Digital Conflict blog

Kevin Coleman

Digital Conflict

By Kevin Coleman

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Classified information routinely compromised

Details of a classified meeting held late in the afternoon on Wednesday, Feb. 1, have been publicly reported. So much for the term classified. Sources say the meeting was organized by the Senate majority leader’s office. Interesting timing, given that the day before a Senate hearing on worldwide threats took place. The follow-up meeting was said to have taken place between 12 top administration intelligence and security officials and some senators. The topic was cyber; specifically, senators were said to be interested in why more wasn’t being done to protect U.S. infrastructure and commercial companies from cyber espionage and attack. They wanted answers, that's for sure.

Information is classified based on the degree to which its unauthorized disclosure would damage our national security or in some cases, ongoing covert operations. Information is assigned one of a number of classification levels that include: 

  • Confidential
  • For official use only
  • Sensitive security information
  • Critical program information
  • Secret
  • Top secret
  • Top secret/secure compartmented information
  • Top secret/human intelligence

Although this disclosure has very limited details, what is bothersome is the amount of classified information that finds its way into the media. When individuals go through the process and obtain a security clearance, they are instructed on handling this sensitive data. I do not recall anything about criteria for disclosing classified data publicly. Full PDF files of restricted documents routinely find their way onto the Internet for all the users of the World Wide Web to see.

Posted on Feb 09, 2012 at 9:03 AM0 comments

Cyber threat draws political attention

President Barack Obama included cyber issues in his Jan. 24 State of the Union address, and that this topic made it into the speech is a big deal. It clearly indicates the current severity of the problem. Near the end of his address, Obama said, “To stay one step ahead of our adversaries, I have already sent this Congress legislation that will secure our country from the growing danger of cyber threats.”

Another prominent political figure, Republican presidential candidate Newt Gingrich, also commented on the state of the cyber threat. Gingrich said he believes that cyber warfare is as much of a threat as an electromagnetic pulse and a nuclear weapon in an American city. Gingrich said he believes “all three of those require dramatically more attention than we’re giving to them.” He believes the federal government lacks a decisive stance on possible cyber terrorism that is another area of growing concern by the military and intelligence communities.

All this took place as retired Vice Adm. Mike McConnell, vice chairman at Booz Allen Hamilton and former National Security Agency director, disclosed in a Jan. 23 interview with Reuters that the United States has already launched attacks on the computer networks of other nations. Although many knew this from inference and derivative intelligence, a disclosure such as this from such a high-ranking, informed authority shocked many.

This is a huge and growing national security issue, and it is reassuring that both sides are talking about it. As always, actions speak louder than words. We need to move beyond the talking about it phase and take immediate steps to reduce this national security risk.

Posted on Feb 02, 2012 at 9:03 AM0 comments

Flexibility required to defeat cyber threats

We live, work, and socialize in a hyper-connected world.The world’s growing reliance on electronics, the Internet, computer systems and devices, and digital infrastructure has ushered in a new age of battle. From skirmishes such as we witnessed recently between pro-Palestinian supporters and Israel to the discovery of cyber espionage activities that have gone on undetected for years, the way we view conflict has changed forever.

We have entered the age of conflict where intelligence agencies, and also the militaries of countries around the world, struggle to adapt to the requirements of this rapidly changing domain. The rapid development and availability of cyber weapons to criminals, terrorists and rogue nation states are without question a significant cause of concern for businesses, governments and militaries, which are are busy crafting the defense strategies and doctrine for cyber response.

The rapid evolution of cyber threats requires flexibility. Perhaps the most difficult adaptation is to the pace at which all the activities associated with cyber espionage and cyber intelligence collection, analysis and dissemination occurs, and also the pace that cyber weapons are created, evolve and adapt to our defensive needs. This is only rivaled by the pace with which a cyber weapon strikes. After all, the bits and bytes of malicious code used to create a cyber weapon travels at light speed through fiber optic cables. It is difficult to think of an aspect of modern life that is not directly reliant on this infrastructure. It is that reliance that has made cyberattacks such a huge challenge and risk.

Posted on Jan 26, 2012 at 12:54 PM0 comments

Cyberattacks increase in Middle East

Israel saw two organizations that are components of its critical infrastructure struck Jan. 16 by cyberattacks. Websites belonging to Israel’s stock exchange and its national airline, El Al, went down around mid-morning, a result of another cyberattack by pro-Palestinian hackers. The hacker group that calls itself Nightmare has taken responsibility for the cyberattacks. There are reports that the group was so bold as to inform Ynet, Israel's largest and most popular news and content website, as to its plans in advance of the cyberattack.

At the same time, a hacker known as Hannibal is said to have published on Facebook the account details of some 20,000 Arab users. He also claimed to possess information that can be used to breach the bank accounts of some 10 million people in Iran and Saudi Arabia. He threatened to cause billions of dollars in damage with this information.

All of this playing out in a very public setting and taking place as Hamas has reportedly urged its supporters to boost the “electronic war against occupation” (that is, to escalate cyberattacks against Israeli targets). Cyber hostilities in the Middle East are on the rise. As they continue on this path, a kinetic exchange becomes more and more likely.

The Bloomberg News Service has reported that Sami Abu Zuhri, a senior spokesman for the Palestinian political party Hamas, has stated that “penetrating Israeli websites means opening a new field of resistance and the beginning of an electronic war against Israeli occupation.”

Posted on Jan 19, 2012 at 12:54 PM0 comments

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