Anonymous Calls Bullshit On the Future of Cyber Warfare
Last week, the US Defense Secretary Leon Panetta did his best to paint a nightmarish vision of the supposedly imminent threat that cyberterrorism poses to the USA. Virtual attacks from foreign enemies could apparently result in a Pearl Harbour of the digital age – derailing trains, cutting power supplies and contaminating drinking water (see the exact plot of Die Hard 4 for further examples).
He preached his warning after a recent surge of DDOS attacks played havoc with the networks of several large US corporations and the Shamoon virus downed more than 30,000 computers belonging to oil and gas companies in the Persian Gulf.
However, despite this apparent fear of cyber-invasion, well-circulated theories suggest that America's own digital espionage is far more advanced and dangerous than any that has been designed to harm them. It's perhaps for that reason that hacktivist group Anonymous have called bullshit on Panetta's claims. That, or the fact that Anonymous seem to instantly get all suspicious and don their tinfoil hats any time US corporations or oil companies are mentioned.
Talking to me in a secure online chat room, a member of Anonymous compared Panetta’s statement to that of the Vice-Presidential debate.
"The last time people believed US security officials about other nations' powers, the US went to massacre Iraq. Look how that turned out," the person from Anonymous states. "A great example of this was in the VP debate, where Biden called Ryan out on his bullshit about Iran getting nukes. It’s scaremongering. In the debate, Ryan was using the scare tactic of 'Iran will have nukes next spring, elect us to stop them.' Biden says 'Well, actually, no – you’re hyping that up massively.'
"In the US Defense Secretary’s speech, he gives a scaremongering reason to introduce some cyber-force, which will most likely be misused somehow by them anyway and not in the interests of the people. I wouldn’t trust his claim of 'terrorists have the power to blow up your toaster over the interwebs TOMORROW!' either."
It’s widely speculated that, back in 2009, the United States and Israel were responsible for one of the most effective cyber-weapons ever designed and used in an actual attack: the Stuxnet worm, which party disabled the Iranian nuclear programme. Rik Ferguson at internet security firm Trend Micro didn’t want to accuse the US directly, but couldn’t deny the likelihood of the worm coming from a Western source.
“Things like Stuxnet are targeted against the Middle East or Iran, in terms of victims. And you’re not going to point the finger at Russia or China for that. It’s possible that it could be them, but Iran is certainly of equal interest to countries like the US, the UK, Israel and a bunch of other people. The Stuxnet worm is just one example. There were a whole load of other ones that have come to light recently and they've all been targeted in a very similar geographic area."
It’s reported that Stuxnet destroyed 10 percent of the Iranian nuclear centrifuges by altering their configuration to spin them, then stop them, then spin them, then stop them, until they physically cracked. Wiping out a nuclear threat by effectively foxtrotting it over the internet might sound nice and gentle, but don't let that fool you into thinking whoever's behind Stuxnet isn't capable of using similar software to attack rather than defend.
Ferguson continues; “There’s a lot of talk about cyber-warfare. Stuxnet was the first and only file that you could accurately call a cyber weapon, as it was a piece of code designed to inflict physical damage in the real world.”
So, is all this cyber-Pearl Harbour stuff just nonsensical, fear-mongering hyperbole from the USA? My contact from Anonymous couldn't completely deny the possibility of cyber-attack against the US; "Nothing is impossible. All I'm saying is that you can't trust what high-up military people come out with, because they could just be using scaremongering for their own agenda."
Ironically, it's that exact same paranoia exemplified by my Anonymous contact that fuels America's desire to protect themselves against any kind of cyber-threat. A paranoia for the unknown in the virtual realm that Rik Ferguson explains:
"It's already got to the point in the US where there are recommendations to not purchase anything from Chinese hardware suppliers. They're worried that the manufacturers have the capability to put back doors in the hardware that would allow remote access unknown to the people purchasing that hardware."
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More examples of technology being used for bad stuff: