The Spanish Civil War and the Rise of Cyberwar

Posted June 22nd, 2009 by

As usual, I greatly enjoyed your blog from 17 June, A Short History of Cyberwar Look-alikes, Rybolov. Moreover I really appreciated your historical examples. It warms my heart whenever an American uses the Russo-Japanese War of 1904/5 as a historic example of anything. Most Americans have never even heard of it. Yet, it is important event today if for no other reason than it established the tradition of having the US President intercede as a peace negotiator and win the Nobel Prize for Peace for his efforts. Because of this, some historians mark it as the historic point at which the US entered the world stage as a great power. By the way the President involved was Teddy Roosevelt.

Concerning the state and nature of Cyberwar today, I’ve seen Rybolov’s models and I think they make sense. Cyberwar as an extension of electronic warfare makes some sense. The analogy does break down at some point because of the peculiarity of the medium. For example, when considering exploitation of SCADA systems as we have seen in the Baltic States and in a less focused manner here in North America, it is hard to see a clear analogy in electronic warfare. The consequences look more like old-fashion kinetic warfare. Likewise, there are aspects of Cyberwarfare that look like good old-fashion human intelligence and espionage. Of course I also have reservations with the electronic warfare model based on government politics. Our friends at NSA have been suggesting that Cyberwarfare is an extension of signals intelligence for years, with the accompanying claim that they (NSA) should have the technical, legal, and of course budgetary resources that go along with it.

I’ve also have seen other writers propose other models of Cyberwarfare and they tend to be a mixed bag at best. At worst, many of the models proposed appear to be the laughable writings of individuals with no more insight to or knowledge of intelligence operations beyond the latest James Bond movie. My own opinion is that two models or driving forces behind international Cyberwarfare activity. The first is pure opportunism. Governments and criminal organizations alike, even authoritarian governments have seen the Hollywood myths and the media hysteria about hacker exploits. Over time, criminal gangs have created and expanded on their cyber capabilities driven by a calculation of profits and risks much like conventional businesses. Combine an international banking environment that allows funds to be transferred across borders with little effort and less time and an international legal environment that is largely out of touch with the Internet and international telecommunications, and we have a breeding ground for Cyber criminals in which the risks of cross-border criminal activity is often much less risky than domestic criminal activity.

As successful Cyber criminal gangs have emerged in totalitarian regimes, it shouldn’t be a surprise that eventually the governments involved would eventually take an interest in both their activities and techniques. There are several reasons that totalitarian government might want to do this. Perhaps the simplest motivation is that the corrupt officials would be drawn to share in the profits in exchange for protection. In addition, the intelligence arms of these nations could also leverage their services and techniques at a fraction of the cost of developing similar capabilities themselves. Additionally, using these capabilities would also provide the intelligence agencies and even the host government with an element of deniability if operations assigned to the criminal gangs were detected.

Monument to the International Brigade photo by Secret Pilgrim.  For more information, read the history of the International Brigade.

Perhaps the most interesting model of development and Cyberwarfare activity today would be based on the pre-WW II example of the Spanish Civil War. After World War I, a period of mental and societal exhaustion followed on the part of all participating nations. This was quickly follow by a period of self-assessment and rebuilding. In the case of the defeated Germany the reconstruction period protracted due to difficult economic conditions, in part created by the harsh conditions of surrender imposed by the winning European governments.

It was also important to remember that these same victorious European governments undermined many of social and moral underpinnings of German society by systematically all the basis of traditional German government and governmental legitimacy without regard for what should replace it. The assessments of most historians is that these factors combined to sow the seed of hatred against the victorious powers and created a social climate in which a return to open warfare at some time in the future was seen as unavoidable and perhaps desirable. The result was that Germany actively prepared and planned for what was seen as the commonly inevitable war in the future. New systems and technologies were considered, tested. However, treaty limitations also hampered some of these efforts.

In the Soviet Union a similar set of conclusions developed during this period of history within the ruling elite, specifically that renewed war with Germany was inevitable in the near term. Like Germany, the Soviet Union also actively prepared for this war. Likewise they considered and studied new technologies and approaches to war. Somewhat surprisingly, they also secretly conspired with the Germans to provide them with secret proving grounds and test facilities to study some to the new technologies and approaches to war that would otherwise have been banned under provisions of the peace treaties of World War I.

So, when Civil War broke out in Spain in the summer of 1936, both Germany and the Soviet Union were positively delirious at the prospects of testing their new military equipment and theories out under battlefield conditions but, without the risks of participating in a real shooting war as an active belligerent. So, both governments sent every military technology possible to their proxies in Spain under the auspices of “aid”. In some cases they even sent “advisors” who were nothing less than active soldiers and pilots in the conflict. At first, this activity took place under a shroud of secrecy. But, when you send military equipment and people to fight in foreign lands it usually takes no time at all for someone to notice that, “those guys aren’t from here”.

Bomber During the Spanish Civil War photo by -Merce-.  Military aviation, bombing in particular, was one of the new technologies that was tested during the Spanish Civil War.

Since the fall of the Soviet Union, I think the world has looked at the United States as the world’s sole superpower. Many, view this situation with fear and suspicion. Even some of our former Cold War allies have taken this view. Certainly our primary Cold War adversaries have adopted this stance. If you look at contemporary Chinese and Russian military writing it is clear that they have adopted a position similar to the pre- World War II notion that war between the US and Russia or war between the US and China is inevitable. To make matters worse, during much of the Cold War the US never seemed to pull it together militarily long enough to actually win a war. Toward the end of the Cold War we started smacking smaller allies of the Soviet Union like Grenada and succeeded.

We then moved on to give Iraq a real drubbing after the Cold War. The so-call “Hyperwar” in Iraq terrified the Russians and Chinese alike. The more they studied what we did in Iraq the more terrified they became. On of the many counters they have written about is posing asymmetric threats to the US, that is to say threatening the US in a way in which it is uniquely, or unusually vulnerable. One of these areas of vulnerability is Cyberspace. All sorts of press reporting indicate that the Russians and Chinese have made significant investments in this area. The Russians and Chinese deny these reports as quickly as they emerge. So, it is difficult to determine what the truth is. The fact that the Russians and Chinese are so sensitive to these claims may be a clear indication that they have active programs – the guilty men in these cases have a clear record of protesting to much when they are most guilty.

Assuming that all of this post-Cold War activity is true, I believe this puts us in much the same situation that existed in the pre-World War II Spanish Civil War era. I think the Russian and Chinese governments are just itching to test and refine their Cyberwarfare capabilities. But, at the same time I think they want to operate in a manner similar to how the Germans and the Soviet Union operated in that conflict. I think they want and are testing their capabilities but in a limited way that provides them with some deniability and diplomatic cover. This is important to them because the last thing they want now is to create a Cyber-incident that will precipitate a general conflict or even a major shift in diplomatic or trade relationships.

One of the major differences between the Spanish Civil War example and our current situation of course is that there is no need for a physical battlefield to exist to provide as a live testing environment for Cyber weapons and techniques. However, at least in the case of Russia with respect to Georgia, they are exploiting open military conflicts to use Cyberwar techniques when those conflicts do arise. We have seen similar, but much smaller efforts on the part of Iran, and the Palestinian Authority as embrace what is seen as a cheap and low risk weapon. However, their efforts seem to be more reactionary and rudimentary. The point is, the longer this game goes on without serious consequence the more it will escalate both vertically (in sophistication) and horizontally (be embraced by more countries). Where all of this will lead is anyone guess. But, I think the safe money is betting that the concept of Cyberwar is here to stay and eventually the tools and techniques and full potential of Cyberwar will eventually be used as part of as part of a strategy including more traditional weapons and techniques.



Similar Posts:

Posted in Public Policy, Rants, The Guerilla CISO | No Comments »
Tags:

Blow-By-Blow on S.773–The Cybersecurity Act of 2009–Part 1

Posted April 14th, 2009 by

Rybolov Note: this is such a long blog post that I’m breaking it down into parts.  Go read the bill hereGo read part two hereGo read part three here. Go read part four hereGo read part 5 here. =)

So the Library of Congress finally got S.773 up on http://thomas.loc.gov/.  For those of you who have been hiding under a rock, this is the Cybersecurity Act of 2009 and is a bill introduced by Senators Rockefeller and Snowe and, depending on your political slant, will allow us to “sock it to the hackers and send them to a federal pound-you-in-the-***-prison” or “vastly erode our civil liberties”.

A little bit of pre-reading is in order:

Timing: Now let’s talk about the timing of this bill.  There is the 60-day Cybersecurity Review that is supposed to be coming out Real Soon Now (TM).  This bill is an attempt by Congress to head it off at the pass.

Rumor mill says that not only will the Cybersecurity Review be unveiled at RSA (possible, but strange) and that it won’t bring anything new to the debate (more possibly, but then again, nothing’s really new, we’ve known about this stuff for at least a decade).

