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Clamouring against Russia: The Cyber Attack Platform

In a time when such revelations as those of Edward Snowden pass a person’s lips with ease and awareness, political clamouring for action and measures against Russia on the subject of cyber attack seem risible. This is not to say that Russia does not engage in an energetic, state of the art program of surveillance and penetration. More significant is the sheer noise such acts generate from those who claim to have the book of ethics in one hand and the code of laws in the other – the international ones no less.

This is cyberwarfare writ large, its warriors on keyboards becoming a new feted aristocracy, digital knights fashioning the next theft, or the next destabilising virus. Singling out a monster can only come across as a vulgar, if convenient distraction. In another sense, it offers backhanded praise.

On April 16, the US Department of Homeland Security, Federal Bureau of Investigation and the UK’s Cyber Security Centre released a “Technical Alert” citing “malicious cyber activity carried out by the Russian Government.” The joint US-UK statement noted attacks on “network infrastructure devices worldwide such as routers, switches, firewalls, and the Network Intrusion Detection System (NIDS).”

Jeanette Manfra charged with cybersecurity and communications matters within the US National Protection and Programs Directorate was even dramatic on the scale of the assault. “Russian government activities continue to threaten our respective safety, security, and the very integrity of our cyber ecosystem.”

Then came the Five Eyes chatterers, the small Anglophone grouping that was given some dressing down by the Snowden revelations in 2013. Four of them – Australia, New Zealand, Canada and the United Kingdom –  got comfortable at the National Cyber Security Centre in London during the week. The only member missing before the picture shoot was the US colossus.

UK Prime Minister Theresa May accused Moscow of “using cyber as part of a wider effort to attack and undermine the international system.” May was at pains with her colleagues to observe that, “We know what it’s doing, and we should be in no doubt that such cyberwarfare is one of the greatest challenges of our time.”

The others also added their contribution to the potluck luncheon of indignant warning. Canada’s Justin Trudeau was confident in condemnation. “There are folks out there in the world, countries out there in the world who do not share our values and our approach to freedoms and mostly the rules-based order.”

Trudeau was telling if inadvertently so. “So the importance of like-minded friends and partners like us four to stand together provides a response and a solidarity that is a clear message to those around the world who do not play by the same rules.” Whose rules you ask? The answer is clearly evident.

The Australians added their own version, claiming that up to 400 Australian businesses might have been the target of Russian sponsored hackers, though Cyber Security Minister Angus Taylor demonstrated the confused state of thinking by claiming no information had been “compromised”. Keeping a brave face, Australia’s defence minister Marise Payne reiterated the same theme: the attacks had taken place, but evidently without much consequence (in her words, without “any exploitation of significance”).

At the National Cyber Security Centre gathering, Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull rounded the assault on Russia in a job lot description:

“The message to be sent in solidarity that this type of illegal conduct whether it is a chemical attack in Syria, the use of a nerve agent on British soil or the expanding cyber attacks across the internet across the whole digital domain on which all our businesses and economics depended. These must be resisted.”

The rather seedy way of roping international values into a Five Eyes arrangement that insists on targets, surveillance and theft is a fairly rich thing to do. That very same gathering has done its fair share of spying on each other’s citizens, blurring the line on plausible targets. The rules-based order so praised has been left wanting, and limping. The world of global surveillance is an unruly one indeed.

The case of New Zealand offers one such example of that limp, notably in the government handling of the Kim Dotcom case. Not only has the intelligence service there lost its head in monitoring him specifically for their American lords, the entire outfit had demonstrated that it is happy to spy on residents, something which it is legally barred from.

It was left to the High Court of New Zealand to find on a few occasions in 2017 that the operation conducted by the Government Communications Security Bureau against Dotcom, Bram van der Kolk and Mathias Ortmann, all associated with Megaupload, was illegal. Such spying constituted “illegal searches” in violation of the New Zealand Bill of Rights.

In targeting Russia, importance is elevated, the very thing that will be earning points on the Moscow tally board of realpolitik. “We have found the Russians in routers and deep inside networks for 20 years,” says Robert Hannigan, a person who knows a thing or two about hoovering and gathering intelligence from tapped transatlantic fibre-optic cables. He was, after all, a former head of Britain’s GCHQ, the agency responsible for those very exploits.

The recent spike of interest in Russia’s cyber heft made the New York Times feel nostalgic, a sort of tunnel vision view about a revamped and rejigged Cold War that was gaining pace. “The sweep and urgency of the statements from both sides of the Atlantic called to mind a computer-age version of a Cold War air raid drill, but asking citizens to upgrade their passwords rather than duck and cover.”

The shaky ground upon which the argument against Russia is built on presumes harked international norms in the face of a new Wild West frontier of battles and appropriations. The exceptionalist language of devilry Russia is coated with ignores one brutal fact: cyber measures have become ordinary fare, boringly regular. The only response from connected citizens is rudimentary, if at times ineffectual common sense: change passwords regularly, and hope for the worst.


6 comments

  1. nonsibicunctis

    Of course, this is the way it has always been and will continue to be. Governments and the politicians within them in our so-called democracies are not there out of a desire to give service to the nation. They are there because they have minimal conscience, if any, and because they subscribe to the obnoxious ethos that now permeates our nation as well as most others in the World. That is, that they consider success from a totally self-serving view and its measures those of wealth, assets and position (power).

    So, it is inevitable that there will be different responses to similar behaviour of others. Nonentities [ie. the mass of the people] who dare to rock a few roofs or rattle some window-panes will be dealt with in increasingly harsher terms, depending on the loudness of the noise they make and on how long they continue to do so.

    The elite – the political or hypocritical class, the atavistic adherents to anachronistic monarchy, grand titles and speech intoned through clenched nostrils and pursed lips, and the oh so respectable and capable criminal CEO’s, Directors and Board members, not only for the same behaviour but for that which most often is many times worse, may face a minor hiatus or blip in the sleazy smoothness of their guilded lives but even on that improbable and rare occasion that one receives a criminal conviction, it will be brief and once released, they will pick up from where they left.

    The diplomats are simply those who’ve proved to be the best liars, biggest fawners, and most responsive, in the way that a dog is to a treat. They are amongst the biggest traitors to the nation’s populace and yet are largely faceless to those with whose lives they gamble. They are, perhaps, the very last people who should be chosen [awarded privilege for services rendered] to represent a nation and negotiate its future.

    Yet, this is our nation and our World. Those who know say that it is impossible for a group of more than about 30 human beings to live as a community without there being a leader and some formal structures to dictate what is done, who does it, and when it is done. That being the case, there is little chance that anything will change, particularly given the extent to which the populace is now ever more dumbed-down to the extent that to enliven the reality of their largely mundane and pointless lives they choose to watch the puerile and manipulated triteness of [non] “reality” television.

    The killing has never stopped. The mantra of “might is right” is probably stronger than ever and the buffoon who fills the position that is generally accepted to embody the leadership of the “free world’ is a prime example of how far our expectations have fallen and the pathetic level of ignorance, arrogance and narcissism that we are now willing to accept. Heralded by so many as, at the very least, an inappropriate choice before election, once holding the trappings and power of the position, it has been amazing to see the subservient and sycophantic behaviours of those who had previously described him in the most derogatory terms.

    Women continue to have an almost negligible role on the national or world stage, regardless of the major victories they have supposedly won and the capability, expertise, honesty and courage that they have often demonstrated and, in doing so, shown the male model of governance, negotiation and care to be and have been an enormous failure. The few exceptions are those women, of who there are sadly too many, that seem to believe that they have to behave in the male model to have hope of achievement. That is, of course, untrue, and those women who achieve in that manner generally seem to abandon all the sensibilities and different perspective of their gender so that they may as well be men. One only has to listen to the content of their speeches or read their opinion pieces to see that, if one didn’t know that it was written by a woman, one wouldn’t guess that way.

    No longer do we even care about our children. There are 18,000 homeless children in Australia, today. In the majority world there are 18,000+ children dying EVERY DAY unnecessarily because the causes are almost all preventable. Warring parties of various religions use them as runners and couriers and even as fighters and, of course, use the indoctrination into belief in mythical beings – that curse of religion that has blighted humanity virtually for ever. The result being that as they grow they become less and less capable of rational or logical thought and more and more aggressively assertive that ‘God is on their side”, just as does every other group.

    If the Earth was flat, i’d suggest that there would be no shortage of people walking or being pushed off the edge. As it is, we simply place band-aids onto wounds that are physicially and mentally enormous. Then, as far as we an, we ignore them is some inexplicable and vain hope that they’ll just disappear.

    So, as they say, no longer is anything sacred.There is no longer more than little hope or love or compassion in the World. What there is, is profound misery, disadvantage, denigration, distrust of difference, unhealthy competition, public discourse from which one can only extract any rational meaning – assuming that there is one, at all – from reading between the lines. We are choking in avarice, greed, love of trinkets, baubles and beeds, and acceptance that – although we outnumber those who have the power – we are either too lazy or too gutless to actually take them apart. any more.

    As a result, we are already committing national suicide and, similarly, world suicide.

  2. New England Cocky

    Uhm … are these people related to the USA (United States of Apartheid) security services that “produced” the WMDs (words of mass deception) to “justify” the invasion of Iraq in 2003 against the puppet dictator Saddam Hussein who was protected, installed and kept in power by the CIA … when 1/18 persons involved in the 9/11 airstrike against the USA was an Iraqi? while about 12 were Saudis? to gain control of the oil reserves of Iraq and in future Iran for the benefit of shareholder i the US oil mega-corporations?

  3. Zathras

    Cyber-terrorism really began with the release of the Stuxnet worm which was developed and released by the USA and Israel to target uranium centrifuges in Iran.

    The problem is that the manner of its release made it freely available to the whole world and all any hacker needs to do is to modify it to target a specific router or controller anywhere in the world, in any environment they choose.

    That’s why the USA is now desperate to sign up every government to a cyber-attack peace agreement. They may hope to stop formal attacks but can never stop private individuals, who also indulge in activities like Ransomware.

    After creating the genie and letting it out of the bottle the USA has made itself (and the rest of the world) more vulnerable that the Iranians they originally targetted.

    In the end, whether recent attacks are coming from foreign governments or from individuals routing via foreign servers will be irrelevant.

  4. Andreas

    re# nonsibicunctis: Your perfect summary leaves nothing to add.

  5. Kerry F

    Thank you Dr Binoy, I always find your writing to be informed and intelligent and most importantly, objective.
    We are entirely up sh** creek already regarding cyber security.
    That horse bolted a long time ago and disclosure is only happening now because its too late to do much about it.
    No one will be jailed or fined for the gross violations of privacy and life will go on as if it never happened. Just like after Edwards Snowdon’s revelations. I don’t mean to sound depressing, its just that I don’t think there is much we can do except to continue to inform each other and try to create more honest systems of government.

  6. Max Gross

    Gee, I wonder who started all this “malicious cyber activity”? In 2007 the US and Israel jointly created the Stuxnet virus and attacked Iran. It’s all been downhill from there. But hey! Let’s not get sidetracked with facts!

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