With the approach of the United States’ 2018 midterm elections, concerns have been expressed by many regarding the security and integrity of the voting process. Given the news how suspected Russian agents actively sought to use hacking and influence operations to sway voters in a particular direction during the presidential election, the concern is legitimate, even if there was no evidence that votes were actually altered in 2016. The preservation of the democratic voting process has been thrust into symbolic “red line” territory that needs and should be protected against foreign interference. Indeed, the Department of Homeland Security re-enforced this by elevating election infrastructure to the status of “critical infrastructure” in early 2017.
Clearly, hacking and gaining unauthorized access to those systems and devices associated with the election process is something that deserves immediate attention. After all, many countries would ostensibly agree that breaking into computers is a criminal offense, regardless if data is taken, destroyed, or altered. In the 2016 U.S. presidential election, there were clear incidents where suspected Russian hackers stole data, and even compromised voter-related records, resulting an indictment of Russian nationals on a wide variety of charges ranging from conspiracy to commit fraud, money laundering, and identity theft, to name a few.
The White House has recently published its new National Cyber Strategy, rescinding an Obama-era memorandum Presidential Policy Directive-20 (PPD-20) that laid forth the process by which the United States would undertake cyber attacks against cyber foes, to include foreign state actors. The Strategy consists of four primary pillars designed to guide how the United States will undergo defensive, and perhaps more importantly, offensive actions in order to preserve its interests in cyberspace. Per the Strategy, the four pillars are:
A recent article revealed that the United States government has gotten better at providing unclassified cyber threat information to the private sector. Law enforcement and intelligence organizations have greatly cut down the time it takes to provide unclassified versions of cyber threat indicators (a term that can reference that can refer to a variety of technical data that includes but is not limited to IP addresses, malware, e-mail addresses, etc.) to the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) to disseminate promptly to the private sector. The process had traditionally been slow as it involves an originating agency to determine if the indicator has been properly vetted without exposing sources and methods, per the article.
Speed of delivering pertinent threat information is certainly an improvement in a domain where attacks occur in seconds. A November 2017 report from the DHS Office of the Inspector General provided a report on actions taken during 2016 in fulfillment of direction mandated by the Cybersecurity Information Sharing Act of 2015 with regards to the sharing of threat indicators. Per the report, despite successfully classifying indicators and defensive measures, it still faced challenges effectively sharing such information across the public and private sectors. The report advocated enhanced outreach and a cross-domain information processing solution.
There has been recent focus on alleged Iran cyber activity the past few weeks, spurned on by the publication of a vendor report on Iranian operations. Per the vendor’s findings, not only was Iran likely behind the activity that was targeting government and private sector in the Middle East, it was implementing National Security Agency exploits that were stolen and dumped into the public domain by the Shadow Brokers group in April 2017. As recently as late August 2018, Iran is suspected of trying to launch influence operations ahead of the midterm elections. The conclusion is that Iran is increasingly using asymmetric attacks, particularly via cyberspace, as part of its tool box to conduct retaliatory attacks.
The new reporting comes at a time when Russia’s cyber malfeasance has largely dominated the press, due to its influence operations efforts and election shenanigans, not just in the United States but in other countries as well. Prior to the Russia focus, North Korea was the focal point with its suspected cyber activities targeting cryptocurrency, and the SWIFT banking transactions before that. Iran was propelled onto the scene with Operation Ababil
Space Force picture, an independent military branch by 2020. The move is designed to counter the weapons that China and Russia have already developed that threaten U.S. satellites. The U.S. Vice President quickly assured that the force did not and would not be created from the ground up, but would leverage the personnel and material resources already existing in the service elements. The goal is to streamline efforts and maximize efficiency, a noble endeavor given the difficulties that invariable arise when mission responsibilities traverse and overlap so many different organizations.
The protection of U.S. civilian and military space assets are considered a national security concern. In December 2017, U.S. Department of Defense officials expressed concern that the United States’ anti-satellite capabilities were not up to par as some of its adversaries. In contrast, adversary adoption of anti-satellite weapons been documented in the news. In April 2018, a report detailing global counterspace capabilities (that include direct ascent weapons, co-orbital, directed energy, electronic warfare, and cyber warfare) underscores how adversarial nations are actively pursuing the development of such weapons and the threat that they pose to U.S. space interests. The report reveals that such investment by these states started in the mid-2000s.
In late July 2018, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) announced the creation of the National Risk Management Center, a new organization dedicated to threat evaluation particularly as they pertain to potential hacking against the U.S. critical infrastructure. According to news reports, the center will initially commence with narrowing its focus on the energy, finance, and telecommunications sectors. This new initiative is designed to improve risk assessment across the critical infrastructures and serve as the primary “one-stop shop” to help private companies manage their cyber security risks.