Overall Comments:

This bill is big.  It really is an omnibus Cybersecurity Act and has just about everything you could want and more.  There’s a fun way of doing things in the Government, and it goes something like this: ask for 300% of what you need so that you will end up with 80%.  And I see this bill is taking this approach to heart.

Pennsylvania Ave – Old Post Office to the Capitol at Night photo by wyntuition.

And now for the good, bad, and ugly:

SEC. 2. FINDINGS. This section is primarily a summary of testimony that has been delivered over the past couple of years.  It really serves as justification for the rest of the bill.  It is a little bit on the FUD side of things (as in “omigod, they put ‘Cyber-Katrina‘ in a piece of legislation”), but overall it’s pretty balanced and what you would expect for a bill.  Bottom line here is that we depend on our data and the networks that carry it.  Even if you don’t believe in Cyberwar (I don’t really believe in Cyberwar unles it’s just one facet of combined arms warfare), you can probably agree that the costs of insecurity on a macroeconomic scale need to be looked at and defended against, and our dependency on the data and networks is only going to increase.

No self-respecting security practitioner will like this section, but politicians will eat it up.  Relax, guys, you’re not the intended audience.

Verdict: Might as well keep this in there, it’s plot development without any requirements.

SEC. 3. CYBERSECURITY ADVISORY PANEL. This section creates a Cybersecurity Advisory Panel made up of Federal Government, private sector, academia, and state and local government.  This is pretty typical so far.  The interesting thing to me is “(7) whether societal and civil liberty concerns are adequately addressed”… in other words, are we balancing security with citizens’, corporations’, and states’ rights?  More to come on this further down in the bill.

Verdict: Will bring a minimal cost in Government terms.  I’m very hesitant to create new committees.  But yeah, this can stay.

SEC. 4. REAL-TIME CYBERSECURITY DASHBOARD. This section is very interesting to me.  On one hand, it’s what we do at the enterprise level for most companies.  On the other hand, this is specific to the Commerce Department –”Federal Government information systems and networks managed by the Department of Commerce.”  The first reading of this is the internal networks that are internal to Commerce, but then why is this not handed down to all agencies?  I puzzled on this and did some research until I remembered that Commerce, through NTIA, runs DNS, and Section 8 contains a review of the DNS contracts.

Verdict: I think this section needs a little bit of rewording so that the scope is clearer, but sure, a dashboard is pretty benign, it’s the implied tasks to make a dashboard function (ie, proper management of IT resources and IT security) that are going to be the hard parts.  Rescope the dashboard and explicitly say what kind of information it needs to address and who should receive it.

SEC. 5. STATE AND REGIONAL CYBERSECURITY ENHANCEMENT PROGRAM. This section calls for Regional Cybersecurity Centers, something along the lines of what we call “Centers of Excellence” in the private sector.  This section is interesting to me, mostly because of how vague it seemed the first time I read it, but the more times I look at it, I go “yeah, that’s actually a good idea”.  What this section tries to do is to bridge the gap between the standards world that is NIST and the people outside of the beltway–the “end-users” of the security frameworks, standards, tools, methodologies, what-the-heck-ever-you-want-to-call-them.  Another interesting thing about this is that while the proponent department is Commerce, NIST is part of Commerce, so it’s not as left-field as you might think.

Verdict: While I think this section is going to take a long time to come to fruition (5+ years before any impact is seen), I see that Regional Cybersecurity Centers, if properly funded and executed, can have a very significant impact on the rest of the country.  It needs to happen, only I don’t know what the cost is going to be, and that’s the part that scares me.

SEC. 6. NIST STANDARDS DEVELOPMENT AND COMPLIANCE. This is good.  Basically this section provides a mandate for NIST to develop a series of standards.  Some of these have been sitting around for some time in various incarnations, I doubt that anyone would disagree that these need to be done.

  1. CYBERSECURITY METRICS RESEARCH:  Good stuff.  Yes, this needs help.  NIST are the people to do this kind of research.
  2. SECURITY CONTROLS:  Already existing in SP 800-53.  Depending on interpretation, this changes the scope and language of the catalog of controls to non-Federal IT systems, or possibly a fork of the controls catalog.
  3. SOFTWARE SECURITY:  I guess if it’s in a law, it has come of age.  This is one of the things that NIST has wanted to do for some time but they haven’t had the manpower to get involved in this space.
  4. SOFTWARE CONFIGURATION SPECIFICATION LANGUAGE: Part of SCAP.  The standard is there, it just needs to be extended to various pieces of software.
  5. STANDARD SOFTWARE CONFIGURATION:  This is the NIST configuration checklist program ala SP 800-70.  I think NIST ran short on manpower for this also and resorted back to pointing at the DISA STIGS and FDCC.  This so needs further development into a uniform set of standards and then, here’s the key, rolled back upstream to the software vendors so they ship their product pre-configured.
  6. VULNERABILITY SPECIFICATION LANGUAGE: Sounds like SCAP.

Now for the “gotchas”:

(d) COMPLIANCE ENFORCEMENT- The Director shall–

(1) enforce compliance with the standards developed by the Institute under this section by software manufacturers, distributors, and vendors; and

(2) shall require each Federal agency, and each operator of an information system or network designated by the President as a critical infrastructure information system or network, periodically to demonstrate compliance with the standards established under this section.

This section basically does 2 things:

  • Mandates compliancy for vendors and distributors with the NIST standards listed above.  Suprised this hasn’t been talked about elsewhere.  This clause suffers from scope problems because if you interpret it BSOFH-stylie, you can take it to mean that anybody who sells a product, regardless of who’s buying, has to sell a securely-configured version.  IE, I can’t sell XP to blue-haired grandmothers unless I have something like an FDCC variant installed on it.  I mostly agree with this in the security sense but it’s a serious culture shift in the practical sense.
  • Mandates an auditing scheme for Federal agencies and critical infrastructure.  Everybody’s talked about this, saying that since designation of critical infrastructure is not defined, this is left at the discretion of the Executive Branch.  This isn’t as wild-west as the bill’s opponents want it to seem, there is a ton of groundwork layed out in HSPD-7.  But yeah, HSPD-7 is an executive directive and can be changed “at the whim” of the President.  And yes, this is auditing by Commerce, which has some issues in that Commerce is not equipped to deal with IT security auditing.  More on this in a later post.

Verdict: The standard part is already happening today, this section just codifies it and justify’s NIST’s research.  Don’t task Commerce with enforcement of NIST standards, it leads down all sorts of inappropriate roads.



Similar Posts:

Posted in Public Policy, What Doesn't Work, What Works | 7 Comments »
Tags:

LOLCATS and Cyberwar

Posted March 19th, 2009 by

They’re “armed”, they’re “dangerous”, and they’re “right around the corner”, depending on who you talk to.

funny pictures



Similar Posts:

Posted in Hack the Planet, IKANHAZFIZMA | 2 Comments »
Tags:

IKANHAZFIZMA Tackles the Consensus Audit Guidelines

Posted February 26th, 2009 by

CAG Fever… we haz it here at Guerilla-CISO.  So far the konsensus is that CAG works well as a “Best Practices” document but not really as an auditable standard.  We’re thinking that CAG will provide the rope with which our IGs and GAO will hang us.

funny pictures



Similar Posts:

Posted in IKANHAZFIZMA | 3 Comments »
Tags:

The 10 CAG-egorically Wrong Ways to Introduce Standards

Posted February 20th, 2009 by

The Consensus Audit Guidelines (CAG) appear, at this point, to be a reasonable set of guidelines for mediating some human threats. I’m looking forward to seeing what CAG offers and have no doubt there will be worthwhile and actionable controls in the document. That said, there are significant reasons approach CAG with skepticism and assess it critically.

The motivation for CAG is described in a set of slides at the Gilligan Group site. It starts with a focus on what CIO’s fear most: attacks, reduced operational capability, public criticism, data loss, etc. Then it rightly questions whether FISMA is adequately addressing those problems. It doesn’t and this is the genesis of the CAG.

Consensus photo by Eirik Newth.

Unfortunately CAG subsequently develops by pairing this first valid premise with a set of false premises.  These propositions are drawn from slides at gilligangroupinc.com, attributed to John Gilligan or Alan Paller:

