The Thinker: Rich Galen


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Mullings by Rich Galen ®
An American Cyber-Column By Rich Galen
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Deter, Safeguard, or Defend

Rich Galen

Monday June 17, 2019

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  • Over the weekend the New York Times published an astonishing piece by reporters David E. Sanger and Nicole Perlroth titled, "U.S. Escalates Attacks on Russia's Power Grid."

  • In sum, the "United States Cyber Command, the arm of the Pentagon that runs the military's offensive and defensive operations in the online world." According to the Times' article, Donald Trump signed a Presidential Memorandum granting Cyber Command "far more leeway to conduct offensive online operations without receiving presidential approval."

  • Thus, under permissions previously granted by both Donald Trump and the Congress our people have placed "potentially crippling malware inside the Russian [electrical] system."

  • Let me say right here that I am not an expert, nor even well-schooled, in cyber operations. Anything more complicated than clearing a paper jam in my printer is outside my knowledge base. And even then, I often have to "call the guy."

  • Russia is pretty big. How big? How about stretching, according to Wikipedia, across 11 time zones. The U.S. has four and if you've ever flown from sea to shining sea you know that most of the U.S. has very few people.

  • All that to say, I'm not sure we should, even if we could, shut down all of Russia's power grid, but I suppose knocking out the section of Moscow that includes the Kremlin might be an attention-getter.

  • The U.S. has allegedly been involved in cyber malfeasance in the past. The most well-known attack was against Iran's nuclear development program with a worm called "Stuxnet."

  • Stuxnet was inserted into Iranian computers (among others), specifically those controlling centrifuges used to enrich uranium. According to the Institute for Science and International Security, one attack may have destroyed 10 percent of Iranian enrichment capabilities.

  • Trump, who might not have been informed of the operation, Tweeted his frustration on Saturday night:
    "The Failing New York Times just did a story stating that the United States is substantially increasing Cyber Attacks on Russia. This is a virtual act of Treason."

  • The Times, perhaps anticipating being called treasonous by the President of the United States, inserted this in the article:
    "The National Security Council said they had no national security concerns about the details of The New York Times's reporting."

  • The Russians haven't been spending their time sitting on their operating systems. According to a March 2018 article, they have inserted malware into U.S. computers "that could sabotage American power plants, oil and gas pipelines, or water supplies."

  • Tampering with computer systems isn't limited to shutting off the lights in Red Square or blocking the flow of natural gas through Pennsylvania.

  • Over the weekend Target stores experienced a nation-wide failure of its check-out system. wrote:
    "The retail giant's registers suffered a roughly two-hour nationwide outage in mid-day on June 15th, preventing customers from making purchases (including in self-checkout lines) right before Father's Day."

  • Target, which treated its customers to a massive data breach in 2013 was quick to respond saying:
    "The temporary outage earlier today was the result of an internal technology issue that lasted for approximately two hours. After an initial but thorough review, we can confirm that this was not a data breach or security-related issue, and no guest information was compromised at any time."

  • I have no reason to doubt Target, but given what's going on in the world of cyber-warfare it's not hard to imaging a bunch of Chinese guys smoking cheap, unfiltered cigarettes, high-fiving each other over shutting down every register at every one of the 1,849 Target stores the day before Father's Day in the U.S.

  • The language in the military authorization bill last summer, "approved the routine conduct of 'clandestine military activity' in cyberspace, to 'deter, safeguard or defend against attacks or malicious cyberactivities against the United States.'"

  • If both sides start shutting of one another's lights, it will make Bette Davis' famous line in "All About Eve" all too true:
    "Fasten your seatbelts. It's going to be a bumpy night."

  • On the Secret Decoder Ring page today: Links to the NY Times piece about the U.S. action in Russia, to the number of time zones in Russia, to Russian malware in U.S. systems, to the effects of Stuxnet in Iran, and to Target's official reaction to their check-out system failure.

    The Mullfoto is an odd sighting in my podiatrist's office recently.

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