Cyber Warfare – Hackers to the rescue?

In the future, a US president could consider economic sanctions, cyber-retaliation or a military strike if key US computer systems are attacked, officials said in the wake of recent attacks on the defense contractor Lockheed Martin.

Britain, China, Cyber Command, cyber warfare, defence unit 8200, France, Google, hackers, Iran, Israel, Lockheed Martin, Lulz Security, North Korea, Pentagon, Russia, Sony, Struxnet, The Center for a New American Society, The Wall Street Journal, United States
The world should follow Israel’s example and offer hackers the choice of going to prison or work for the state. It’s actually an excellent way of making use of hacker’s talents instead of them being used destructively, or worse for criminal purpose.

The Pentagon is busy drawing up a cyber defense strategy to protect America from cyber attacks from foreign nations.

Leaders in cyber warfare

The Center for a New American Society published a study claiming the United States, Britain, France, Israel, Russia and China as the leaders in cyber-war. They also believe Moscow and Beijing view cyber-attacks as an attractive option in the event of a major conflict.

Alarming isn’t it? Obviously cyber warfare is a horrendous prospect that we would all like to avoid. Somehow it doesn’t seem fair. Or maybe it’s no worse than military action? Catch is it can also be carried out by any criminal organisation wanting to say black mail a government to release one of their own from prison. Or hold a corporation at ransom.

Growing concern about the reach of hackers

Internet-based attacks on critical systems such as gas, power and water have increased around the world.

The Wall Street Journal reported that the Pentagon strategy will classify major cyber-attacks as acts of war i.e. paving the way for military retaliation. It’s intended as a warning to foes that may try to sabotage the US electricity grid, subways or pipelines, officials said.

“If you shut down our power grid, maybe we will put a missile down one of your smokestacks,” a military official told the Wall Street Journal.

Considering that China and Russia are, rightly or wrongly, considered the most likely sources of such attacks I really don’t see how the United States could take military action? Unless of course they intend to start World War III?

Governments and companies open to attacks

Sony was for the third time since April this year attacked by a group of hackers calling themselves Lulz Security. According to those hackers it was child’s play to get access to Sony’s information since it wasn’t even encrypted. And China recently, again, according to Google, hacked them from a Chinese military cyber warfare unit, to get access to US and Asian senior officials’ gmail accounts.

From what I understand most information online is easy for hackers to access which is a terrifying prospect. It actually seems that most companies have only bothered to really protect credit card details, if that. No wonder it’s easy for criminals to steal identities.

Israel knows the name of the game!

Obviously drastic measures are needed to prevent cyber wars and handle attacks if and when they happen. And unfortunately sometimes go on the offensive as well.

The most intelligent solution I have come across is the way Israel is handling the problem.

Already in the 1990s they decided to conquer cyber warfare and presented Israel’s hackers with a choice of going to prison or work for the state.

That was the start of defence unit 8200 that thousands are said to have joined since. Needless to say this smart move has given Israel an advantage in a world rapidly immersed in cross border technology attacks.

Unit 8200 is a leader in high technology warfare. It’s actually widely believe that’s where the Struxnet worm was created. If so maybe they did the world a favour?

The West scrambling to bolster its capabilities

The US has, for instance, set up Cyber Command to coordinate its ability to withstand an attack. Britain has Cyber Security Operations based at GCHQ, as well as Ministry of Defence and Cabinet Office units to guard the national infrastructure.

A new cyber warfare strategy in the US will most likely mean that Nato will have to devise its own rules or response to cyber-attacks. The alliance need to examine whether or not its principle of collective defence will apply to online warfare as well.

Iran, not least because of Struxnet, is also believed to have assembled a cyber warfare crack team. Am sure that not only Iran but North Korea and other such states are at the minimum starting to build up units that can conduct cyber attacks. So it’s high time for the rest of the world to seriously increase online safety. The time when systems for gas, electricity and water didn’t need to be protected are long gone. So the rest of the world needs to wake up and follow in Israel’s footsteps. Better late than never.

Hackers, usually learn their skills engaging in illegal activity as teenagers. However, most of them are not hardened criminals. They really have a lot to offer all countries when it comes to defence against cyber warfare, or going on the offensive against an enemy. In my opinion we should all follow in Israel’s footsteps and offer our hackers a choice of going to jail or work for the state. Do you agree with me or do you have a better idea of how we can defend ourselves against cyber attacks, and hackers in general, for that matter?

photo: José Goulão – Flickr

42 thoughts on “Cyber Warfare – Hackers to the rescue?

  1. It certainly seems that the rate of hacking is steadily increasing. Whereas it used to be mainly about industrial espionage, from the type of hacking we read about, now it seems that there's a growing push into more general hacking and governments are getting more involved in various ways.

    For example, the official China newspaper, The People's Daily, apparently suggested that Google was "a political tool" for its claim that the recent gmail hacking originated in China, and issued warnings that repeated accusations could hurt Google's business.

    I agree that the best way to counter hacking is the "poacher turned gamekeeper" approach that Israel has adopted. Most hackers are only doing it for the intellectual thrill anyway, and it can be equally challenging when their skills are turned around. Of course, there's also a body of "White Hats" (ethical hackers) who are always happy to help out – I've used them in the past to check my corporate systems for hackability.

    1. Glad you agree with me Guy that we should follow in Israel's footsteps. The "White Hats" should in my opinion also be employed by governments to counteract cyber warfare and criminal activity. Hope the world, both governments and companies, wake up soon and secure their sites.

  2. Interesting information about Israel Catarina which I didn't know. It does seem that hacking is increasing. Do you know if any governments are working with security software firms to protect them?
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  3. Your article makes great sense. Cyber hacking has always amazed me. I have difficulty recovering a forgotten password.

    We do understand, send a thief to catch a thief. The question then would be, "Which nation has the best teenage hackers in the jobs pool?"

    Certainly a nation with very restrictive internet and computer laws would be at a distinct disadvantage in that area. This suggest that they would then have to train a professional class of hackers. A technological counterpart to The Marquis of Queensbury Rules v. A Street-fighter.

    This, then begs the question: As a strategic target, which nation will you assign to your hackers. The United States, Russia, Iran, Israel, China? Then you have disinformation and misinformation.

    Of course, in the US, deliberately giving out false information to enemies is frowned upon. It was suggested we do that in one of our Mid East wars. The suggested policy raised a civil rights ruckus.

    We shall see. Once it is too late.

    Regards,

    Slim
    My recent post Food- India- and Growing Global Influence

  4. Your article makes great sense. Cyber hacking has always amazed me. I have difficulty recovering a forgotten password.

    We do understand, send a thief to catch a thief. The question then would be, "Which nation has the best teenage hackers in the jobs pool?"

    Certainly a nation with very restrictive internet and computer laws would be at a distinct disadvantage in that area. This suggest that they would then have to train a professional class of hackers. A technological counterpart to The Marquis of Queensbury Rules v. A Street-fighter.

    This, then begs the question: As a strategic target, which nation will you assign to your hackers. The United States, Russia, Iran, Israel, China? Then you have disinformation and misinformation.

    Of course, in the US, deliberately giving out false information to enemies is frowned upon. It was suggested we do that in one of our Mid East wars. The suggested policy raised a civil rights ruckus.

    We shall see. Once it is too late.

    Regards,

    Slim
    My recent post Food- India- and Growing Global Influence

  5. Glad you agree with me Slim. Seems the US is following in Israel's footsteps and making hackers work for the authorities under the threat of prison.

    Like your ideas of nations as strategic targets. The ultimate would be if it was possible to get hackers who defect from China and Iran.:-)

    1. True, true.
      Now here are the alternative plot lines:
      a. The US raises anti-American (loyal opposition) malcontents who defect to them
      b. They (oppressive nations) raises malcontents who defect to US

      I do like your idea about defectors coming to US. Does anyone do that anymore or was that an old cold-war plot device?

      😉

      Slim
      My recent post Wednesday 8 June 2011

      1. Glad you like the idea Slim. But there is no need to defect to the US. Any friendly nation would do.:-) Am sure it's going on behind the scenes since there is bound to be some say, Chinese and Iranian hackers that are forced by their leaders to work for the state.

  6. Great article Catarina,

    It is a smart move by the Israeli Government, but not all can be able to do so because of existing laws and regulations.

    Last few days there had been some "mini hacking contest" going on between Vietnam side and China side to claim their sovereign right on the Sprattly Islands after the incident of Binh Minh 2, the ship's cable was cut by Chinese "civilized' military vessel deep within Vietnamese water.

    The newspapers in Vietnam continue using the term "tin tac" for the hackers on Vietnam side which is equivalent to the term cyber criminals causing modest outrages among many Vietnamese, who see them rather as true heroes.

    The Government (official or unofficial) keeps telling people to stay calm and urge them not to fall in the trap created by evil (reactionary) forces, etc.

    Back to general cyber attacks, one has to be sure whether an attack is originating and carrying out by a certain individual/unit/government organization before a missile can be launched against the enemy target, but it is easy said than done.

    A group of "cyber criminals" from nation A may cause war between nation B and C if they successfully trick the two into a war in disguising their cyber attacks.

    The world is going to a very dangerous period of time.

    Israel can put the criminals into those cyber warfare units, other countries may try to do the same, but handling those kids are not easy, especially when they are disobeying orders and carry out attack on their own to different kind of targets, let say for fun or personal gain.

    I would dare to say criminals are best controlled by criminal bosses, perhaps they will get immunity in helping their country to fight a cyber war while smuggling drugs across the border to "kill" their enemy. Richard MarketLink2Vietnam

    1. Thanks Richard.

      Interesting comment that I agree with.

      The good news is that the US is actually following in Israel's footsteps: "Cyber policing units(in the US) have had such success in forcing online criminals to co-operate with their investigations through the threat of long prison sentences that they have managed to create an army of informants deep inside the hacking community." A former FBI agent confirmed that to me. So hopefully other countries will find ways of bending the law to do the same:-)

  7. Catarina, It's unfortunate and scary that the West is "scrambling to bolster its capabilities". Offering hackers a choice of going to jail or working for the government seems like a logical choice to me.
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  8. Wow girl, that was deep and scary. Sometimes I just don’t want to think about these things. When will they stop the madness, its a shame.

    Businesses in the past have long hired hackers, the government may as well, but to start WWIII over computer hacking, I guess it no worse then starting it over oil.

    Great job as always Catarina,
    Jenn

  9. With the fast changing society, we are getting indulge with modern innovations as well and one of those is the internet. And expert hackers must be very genius because they can access even the confidential accounts of high officials in the military. They do not fear of what will the consequences be. And I think they are good to be hired as one of the agents of defense rather than to go in jail.

  10. The term cyber warfare is increasingly being used as double edge sword by various world governments and corporate interests on a global basis to promote key financial and power related agendas. A perfect example Cyber Warfare benefiting governmental interest was the “Stuxnet virus attack” in which Iran accused the German engineering company Siemens in assisting the United States and Israel in lunching a Cyber Attack against it state run nuclear development facilities in April of this year; accordingly, this attack severely crippled and set back Iran nuclear ambitions. As result, citizens of the world must wake up; think for yourselves, and be ever vigilant not give up their unalienable human rights under the guise of global crisis’s. Ultimately, do not be swayed or pushed into thinking a certain manner by main stream news which is 100% funded by corporate media in order to give up your freedoms in name of cyber security.

  11. Hi Catarina. Thanks for a very interesting article and discussion.

    In years past the US often gave minor criminals the choice between going into the service or going to jail – so there is a precedent for this sort of thing in the US. My concern is that in Israel there may be a greater sense of national solidarity than there is in some other Western democracies. Thus, even though they may be a criminal, the Israeli hacker would be unlikely to turn against the state. In the US a hacker who is forced to work for the state may be more willing to turn what he learns (or does) during his government service over to those willing to pay for it after he is released, even if they are enemies of the state.

    The above being the case it is important that and hackers recruited into state service in this manner be monitored very closely to ensure that they do not create back doors or plant malware/spyware into govt systems.

    Ultimately, unless there was some why to erase their memories of their work with the govt, they would pose a long-term threat to the state after their government service was finished.

    1. Thank you Jeremy. Good points.

      What the US has been doing is that Cyber Policing units have had success in forcing online criminals to co-operate with their investigations through the threat of long prison sentences that they have managed to create an army of informants deep inside the hacking community.

      Agree with you that Israelis have a greater sense of national solidarity than people in other Western countries. You are right that hackers in most countries need to be monitored closely. Seriously believe the threat of going to jail has to stay with them so they are clear about the fact that if they are up to no good they will end up behind bars. Presumably that's already the case? Sincerely hope so.

  12. Seems you agree that the Israeli solution is the most intelligent.

    This is what a former FBI agent had to say about hackers: "Hackers come in many flavors – some of them nefarious and have serious criminal intent. For others, they get their thrills from creating chaos and disruption. It's the latter that make the best informants because they really don't want to risk prison. Both are equally "talented" when it comes to hacking."

    So presumably you agree that hackers getting their thrills from creating chaos and disruption would be ideal to work for the state?

  13. Hi Catarina,

    Interesting topic. Agree, most of the hackers are a group of teenagers.

    It was a smart move by Israel government, and i love the idea of giving hackers a choice to go jail or work for state.

    Thanks for sharing your insights.
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  14. Lou, I'm sure you can rest assured that the Israeli government is not leaving everything up to the hackers. They control them and they know that if they are up to no good they will go straight to jail:-)

  15. Hi Catarina,

    Very interesting topic. I wonder if this cyber-defence/attack trend is mainly lead by governments or if private industry is taking charge, especially in Western countries.
    Does anybody know what are doing private firms regarding this?

    Hector

  16. i agree wit you catarina that israel did the most intelligent thing. and compared to other nations israel has always show itself to be outstanding and the leader to look up to in matters that confound so-called great nations. they are trully blessed. israel in number one. luv ur article cat. would you write on more israeli breakthroughs? heard alot about them. thanks catarina

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