  1. All that matters are attacks. The central tenet of Bush’s Comprehensive National Cyber Initiative (CNCI) is adopted as the CAG theme: “Defense Must Be Informed by the Offense”. CAG envisions security as defense against penetration attacks. As any seasoned security practitioner knows, attacks are a limited subset of the threats to confidentiality, integrity and availability that information and information systems face.
  2. Security through obscurity. CAG seems to have taken the unspoken CNCI theme to heart too, “The most effective security is not exposed to public criticism.” Since its very public December 11th announcement no drafts have been made publicly available for comment.
  3. False dichotomy. CAG has been promoted as an alternative to the OMB/NIST approach to FISMA. It isn’t. An alternative would target a fuller range of threats to information and information system security. CAG should be considered a complement to NIST guidance, an addendum of security controls focused on defense against penetration by hackers. NIST has even acted on this approach by including some CAG controls into the 800-53 Rev. 3 catalog of controls.
  4. There is too much NIST guidance! This is the implication of one CAG slide that lists 1200 pages of guidance, 15 FIPS docs and the assorted Special Publications not related to FISMA as detriments to security. It’s like complaining that Wikipedia has too many articles to contribute to improved learning. Speaking as someone who scrambled to secure Federal systems before FISMA and NIST’s extensive guidance, having that documentation greatly improves my ability to efficiently and effectively secure systems.
  5. NIST guidance doesn’t tell me how to secure my systems! NIST’s FISMA guidance doesn’t step you through securing your SQL Server. The Chairman of the Joint Chiefs also doesn’t deliver your milk. Why not? It’s not their job. NIST’s FISMA guidance helps you to assess the risks to the system, decide how to secure it, secure it accordingly, check that a minimum of controls are in place and then accept responsibility for operating the system. NIST also provides documents, checklists, repositories, standards, working groups and validation of automated tools that help with the actual security implementation.
  6. Automated security controls negate human errors. With the premise of all threats being attacks this is nearly a plausible premise. But not all security is technical. Not all threats come from the Internet. DHS, NIST, Mitre, and their partners have pursued automated security controls to enforce and audit security controls for years but automated security controls can only go so far. Human errors, glitches, unexpected conflicts and operational requirements will always factor into the implementation of security.
  7. Audit compatibility as a hallmark of good security. There is a conflict of focus at the heart of the CAG, it seeks to both improve its subset of security and improve audit compatibility. For technical controls this is somewhat achievable using automation, something NIST has pursued for years with government and industry partners. For operational and management controls it results in audit checklists. But audits are fundamentally concerned with testing the particular and repeatable, security needs focus on evaluating the whole to ensure the necessary security results. An audit sees if antivirus software is installed, an evaluation sees if the antivirus software is effective.
  8. Metrics, but only these metrics over here. When selecting the current crop of CAG controls decisions on what to include were reportedly based on metrics of the highest threats. Great idea, a quantitative approach often discovers counter-intuitive facts. Only the metrics were cherry picked. Instead of looking at all realized threats or real threat impacts only a count of common penetration attacks were considered.
  9. With a sample of 1. As a basis for determining what security should focus on the whole breadth of the security profession was queried, so long as they were penetration testers. Yes, penetration testers are some very smart and talented people but penetration testing is to security what HUMINT is to intelligence services. Important players, expert practitioners but limited in scope and best used in conjunction with other intelligence assets.
  10. Assessments rely on paper artifacts. The NIST guidance does not require paper artifacts. The first line in the NIST SP 800-53A preface is, “Security control assessments are not about checklists, simple pass-fail results, or generating paperwork to pass inspections or audits-rather, security controls assessments are the principal vehicle used to verify that the implementers and operators of information systems are meeting their stated security goals and objectives.” NIST SP 800-37 specifically and repeatedly states, “Security accreditation packages can be submitted in either paper or electronic format.”

CAG is a missed opportunity. Of the myriad problems with our current FISMA regime a lot of good could be achieved. The problems with guidance have many causes but can be addressed through cooperative development of best practices outside of NIST. The Assessment Cases for SP 800-53A is an example of how cooperative development can achieve great results and provide clear guidance. Other problems exist and can be addressed with better training and community developments.

My hope is that the Consensus Audit Guidelines will move towards a more open, collaborative development environment. The first release is sure to deliver useful security controls against penetration attacks. As with all good security practices it will likely need to go through a few iterations and lots of critical assessment to mature. An open environment would help foster a more complete consensus.

Consensus photo by mugley.



Similar Posts:

Posted in BSOFH, FISMA, Rants, Technical, What Doesn't Work, What Works | 9 Comments »
Tags:

Cyber-FEMA LOLCATS Prepare for Cyber-Katrina

Posted February 19th, 2009 by

Yes, I understand what Paul Kurtz is saying in that we need a single command structure for large-scale IT security incident response before we have bureaucratic paralysis like the previous administration’s response to Hurricane Katrina, but the metaphor is way ugly–too ugly just to let it go without IKANHAZFIZMA getting involved.  =)

More serious commentary if I ever get done with the “death by work” that the last 2 weeks has been.

funny pictures



Similar Posts:

Posted in IKANHAZFIZMA | 1 Comment »
Tags:

« Previous Entries Next Entries »


Visitor Geolocationing Widget: