The biggest threat to the open internet is not Chinese government hackers or greedy anti-net-neutrality ISPs, it’s Michael McConnell, the former director of national intelligence. McConnell’s not dangerous because he knows anything about SQL injection hacks, but because he knows about social engineering. He’s the nice-seeming guy who’s willing and able to use fear-mongering to manipulate the federal bureaucracy for his own ends, while coming off like a straight shooter to those who are not in the know. When he was head of the country’s national intelligence, he scared President Bush with visions of e-doom, prompting the president to sign a comprehensive secret order that unleashed tens of billions of dollars into the military’s black budget so they could start making firewalls and building malware into military equipment.
And now McConnell is back in civilian life as a vice president at the secretive defense contracting giant Booz Allen Hamilton. He’s out in front of Congress and the media, peddling the same Cybaremaggedon! gloom. And now he says we need to re-engineer the internet. We need to develop an early-warning system to monitor cyberspace, identify intrusions and locate the source of attacks with a trail of evidence that can support diplomatic, military and legal options — and we must be able to do this in milliseconds. More specifically, we need to re-engineer the Internet to make attribution, geo-location, intelligence analysis and impact assessment — who did it, from where, why and what was the result — more manageable. The technologies are already available from public and private sources and can be further developed if we have the will to build them into our systems and to work with our allies and trading partners so they will do the same.
Re-read that sentence. He’s talking about changing the internet to make everything anyone does on the net traceable and geo-located so the National Security Agency can pinpoint users and their computers for retaliation if the U.S. government doesn’t like what’s written in an e-mail, what search terms were used, what movies were downloaded. Or the tech could be useful if a computer got hijacked without your knowledge and used as part of a botnet.
The Washington Post gave McConnell free space to declare that we are losing some sort of cyberwar. He argues that the country needs to get a Cold War strategy, one complete with the online equivalent of ICBMs and Eisenhower-era, secret-codenamed projects. Google’s allegation that Chinese hackers infiltrated its Gmail servers and targeted Chinese dissidents proves the United States is “losing” the cyberwar, according to McConnell.
McConnell’s op-ed then pointed to breathless stories in The Washington Post and The Wall Street Journal about thousands of malware infections from the well-known Zeus virus. He intimated that the nation’s citizens and corporations were under unstoppable attack by this so-called new breed of hacker malware. despite the masterful PR about the Zeus infections from security company NetWitness (run by a former Bush Administration cyberczar Amit Yoran), the world’s largest security companies McAfee and Symantec downplayed the story. But the message had already gotten out — the net was under attack.
Brian Krebs, one of the country’s most respected cybercrime journalists and occasional Threat Level contributor, described that report: “Sadly, this botnet documented by NetWitness is neither unusual nor new.”
Those enamored with the idea of “cyberwar” aren’t dissuaded by fact-checking.
They like to point to Estonia, where a number of the government’s websites were rendered temporarily inaccessible by angry Russian citizens. They used a crude, remediable denial-of-service attack to temporarily keep users from viewing government websites. (This attack is akin to sending an army of robots to board a bus, so regular riders can’t get on. A website fixes this the same way a bus company would — by keeping the robots off by identifying the difference between them and humans.) Some like to say this was an act of cyberwar, but if it that was cyberwar, it’s pretty clear the net will be just fine.
In fact, none of these examples demonstrate the existence of a cyberwar, let alone that we are losing it.
For years, McConnell has wanted the NSA (the ultra-secretive government spy agency responsible for listening in on other countries and for defending classified government computer systems) to take the lead in guarding all government and private networks. Not surprisingly, the contractor he works for has massive, secret contracts with the NSA in that very area. In fact, the company, owned by the shadowy Carlyle Group, is reported to pull in $5 billion a year in government contracts, many of them Top Secret.
Now the problem with developing cyberweapons — say a virus, or a massive botnet for denial-of-service attacks, is that you need to know where to point them. In the Cold War, it wasn’t that hard. In theory, you’d use radar to figure out where a nuclear attack was coming from and then you’d shoot your missiles in that general direction. But online, it’s extremely difficult to tell if an attack traced to a server in China was launched by someone Chinese, or whether it was actually a teenager in Iowa who used a proxy.
Just last week the National Telecommunications and Information Administration — the portion of the Commerce Department that has long overseen the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers — said it was time for it to revoke its hands-off-the-internet policy.
