phone numbers and the times and lengths of calls — metadata that can be queried if and when we have a reasonable suspicion that a particular number is linked to a terrorist organization.

Why is this necessary? The program grew out of a desire to address a gap identified after 9/11. One of the 9/11 hijackers — Khalid al-Mihdhar — made a phone call from San Diego to a known al Qaeda safe-house in Yemen. NSA saw that call, but it could not see that the call was coming from an individual already in the United States. The telephone metadata program under Section 215 was designed to map the communications of terrorists so we can see who they may be in contact with as quickly as possible. And this capability could also prove valuable in a crisis. For example, if a bomb goes off in one of our cities and law enforcement is racing to determine whether a network is poised to conduct additional attacks, time is of the essence. Being able to quickly review phone connections to assess whether a network exists is critical to that effort.

In sum, the program does not involve the NSA examining the phone records of ordinary Americans. Rather, it consolidates these records into a database that the government can query if it has a specific lead — a consolidation of phone records that the companies already retained for business purposes. The review group turned up no indication that this database has been intentionally abused. And I believe it is important that the capability that this program is designed to meet is preserved.

Having said that, I believe critics are right to point out that without proper safeguards, this type of program could be used to yield more information about our private lives, and open the door to more intrusive bulk collection programs in the future. They’re also right to point out that although the telephone bulk collection program was subject to oversight by the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court and has been reauthorized repeatedly by Congress, it has never been subject to vigorous public debate.

For all these reasons, I believe we need a new approach. I am therefore ordering a transition that will end the Section 215 bulk metadata program as it currently exists, and establish a mechanism that preserves the capabilities we need without the government holding this bulk metadata.

This will not be simple. The review group recommended that our current approach be replaced by one in which the providers or a third party retain the bulk records, with government accessing information as needed. Both of these options pose difficult problems. Relying solely on the records of multiple providers, for example, could require companies to alter their procedures in ways that raise new privacy concerns. On the other hand, any third party maintaining a single, consolidated database would be carrying out what is essentially a government function but with more expense, more legal ambiguity, potentially less accountability — all of which would have a doubtful impact on increasing public confidence that their privacy is being protected.

During the review process, some suggested that we may also be able to preserve the capabilities we need through a combination of existing authorities, better information sharing, and recent technological advances. But more work needs to be done to determine exactly how this system might work.

Because of the challenges involved, I’ve ordered that the transition away from the existing program will proceed in two steps. Effective immediately, we will only pursue phone calls that are two steps removed from a number associated with a terrorist organization instead of the current three. And I have directed the Attorney General to work with the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court so that during this transition period, the database can be queried only after a judicial finding or in the case of a true emergency.

Next, step two, I have instructed the intelligence community and the Attorney General to use this transition period to develop options for a new approach that can match the capabilities and fill the gaps that the Section 215 program was designed to address without the government holding this metadata itself. They will report back to me with options for alternative approaches before the program comes up for reauthorization on March 28th. And during this period, I will consult with the relevant committees in Congress to seek their views, and then seek congressional authorization for the new program as needed.

Now, the reforms I’m proposing today should give the American people greater confidence that their rights are being protected, even as our intelligence and law enforcement agencies maintain the tools they need to keep us safe. And I recognize that there are additional issues that require further debate. For example, some who participated in our review, as well as some members of Congress, would like to see more sweeping reforms to the use of national security letters so that we have to go to a judge each time before issuing these requests. Here, I have concerns that we should not set a standard for terrorism investigations that is higher than those involved in investigating an ordinary crime. But I agree that greater oversight on the use of these letters may be appropriate, and I’m prepared to work with Congress on this issue.

There are also those who would like to see different changes to the FISA Court than the ones I’ve proposed. On all these issues, I am open to working with Congress to ensure that we build a broad consensus for how to move forward, and I’m confident that we can shape an approach that meets our security needs while upholding the civil liberties of every American.

Let me now turn to the separate set of concerns that have been raised overseas, and focus on America’s approach to intelligence collection abroad. As I’ve indicated, the United States has unique responsibilities when it comes to intelligence collection. Our capabilities help protect not only our nation, but our friends and our allies, as well. But our efforts will only be effective if ordinary citizens in other countries have confidence that the United States respects their privacy, too. And the leaders of our close friends and allies deserve to know that if I want to know what they think about an issue, I’ll pick up the phone and call them, rather than turning to surveillance. In other words, just as we balance security and privacy at home, our global leadership demands that we balance our security requirements against our need to maintain the trust and cooperation among people and leaders around the world.

