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Friday, November 04, 2016

UPDATED: What's Obama's Response to Pre-Election Cyber Attacks?

by Spocko

UPDATED: I wrote this yesterday with the title What’s Obama’s Response to Pre-Election Cyber Attacks?

This evening MSNBC's exclusive came out:

U.S. Govt. Hackers Ready to Hit Back If Russia Tries to Disrupt Election

It's a nice saber rattling piece by the Obama administration, short on details or analysis, but I'm glad it came out. But there are still a lot of questions to be asked about what has happened already and future responses-- which I detail below. Also, I want a cookie for predicting the future - Spocko]

Let's say the Obama administration has read and believed the intelligence agencies briefs about cyber attacks from state actors.  We know Hillary has.
"We have 17 intelligence agencies, civilian and military, who have all concluded that these espionage attacks, these cyber attacks, come from the highest levels of the Kremlin, and they are designed to influence our election."  — Hillary Clinton on 10/19/16 the third presidential debate
What is the Obama administration doing about this now? Hopefully something good. It's probably classified.

Visualization of Mairi Attack Source Hackread

But I have another question. Were these cyber attacks, identified as coming from Russia, part of Donald Trump's national security briefs? At the time of the debate Trump was getting national security briefings. Here is what he had to say about Clinton's comment.

Trump: She has no idea whether it is Russia, China or anybody else.
Clinton: I am not quoting myself.
Trump: You have no idea.
Clinton: I am quoting 17, 17 -- do you doubt?
Trump: Our country has no idea.
Clinton: Our military and civilian -
Trump: Yeah, I doubt it, I doubt it.
Clinton: He would rather believe Vladimir Putin than the military and civilian intelligence professionals who are sworn to protect us. I find that just absolutely --
Trump: She doesn't like Putin because Putin has outsmarted her at every step of the way.  (Debate Transcript)

Did his briefings include what the US will do in the event of attacks before the election? Or that are happening now.  Trump is not supposed to talk about what he learns from those briefings. Can he be trusted to keep that classified information to himself? Did he have to sign anything to hear it? Wouldn't Trump's connections with Russia be relevant to the people briefing him? Wouldn't they need to know just how in hock to Russia he is?

We know how the right loves to project what they do onto the left. What are the odds Trump will remember what he learned that was classified vs unclassified? So what happens if he mentions something to oligarchs about what US intelligence agencies know about who is behind them?

Also, what happens when he loses? Will he keep that classified information to himself? Did he have to sign anything to  hear it? I don't casually throw around the word treason, but.. According to Annenberg's guide to the Constitution, in Article III, Section 3, a person is guilty of treason if he or she goes to war against the United States or gives “aid or comfort” to an enemy. He or she does not have to physically pick up a weapon and fight in combat against U.S. troops. Actively helping the enemy by passing along classified information or supplying weapons, for example, can lead to charges of treason. )

I'm not bringing this up as yet another reason Trump should not be elected. I'm bringing it up because this is something the Obama administration should be on top of.

It would also be nice if the political media would see what a big f-ing deal these attacks are. Maybe they think all the influencing of the elections consists of leaking documents.

At least the outstanding political comedy news media have covered the Russian trolls. Check out this hilarious piece from Samantha Bee's Full Frontal.

There are tools in hacking toolkits that major foreign countries could still unleash. Later in the debate after Wallace prompting Trump begrudgingly agreed to condemn the attacks then said, "if the United States got along with Russia, it wouldn't be so bad."  ("If their attacks get me elected I won't investigate. If they don't I'll demand they investigate how they helped Hillary.")

I'm sick and tired of waiting until after massive damage is done to our democracy to act. Now is a good time to be proactive.

We are getting the equivalent of Bin Ladin Determined To Strike in US every day in the computer attacks from foreign state actors.

Allow me to make a suggestion to the political media. Ask Trump about it. How about you get his attention with the ol' switcheroo? "Mr. Trump, our intelligence agencies have found that a foreign power is interfering with our election. They are testing our limits in ways that could impact the election. You said you didn't believe it was Russia behind it. That said, what should President Obama be doing about whomever is behind it?"

He will go on about how weak Obama is on "the cyber" about Hillary and the emails. He will assume it is all about him. It might seem to be  a waste of their time, because of the non-answers.

But bringing it up with Trump will give Obama a way to talk about it without having to ask him first. Then it will give Clinton an issue to discuss as well since they must have both sides. Experts can weigh in and the next time the American people are hit by a cyber attack we will demand an investigation and not assume good intentions of the Russians, the Chinese or other nation states.

Yes there are "400 lbs hackers sitting on their mother's bed" in located in Milpitas California. I've met a few, some are really nice people, smart curious people and don't deserve to be blamed for crap they didn't cause.

What is happening with Russia and the election is an opportunity to talk about other vulnerabilities in our networks and computer infrastructure with some real life examples.

I Didn't Notice Your Hair was on Fire Until After the Blackout

Remember the largest blackout in North American history? Most people don't know  it, but two major attacks on our power grid can be traced to the Chinese in 2003 and 2008.

In Shane Harris' excellent book @War he details how 2003 hack was connected to China. When Obama talked about cyber attacks in 2009 he revealed that "cyber intruders have probed our electrical grid and that in other countries cyber attacks have plunged entire cities into darkness." What he didn't say was some of those cities were in the US.

50 million people were affected by the Northeast Blackout. There were 12 fatalities. Officially it was blamed on failures by FirstEnergy, headquartered in Akron, Ohio and "overgrown trees."

But in 2003 nobody wanted to say who was behind it. Especially not when it meant calling one of our biggest trading partners a terrorist. (George W. Bush went on TV and said it was "not a terrorist action" You can bet that if he could make it look like it came from Iraq he would have. )

In the book Harris also discusses the Tuesday February 26, 2008 attack that hit Florida and blacked out Miami. It impacted 4 million customers.  Imagine an attack next Tuesday in a state like Florida. I'm sure the timing of these Internet of Things bot attack is just a coincidence. /snark

The companies that operated these plants and networks vehemently denied any accusations of foreign involvement. But while the energy companies might want to keep pretending that it's "overgrown trees" and failed switches, there is evidence that proves otherwise. Obama has this evidence and now so does Clinton and Trump.

Trump ignoring Hillary's remark about Russia trying to influence the election means that either he is lying, or he wasn't informed.  My Quatloos are on lying. But trying to get a straight answer out of Trump is like trying to nail fog.

A few people, in the tech press, like Kelly Jackson Higgins at Dark Reading have brought this up."How Clinton, Trump Could Champion Cybersecurity tech press addresses this issue? There even have been commissions on what to do, US Should Help Private Sector 'Active Defense,' But Outlaw Hacking Back, Says Task Force

The media needs to catch up on this issue, because it's huge. If they don't want to be another person with an ID-10-T  problem they could read Sean Gallagher's great piece at Arstechnica How DNC, Clinton campaign attacks fit into Russia’s cyber-war strategy.

And if we can't get the candidates to talk about this, maybe the actual current president could be asked about it.

I'm hoping the right would understand how easily the attacks on Clinton could be used against them, but I don't expect that to happen since they live under Fox News' Reality Gem (The Reality Gem allows its user to alter reality to what one wants or break the laws of reality and logic such as making 2 + 2 = 5.)

It is bizarre to think that defending our computer and network infrastructure is partisan. It's not. We don't need to wait until election day to remind people it isn't.