Cyber Threats from Within: How the US Manipulates the Internet Space
On October 8th, The New York Times released an article devoted to the US’ accusations that Russia has perpetrated hacking attacks that have influenced the course of the presidential election campaign. The authors suggest that Obama can not only publicly blame Moscow, but also issue a special order on special sanctions, as was done with North Korea after they hacked into the computers of Sony Pictures Entertainment. Moreover, the US Department of Justice can determine who is guilty, as was done with some officers of the People’s Liberation Army of China who were accused of hacking attacks. The authors also immediately brought up how Russia is waging a hybrid war against Ukraine that has already taken on a digital form.
To stress this, the article quotes the US national intelligence director who stated on October 7th: “We believe, based on the scope and sensitivity of these efforts, that only Russia's senior-most officials could have authorized these activities.” American experts have no doubt that these attacks were done by Russia.
As the newspaper writes, this conviction is based on “data collected by the National Security Agency’s implants in foreign computer networks, presumably including Russia’s.”
To be even more convincing, the article refers to German and French intelligence services, according to whose information Russian hackers have attacked the German ThyssenKrupp company and the French TV5Monde television channel. The hacking team even has a codename: “Fashionable Bear,” and it is they who are alleged to be responsible for hacking the servers of the White House, State Department, and Joint Chiefs of Staff of the Pentagon. What’s more, there is also the specialized hacker collective from Russia called “Energetic Bear,” which is interested exclusively in targeting energy infrastructure and related companies in the United States, Canada, and Europe.
There are undoubtedly many types of hacker groups who engage in the most different activities ranging from political actions to ordinary fraud. The article’s most intriguing point is its mention of the NSA’s method which, according to the Americans’ theory, can identify the source of attacks. But this is only part of the truth. The problem is much more serious.
Shane Harris, the author of the book "@War. The Rise of Military-Internet Complex" (issued in 2014) describes in detail how the FBI, NSA, and Cyber Command have step by step developed spyware programs and introduced them into computer networks around the world. Experts from American intelligence services have written thousands, if not tens of thousands of bugs which can remain dormant in people’s computers for years only to be activated at one fine moment to perform a specific task. In Iran, for example, this was the case with the centrifuge malware program eventually called Stuxnet. Just how many such programs are sitting in waiting in Russia and to what computer networks they are connected might not even be known by American intelligence services themselves.
It just so often happens that injecting these malware into computers is done at random by tossing infected media in the hope that it will stick somewhere. One such method for delivering these programs is when someone inadvertently inserts a USB flash drive or CD akin to a licensed disk (or program with games) into their computer, and then the infection goes from one to another.
But there is also serial production such as that of specially designed holes in software which many American companies began to build into their licensed products upon request of security service after 911. There is also manufactured hardware which finds its way onto the global market.
Shane Harris’ book describes one astonishing case which demonstrates that such actions can be the result of a game between various groups. In December 2011, after learning that hackers from the group Anonymous were planning to hack the servers of the analytical company Stratfor, instead of issuing a warning and protecting its servers, the company simply allowed the computers to be hacked into for two weeks and watched as information was stolen that was relevant not only to Stratfor, but also included the confidential data of innocent subscribers from various countries. Later it was revealed that a hacker under the alias “Sabu", on a tip from the FBI, led dozens of other hackers to attack government installations. During his sentencing, his active cooperation with US authorities was taken into consideration.
The consequences of the attack on different targets in the most different countries were left on the shoulders of individual hackers or groups. Even if some of them were to be arrested, then identifying the source originally giving such orders is simply impossible.
Likewise, the hacking of the US Democratic Party’s servers and government computers could have been carried out from the territory of Russia, but this did not necessarily have to be done by hackers at the service of the Kremlin, as the liberal Atlanticists and their hired media like to repeat. The hacking of the Democratic Party’s servers was more likely done by direct or indirect agents of American intelligence services.
After all, the main factor is geography. Someone really wants to qualify Russia as a place from which the laws and norms of other countries are willfully violated. Seeing as how manipulating domestic policy issues has not worked out for the US (they even tried to create an artificial opposition which quarreled amongst itself and appropriated the funds allocated for political projects), things came to finding vulnerability on the international arena. But this failed in Syria, so cyberspace was chosen.
This is a phenomenon which clearly lacks a ready definition but which can be related to issues of national security. Here one can recall the Tallinn Manual. This handbook is not a guide to action or a political document of NATO countries, but is mainly of an advisory nature. Nevertheless, senior US and Western European officials love to refer to it as a model for the norms, values, and political means for waging military hostilities. The Tallinn Manual, we recall, was developed following cyberattacks on the government infrastructure of Estonia just after the Bronze Soldier incident, which was quite a successful provocation aimed at worsening ethnic conflict in the country. Similar claims were made then alleging that Russian hackers had attacked Estonian banks.
As a result, we have a fairly clear picture in which geopolitical dualism repeats itself in cyberspace.
But if we can deploy tank divisions and S-300’s on our physical territory and thereby defend the sovereignty and integrity of our country, then the specificity of cyberspace is such that the enemy has long dwelt within us. In order to clean up all cyber infrastructure within Russia, manpower is needed, i.e., specialists in various fields ranging from software development to situational analysis and resources, i.e., domestic components and computers themselves.
Sooner or later, this will have to be done. War is already underway in the fifth dimension, and we must be ready to face this challenge.