That’s according to a February 24 speech by Assistant Commerce Secretary Lawrence E. Strickling.
In fact, “leaving the Internet alone” has been the nation’s internet policy since the internet was first commercialized in the mid-1990s. The primary government imperative then was just to get out of the way to encourage its growth. And the policy set forth in the Telecommunications Act of 1996 was: “to preserve the vibrant and competitive free market that presently exists for the Internet and other interactive computer services, unfettered by Federal or State regulation.”
Following years of the NSA illegally spying on Americans’ e-mails and phone calls as part of a secret anti-terrorism project, Congress voted to legalize the program in July 2008. That vote allowed the NSA to legally turn America’s portion of the internet into a giant listening device for the nation’s intelligence services. The new law also gave legal immunity to the telecoms like AT&T that helped the government illegally spy on American’s e-mails and internet use. Then-Senator Barack Obama voted for this legislation, despite earlier campaign promises to oppose it.
As anyone slightly versed in the internet knows, the net has flourished because no government has control over it.
Where can this lead? Well, consider England, where a new bill targeting online file sharing will outlaw open internet connections at cafes or at home, in a bid to track piracy.
To be sure, we could see more demands by the government for surveillance capabilities and backdoors in routers and operating systems. Already, the feds successfully turned the Communications Assistance for Law Enforcement Act (a law mandating surveillance capabilities in telephone switches) into a tool requiring ISPs to build similar government-specified eavesdropping capabilities into their networks.
The NSA dreams of “living in the network,” and that’s what McConnell is calling for in his editorial/advertisement for his company. The NSA lost any credibility it had when it secretly violated American law and its most central tenet: “We don’t spy on Americans.”
Unfortunately, the private sector is ignoring that tenet and is helping the NSA and contractors like Booz Allen Hamilton worm their way into the innards of the net. Security companies make no fuss, since a scared populace and fear-induced federal spending means big bucks in bloated contracts. Google is no help either, recently turning to the NSA for help with its rather routine infiltration by hackers.
The NSA can help private companies and networks tighten up their security systems, as McConnell argues. In fact, they already do, and they should continue passing along advice and creating guides to locking down servers and releasing their own secure version of Linux. But companies like Google and AT&T have no business letting the NSA into their networks or giving the NSA information that they won’t share with the American people.
Security companies have long relied on creating fear in internet users by hyping the latest threat, whether that be Conficker or the latest PDF flaw. And now they are reaping billions of dollars in security contracts from the federal government for their PR efforts. But the industry and its most influential voices need to take a hard look at the consequences of that strategy and start talking truth to power’s claims that we are losing some non-existent cyberwar.
But one thing it hasn’t spread is “cyberwar.” There is no cyberwar and we are not losing it. The only war going on is one for the soul of the internet. But if journalists, bloggers and the security industry continue to let self-interested exaggerators dominate our nation’s discourse about online security, we will lose that war — and the open internet will be its biggest casualty.
According to the great-grandson John D. Rockefeller, nephew of banker David Rockefeller, and former Senate Intelligence Committee Chairman Jay Rockefeller the internet represents a serious threat to national security. Rockefeller is not alone in this assessment. His belief that the internet is the "number one national hazard" to national security is shared by the former Director of National Intelligence Mike McConnell and Obama's current director Admiral Dennis C. Blair.
As Alex Jones explained last June, large corporate ISPs are now in the process of imposing bandwidth caps and routing traffic over their networks and blocking certain targeted websites. For instance, in 2005 AOL Time-Warner was caught blocking access to all of Jones' flagship websites across the entire United States. Other instances of outright censorship include the UK ISP Tiscali blocking subscribers from reaching material on the 7/7 London bombings and Google's continued and habitual censorship of 9/11 material and Alex Jones' films on the ever-popular YouTube. There are many other instances as well.
Dont anyone worry I'm sure the govt will keep th entire system online. Its not like they'll cut us off in mid senten.........
yes they probably are.the U.S.govt are the ones doing the hacking they want to silence the controversy.Stop alternative news so they can institute any policies they want without approval and without the public knowing.They learned a lesson with health care this year.they control the media now they want the net.
how will we know when the military takes over? lol for all we know they are already in command :)
can't gore fix it?