Cybersecurity’s “New Normal”
By Rachel Ehrenfeld
Wednesday, August 12th, 2015 @ 11:33PM
Left: For the past five years, Chinese cyber spies have been reading the private emails of an undisclosed but presumably large number of top Obama administration officials.
Former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton is not alone ignoring the security of her cyber correspondence and government secrets, using “personal communications hardware and software.” While the FBI has taken hold of her server, we will never find out the full scope damage caused by her willful negligence. However, an indication of a much larger systemic problem is Secretary of State John Kerry’s casual mention on CBS Evening News that Chinese and Russian spies were “very likely” reading his emails. “It is not … outside the realm of possibility, and we know they have attacked a number of American interests over the course of the last few days.” Kerry said.
A day later, Sen. Ben Sasse (R-Neb.) took Kerry and the administration to task: “Instead of tackling the challenge with a serious review of our cyber doctrine, it seems like the administration is focused on downplaying emerging threats and convincing the American people that weakness is the new normal.”
Unlike long-term cyber data mining by China, Russia, Iran and North Korea, ISIS hackers use the personal the information of Australian, British and American military and diplomatic personnel for hit lists it advertises through twitter and other social media accounts, calling for “Lone Wolf” attacks.
Alongside the Kerry admission of State Department vulnerability comes General Dempsey’s July 29th announcement on the Hill that the office of the Joint Chiefs of Staff has been hit (probably) by Russian hackers. Allegedly, only the unclassified email network of the military command was affected together with some 3,000 civilian and military personnel. Investigators called the hacking a spearfishing attack, “which involves scammers sending e-mails that appear to be from colleagues. The latest set of attacks used hundreds of e-mails with a zipfile attachment that, if double-clicked, could introduce malware to an organization’s networks.”
An enormous amount of data was lifted, very much like what happened in the attack on the Office of Personnel Management. Speaking of which, Patrick McFarland, the Inspector General of OPM, recently reported to Congress that a branch of the agency “interfered with, and thus hindered” his attempts to investigate the OPM breach. He said that the Office of the Chief Information Officer (OPM headquarters for cybersecurity) has “repeatedly provided” him with “inaccurate or misleading information.” Remember that McFarland is the one who complained to the head of the agency several times before the breach about OPM’s lack of action on cybersecurity. So much for Executive Branch devotion to getting its cyber act together. The “old normal” from before the OPM and many other previous breaches seems to be the “new normal.”
Secretary Kerry also attempted to assert the administration’s cyber concerns by talking bilateral relations with China to CBS:
“Unfortunately, we’re living in a world where a number of countries, the Chinese and Russians included, have consistently been engaged in cyber attacks against American interests, against the American government. And it’s an issue that we recently raised very, very strongly in our dialogue with the Chinese. It’s on the agenda for the discussions between President Obama and President Xi when they meet in September. We have agreed to begin to have a working group dig into this more directly because it is an enormous concern.”
The working group Kerry mentioned has been around for a while. No news about it, and certainly no news from within it, has been evident. Sen. Sasse hit the nail on the head when he used the phrase “new normal.” The administration is effectively asking us to roll with our vulnerabilities and be satisfied with governmental expressions of concern only. Sen. Sasse also said that “the White House [and] press secretary repeatedly talk about this [breaches of government agencies] as analogous to Home Depot…It’s nothing like that.”
Meanwhile, the private sector is getting hit again and again. In its quarterly financial report to the SEC, the San Jose router producer Ubiquit Networks admitted to losing $46.7 million to cybercriminals who pretended to be executives asking staff to make international wire transfers. IB Times UK says that “At the start of 2015, the FBI warned that criminals stole over $200m from businesses in the previous 14 months through these types of scams.”
Cyber hacking also assisted insider trading on Wall Street, which netted the perpetrators at least $100 million. Since 2010, “more than 30 hackers and traders across the U.S., the Ukraine, Russia and other countries stole more than 150,000 press releases scheduled to be delivered to investors from corporate wire services Business Wire, PR Newswire and Marketwired.” This allowed them to “defraud investors on a massive scale while leaving no public trace.” The hackers also stole employee credentials and shared the information with a network of traders that would share their profits with the hackers.
So far criminal charges were filed against nine hackers and traders. The rest would probably will never be brought to justice.
While the U.S. government and industry have been at the forefront of the cyber revolution, they seem to have put cyber security on the back burner. A good example is a comment made by a top cyber security expert at the Department of Homeland Security cyber security on the breach into the OPM security system, known as Einstein. “In this particular case, it did not detect it at first because it had not seen it before.”
Clearly, the government needs more appropriate technologies to stop the growing threats from unfamiliar breaches. To close information hacking it should also better train its employees and enforce a multilayered security standards. Similar measures by the public and private sectors would help protect our personal information and finances from intruders.