Coinciding with this announcement is the Congress-lead “DHS Cyber Incident Response Teams Act of 2018” that seeks to create permanent incident response and threat hunting teams in the DHS. Such a bill further empowers DHS to help improve cyber security via trained professionals to mitigate and remediate cyber incidents against Federal entities and critical infrastructure entities. The bill passed the House of Representatives on March 19, 2018 and goes to the Senate for its consideration.
According to 2017 reporting, Major League Baseball believed that the Boston Red Sox, at the time in first place in the American League East, used the Apple Watch to illicitly steal hand signals from opposing teams. Allegedly, the Apple Watch was used to not only “steal” hand signals from opposing catchers in games using video recording equipment, but transmit the information likely to team trainers. The theft of such information would help determine the type of pitch that was going to be thrown. The recording of signals is strictly forbidden by league rules.
When it comes to targeting billion-dollar sports franchises, many would assume that cyber crime would be the foremost cyber actors behind the scenes. Based on a 2015 report that estimated the professional sports market in North America to have an expected worth of $73.5 billion by 2019, it’s easy to see why. Indeed, there have been several incidents where cyber crime operations have focused on professional sports teams. In April 2016, the National Basketball Association Milwaukee Bucks players had their financial documents (player addresses, Social Security Numbers, and compensation) accidentally leaked due to a team employee falling victim to an e-mail scam. The employee released players’ 2015 IRS W-2 documents to an emailer impersonating the team’s president. Also in 2016, a crippling TeslaCrypt ransomware attack impacted a NASCAR racing team. An estimated $2 million worth of information was potentially lost prompting payment of the ransom to the criminals.
Thus far, there has been no confirmed retaliatory cyber strikes conducted by a victimized government against a suspected aggressor state. There has been some speculation that after the Sony Pictures attack, the United States “knocked” North Korea off the Internet for a brief period of time, although this has never been corroborated. Despite being a cyber power, the United States has demonstrated restraint in punishing against those transgressor states it believes to have been orchestrators of cyber attacks against its interests, preferring to level sanctions as a punitive alternative.
The question that governments ask is how to deter hostile acts in cyberspace? And while an important question to raise, perhaps the reality is that there is no viable answer. There is a reason why international efforts continually fail when trying to gain consensus on cyber norms, Internet governance, and the legalities and criteria of hacking back – there is lack of a fundamental desire to actually find a solution. Governments willing to agree to the standards and principles of any of these issues are stating their willingness to abide by them, and while that may fit the current situation, the dynamism of cyberspace has proven unpredictable. Being cuffed to such an agreement that no longer has relevance while other governments operate without constraints is not an ideal situation. Therefore, without an agreement in place, the status quo remains.
Nowadays the cyber security is essential for individuals, companies, economies, governments and nations as a whole. The reality is that all of them are trying to stay on track against the latest cyberattacks, but there are some countries committing most to cybersecurity.
One of the best ways to determine where most of the cyber attack really come from in real time is by using the map created by Norse.
Another great alternative if you want to find out which are the countries best prepared against cyberattacks is to use the Global Cybersecurity Index (GCI) created by the International Telecommunication Union (ITU). As described by them it is “…a survey that measures the commitment of Member States to cybersecurity in order to raise awareness.” The GCI covers the five pillars of the ITU Global Cybersecurity Agenda (GCA): legal, technical, organizational, capacity building and cooperation.
In May 2018, the White House eliminated the position of National Cybersecurity Coordinator. The move has been met with much pushback from some in the cybersecurity community and even politicians. Democratic lawmakers were seeking to propose legislation to restore the position. In a statement made by the National Security Council the move was to “streamline management in order to improve efficiency, reduce bureaucracy, and increase accountability.” Nevertheless, given the fact that many security officials including the Director of National Intelligence have identified cyber threats as a national security priority, the removal of this position is largely considered a step backward and not forward. However, this may be more of a kneejerk reaction than an honest assessment of the roles and responsibilities that have been undertaken by those individuals appointed to the position.
With roots starting as early as 1997, the position first emerged in 2009 and has had three individuals in the role of Cybersecurity Coordinator – Howard Schmidt (2009-2012), Michael Daniel (2012-2017), and Rob Joyce (2017-2018), who is looking to return to the National Security Agency (NSA). The Cybersecurity Coordinator has been primarily a policy position lacking any day-to-day authority over any of the groups working on cyber security. Critics have pointed out that while the Cyber Coordinator can make recommendations, the position has no direct authority as far as budgeting is concerned, nor can the position compel agencies to comply with guidelines. This has been a systematic problem with the position – it can make all of the recommendations it wants, but if it cannot compel agencies to implement them within a specified amount of time, the title becomes largely ceremonial. Government Accounting Office reports on government cybersecurity efforts consistently find shortcomings in the federal government’s approach to ensuring the security of federal information systems and cyber critical infrastructure.