Russia has tightened its physical grip on Crimea this week, though offensive operations have largely been taking place online. Apart from the anticipated DDoS attacks, analysts from security firm BAE have disclosed the nature of an active and potent cyber espionage tool kit dubbed ‘Snake’ that has infiltrated Ukrainian government computer systems. The malware gives full remote access to compromised systems, allowing the attacker to siphon data and manipulate networks. G Data has a post exploring its technical aspects. For an analysis of Russia’s political intentions behind the cyberattacks (assuming the Russian government is the source), see these articles in the New York Times and Washington Post . Cybersecurity expert Jeffrey Carr has said that current operations may be only the tip of the iceberg, as ‘Russia has the ability to completely shut down Ukraine’s infrastructure’. If so, is the relative quiet a result of precise and sophisticated Russian cyberinstruments, or restraint in using them?
Increasingly effective cyber espionage operations like those used against Ukraine raise questions about the use of cyber capabilities during conflict. How do governments define cyber attacks and cyber war? One commentator suggests that there will be a ‘declaration of an act of cyber war before there is agreement on what it is’. Ben Schreer and Tobias Feakin argue here on The Strategist that ‘cyber war’ should be understood in the traditional sense of what constitutes war: ‘the use or threat of the use of force to deter or compel an adversary’. And Bruce Schneier argues that any offensive computer networked operation—including espionage—is a cyber attack, and should be ‘subject to the same international law standards that govern acts of war in the offline world’.
Big data—a group of statistical techniques that uncovers patterns—is a popular topic this week with Harvard Magazine releasing an interesting feature on using big data to revolutionise health, social media and science. Aljazeera further explores the importance of interpreting big data, not just collecting it.
Vietnam’s Government has given cybersecurity a high priority for 2014, signing a Memorandum of Understanding with Microsoft to address large-scale issues such as commercial espionage and government information security.
The latest US Quadrennial Defense Review has emphasised (PDF) the need for ‘new and expanded cyber capabilities and forces to enhance our ability to conduct cyberspace operations’. The Pentagon wants an easy US$5.1 billion to make it happen. Some novel approaches that the US government might take are outlined in this piece, including the establishment of a ‘Federal Cyber Campus’.
Fugitive Edward Snowden spoke via videoconference at the SXSW conference last week about the need to develop widely available end-to-end encryption methods for the public. This sort of encryption ensures data is readable only by the receiving party, not by intermediaries such as Internet Service Providers and intelligence agencies like the NSA.
Eric Schmidt, executive chairman at Google, and Jared Cohen, director of Google Ideas, also presented at the conference. They talked about approaches authoritarian governments are taking in response to the use of the internet in popular uprisings. Schmidt said that, recognising that blocking internet access shows the government is scared, which could actually bring more people onto the streets, dictators are infiltrating and manipulating it instead. He said this was already happening in China, and Cohen also talked about people having their social media postings and interactions being analysed by military personnel at checkpoints in Syria. It’ll be interesting to see what effect this type of activity has on social and political unrest in autocratic countries.
Simon Hansen is an intern at ASPI.