Seymour Hersh’s 6731 words take on “the online threat”  26.10.10

Summary: There is no cyberwar-problem, only cyber espionage. Cyberwar is made up by cybergeddonists, who happen to work for security contractors after having left their public cyber-security posts. China has no interest in launching a cyberwar against the US, even if it might possibly have the means. Cyberwar is hardly wageable, because of unintended consequences caused be the openness of the web. Espionage could be dealt with by obligatory encryption, which however is costly and hard to operate and maintain. Non-encryption however might not be the underlying cause for internet security problems. And military activities can however have unintended consequences. Nevertheless, recommended reading.

The political situation:

In the next few months, President Obama, who has publicly pledged that his Administration will protect openness and privacy on the Internet, will have to make choices that will have enormous consequences for the future of an ever-growing maze of new communication techniques: Will America’s networks be entrusted to civilians or to the military? Will cyber security be treated as a kind of war?

Blurring definitions of cyber war and cyber espionage…

Blurring the distinction between cyber war and cyber espionage has been profitable for defense contractors—and dispiriting for privacy advocates.

The cybergeddonists’ false scenarios:

The most common cyber-war scare scenarios involve America’s electrical grid. … There is no national power grid in the United States. There are more than a hundred publicly and privately owned power companies that operate their own lines…. …an electrical supplier that found itself under cyber attack would be able to avail itself of power from nearby systems.


If Stuxnet was aimed specifically at Bushehr, it exhibited one of the weaknesses of cyber attacks: they are difficult to target and also to contain. India and China were both hit harder than Iran… The real hazard of Stuxnet, he [Schneier] added, might be that it was “great for those who want to believe cyber war is here.”

On Army General Keith Alexander (head of US cyber command, director of NSA):

One of Alexander’s first goals was to make sure that the military would take the lead role in cyber security and in determining the future shape of computer networks.

Military-civilian relationship:

If the military is operating in “cyberspace,” does that include civilian computers in American homes?

Encryption as he solution for the cyber security problems (citing John Arquilla):

“We would all be far better off if virtually all civil, commercial, governmental, and military internet and web traffic were strongly encrypted.” … “Today drug lords still enjoy secure internet and web communications, as do many in terror networks, while most Americans don’t.”

A Maginot line mentality (citing Marc Rotenberg, EPIC):

“The question is: Do you want an agency that spies with mixed success to be responsible for securing the nation’s security? If you do, that’s crazy.”

Clipper-Chip 2.0:

The legislation, similar to that sought two decades ago in the Clipper Chip debate, would require manufacturers of equipment such as the BlackBerry, and all domestic and foreign purveyors of communications, such as Skype, to develop technology that would allow the federal government to intercept and decode traffic.

A long list of interviewees and sources:

Jonathan Pollack, Whitfield Duffie, Jeffrey Carr, “a retired four-star Navy general”, John Arquilla, Marc Rotenberg, Howard Schmidt, “a senior official in the Department of Homeland Security”, William J. Lynn III, James Lewis (senior fellow at CSIS), Bruce Schneier, J. Michael McConell, Army General Keith Alexander (head of US cyber command, director of NSA), “a defense contractor” (“one of America’s most knowledgeable experts on Chinese military and cyber capabilities”), Richard Clark (cybergeddonist, security contractor and Bush’s man for cybersecurity, “poison gas clouds…”), J. Michael McConell (Bush’s second director of National Intelligence, now cybergeddonist and security contractor, “Our cyber-defenses are woefully lacking”).

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