For that reason, the new presidential directive that I’ve issued today will clearly prescribe what we do, and do not do, when it comes to our overseas surveillance. To begin with, the directive makes clear that the United States only uses signals intelligence for legitimate national security purposes, and not for the purpose of indiscriminately reviewing the emails or phone calls of ordinary folks. I’ve also made it clear that the United States does not collect intelligence to suppress criticism or dissent, nor do we collect intelligence to disadvantage people on the basis of their ethnicity, or race, or gender, or sexual orientation, or religious beliefs. We do not collect intelligence to provide a competitive advantage to U.S. companies or U.S. commercial sectors.

And in terms of our bulk collection of signals intelligence, U.S. intelligence agencies will only use such data to meet specific security requirements: counterintelligence, counterterrorism, counter-proliferation, cybersecurity, force protection for our troops and our allies, and combating transnational crime, including sanctions evasion.

In this directive, I have taken the unprecedented step of extending certain protections that we have for the American people to people overseas. I’ve directed the DNI, in consultation with the Attorney General, to develop these safeguards, which will limit the duration that we can hold personal information, while also restricting the use of this information.

The bottom line is that people around the world, regardless of their nationality, should know that the United States is not spying on ordinary people who don’t threaten our national security, and that we take their privacy concerns into account in our policies and procedures. This applies to foreign leaders as well. Given the understandable attention that this issue has received, I have made clear to the intelligence community that unless there is a compelling national security purpose, we will not monitor the communications of heads of state and government of our close friends and allies. And I’ve instructed my national security team, as well as the intelligence community, to work with foreign counterparts to deepen our coordination and cooperation in ways that rebuild trust going forward.

Now let me be clear: Our intelligence agencies will continue to gather information about the intentions of governments — as opposed to ordinary citizens — around the world, in the same way that the intelligence services of every other nation does. We will not apologize simply because our services may be more effective. But heads of state and government with whom we work closely, and on whose cooperation we depend, should feel confident that we are treating them as real partners. And the changes I’ve ordered do just that.

Finally, to make sure that we follow through on all these reforms, I am making some important changes to how our government is organized. The State Department will designate a senior officer to coordinate our diplomacy on issues related to technology and signals intelligence. We will appoint a senior official at the White House to implement the new privacy safeguards that I have announced today. I will devote the resources to centralize and improve the process we use to handle foreign requests for legal assistance, keeping our high standards for privacy while helping foreign partners fight crime and terrorism.

I have also asked my counselor, John Podesta, to lead a comprehensive review of big data and privacy. And this group will consist of government officials who, along with the President’s Council of Advisors on Science and Technology, will reach out to privacy experts, technologists and business leaders, and look how the challenges inherent in big data are being confronted by both the public and private sectors; whether we can forge international norms on how to manage this data; and how we can continue to promote the free flow of information in ways that are consistent with both privacy and security.

For ultimately, what’s at stake in this debate goes far beyond a few months of headlines, or passing tensions in our foreign policy. When you cut through the noise, what’s really at stake is how we remain true to who we are in a world that is remaking itself at dizzying speed. Whether it’s the ability of individuals to communicate ideas; to access information that would have once filled every great library in every country in the world; or to forge bonds with people on other sides of the globe, technology is remaking what is possible for individuals, and for institutions, and for the international order. So while the reforms that I have announced will point us in a new direction, I am mindful that more work will be needed in the future.

One thing I’m certain of: This debate will make us stronger. And I also know that in this time of change, the United States of America will have to lead. It may seem sometimes that America is being held to a different standard. And I’ll admit the readiness of some to assume the worst motives by our government can be frustrating. No one expects China to have an open debate about their surveillance programs, or Russia to take privacy concerns of citizens in other places into account. But let’s remember: We are held to a different standard precisely because we have been at the forefront of defending personal privacy and human dignity.

As the nation that developed the Internet, the world expects us to ensure that the digital revolution works as a tool for individual empowerment, not government control. Having faced down the dangers of totalitarianism and fascism and communism, the world expects us to stand up for the principle that every person has the right to think and write and form relationships freely — because individual freedom is the wellspring of human progress.

Those values make us who we are. And because of the strength of our own democracy, we should not shy away from high expectations. For more than two centuries, our Constitution has weathered every type of change because we have been willing to defend it, and because we have been willing to question the actions that have been taken in its defense. Today is no different. I believe we can meet high expectations. Together, let us chart a way forward that secures the life of our nation while preserving the liberties that make our nation worth fighting for.

Thank you. God bless you. May God bless the United States of America. (Applause.)

November 13, 2013

American Blackout: National Geographic imagines a national power outage caused by a cyber attack

Filed under: Cybersecurity — by Christopher Bellavita on November 13, 2013

A National Geographic re-broadcast:

American Blackout imagines the story of a national power failure in the United States caused by a cyberattack ? told in real time, over 10 days, by those who kept filming on cameras and phones. You’ll learn what it means to be absolutely powerless. Gritty, visceral and totally immersive, see what it might take to survive from day one, and who would be left standing when the lights come back on.

The program is scheduled to be shown (again) on Wednesday, November 13th at 9 pm Eastern time – and various other times throughout the day.

If you don’t have a television, but do have the internet, there is a copy of the one hour and twenty-seven minute program on youtube: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PreJvrljihI

 

May 2, 2013

Catastrophe: Should’a, Would’a, Could’a

“I should prefer Mozart. Mostly I listen to 70s hits.”

“I should eat a hot breakfast, but usually have a powerbar instead.”

“I should work-out three or four times a week, maybe I walk around the block twice.”

Should has become moralistic.  It is typically used as a kind of anti-verb, ascribing — often anticipating — non-action.

I have heard a lot of “shoulds” in regard to the explosion of the West, Texas fertilizer storage facility. The April 17 blast killed 14 and injured more than 190 in the town of 2700.

“We should regulate better.”

“We should put buffer zones in place.”

“We should be more realistic about the threat.”

“We should do a better job sharing what we know about the risk.”

“We should focus more on pre-event prevention and mitigation.”

More plural pronouns than singulars it seems.

According to a November 2012 analysis undertaken by the Congressional Research Service, 6,985 chemical facilities self-report they pose a risk to populations greater than 1,000. There are 90 that self-report a worst-case risk affecting up to 1 million people.

The West facility was not included in the CRS analysis.  They did not self-report — or evidently self-conceive — a worst case scenario that would seriously harm anyone.

As regular readers know I have for a few years worked on catastrophe preparedness.

One of the most remarkable — and absolutely predictable — aspects of this gig is the readiness — preference really — by nearly everyone to define catastrophe as something non-catastrophic.  I saw it again last week and this.  It extends across the public-private divide and every level of government.  When a few of us argue otherwise we are being pedantic, unrealistic, and wasting people’s time.

We should give regular time and energy — maybe five percent of overall effort — to truly catastrophic risks: Global pandemic, significant earthquakes and cyclonic events hitting major urban areas, sustained collapse of the electrical grid whatever the cause. Each of these could have far-reaching secondary and tertiary effects.  In some regions I would include wildfire and flooding. If you have a chemical storage or processing facility nearby that is absolutely worth worst-case thinking now not later.

In many cases the most important issues relate to the mitigation of systemic vulnerabilities that are threat-agnostic.  ”Fixing” vulnerabilities can reduce consequences for a whole host of threats, including non-catastrophic threats.

USA Today editorialized, “The Boston Marathon bombings overshadowed the disaster in Texas, but what happened in West was deadlier, and preventing the next fertilizer accident should command serious attention.”

There’s that anti-verb again.

–+–

And how I wish I’d, wish I’d thought a little bit more
Now shoulda, woulda, coulda I means I’m out of time
Shoulda, woulda, coulda can’t change your mind
And I wonder, wonder what I’m going to do
Shoulda, woulda coulda are the last words of a fool

Can’t change your mind
Can’t change your mind

Beverly Knight

March 27, 2013

Web slows under ‘biggest attack ever’

Filed under: Cybersecurity — by Philip J. Palin on March 27, 2013

The following is the current lead in The Telegraph (London).  For the record, I am online, have been online all day (it’s now 1705 Eastern), and have not noticed a problem. I’ve checked a couple of US-based tech sites and a quick scan shows nothing or only a minor mention.  The New York Times is, however, giving major attention. Perhaps this is — so far — mostly a European phenomenon?

–+–

A Dutch web-hosting company caused disruption and the global slowdown of the internet, according to a not-for-profit anti-spam organization.

The interruptions came after Spamhaus, a spam-fighting group based in Geneva, temporarily added the Dutch firm, CyberBunker, to a blacklist that is used by e-mail providers to weed out spam.

Cyberbunker is housed in a five-story former NATO bunker and famously offers its services to any website “except child porn and anything related to terrorism”. As such it has often been linked to behaviour that anti-spam blacklist compilers have condemned.

Users of Cyberbunker retaliated with a huge ‘denial of service attack’. These work by trying to make a network unavailable to its intended users,overloading a server with coordinated requests to access it. At one point, 300 billion bits per second were being sent by a network of computers, making this the biggest attack ever.

MORE

THURSDAY UPDATE

Two morning after reports:

The San Jose Mercury tells us what happened in brief.

The Christian Science Monitor asks if it was overblown

Information Week tells us about the implications of what (apparently) happened

Sounds like it was much more a Eurasian event this time.

March 14, 2013

Cyber framing of reality

Filed under: Cybersecurity — by Philip J. Palin on March 14, 2013

From James Clapper’s Tuesday testimony to the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence:

We are in a major transformation because our critical infrastructures, economy, personal lives, and even basic understanding of—and interaction with—the world are becoming more intertwined with digital technologies and the Internet. In some cases, the world is applying digital technologies faster than our ability to understand the security implications and mitigate potential risks.

State and nonstate actors increasingly exploit the Internet to achieve strategic objectives, while many governments—shaken by the role the Internet has played in political instability and regime change—seek to increase their control over content in cyberspace. The growing use of cyber capabilities to achieve strategic goals is also outpacing the development of a shared understanding of norms of behavior, increasing the chances for miscalculations and misunderstandings that could lead to unintended escalation.

Compounding these developments are uncertainty and doubt as we face new and unpredictable cyber threats. In response to the trends and events that happen in cyberspace, the choices we and other actors make in coming years will shape cyberspace for decades to come, with potentially profound implications for US economic and national security.

A major hospital system has delayed deploying an extensive (expensive) digital patient record system.   Everyone agrees the new system will produce significant financial and clinical benefits.   But no one has figured out how to ensure an effective non-digital capability persists.   This was not a design specification.

There are multiple digital redundancies.  But what if electric power is lost beyond the capacity of back-up generators? How can patient records and status be accessed and updated if the digital system is dead for days?

This is more than a technical problem.  Many of the efficiencies generated by the ready-to-go system depend on collecting digital signals from various diagnostic tools and displaying integrated clinical outcomes.  Today the sub-systems feeding these displays — and their strengths and weaknesses — are understood by clinical staff.   Today it is not uncommon for an experienced nurse or lab tech to recognize that a specific data source  can be “screwy” and should be rechecked.   The new system will sufficiently obscure data sources  to make this nearly impossible.

One hospital administrator comments, “As long as we have clinical staff who remember how to use pre-digital systems, we can probably recover capabilities.”  But given staff turn-over this sort of human redundancy is expected to disappear within seven years.

My auto mechanic recently said, “When computer diagnostics first came out it was a big help, but I could still do most of my work without it, just not as quick.  Now if the computer is on the fritz I can’t do anything.”  He suggests younger mechanics are just “playing electronic games with your car,” and don’t understand any of the underlying systems. The hospital is trying to avoid this outcome.

I was talking to the manager of a large municipal water system.  ”Actually I feel pretty good about our resilience,” he said. “We’re a collection of several largely separate legacy systems built over the last century-plus: lots of innate redundancy, mostly gravity fed, almost all of it requires a human to turn a valve somewhere.  Not nearly as efficient as the newest systems, but take out one piece and the rest just keeps on flowing.  Bad planning has had some unintentionally good results.”

Meanwhile without digital scanning and communications most retail, wholesale, and shipping would suddenly stop.  This includes food and pharmaceuticals.   When the March 11, 2011 earthquake-and-tsunami hit Northeastern Japan the digital voices of those inside the impact zone went silent.   The voice of hoarders hundreds of miles away became a shout.  The supply chain responded to expressed want, not silent need.

The digital world has become the frame and filter on which many of us depend to engage the real world.  Humans have long depended on frames and filters to simplify what would otherwise be too complex.  Mathematics, religion, law and more are all tool-sets for framing and filtering.

There is often a temptation to mistake form for function. Framing reality has always included the risk of warping reality.  We have experienced the consequences of these risks. (I seem to experience them daily.)

But never before has access to water, food, and other essentials for such large populations been so dependent on the quality and survivability of our frames.

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“Our comforting conviction that the world makes sense rests on a secure foundation: our almost unlimited ability to ignore our ignorance.”

Daniel Kahneman, Thinking, Fast and Slow

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