Jason Healey takes a detailed look at the US federal cybersecurity budget and reaches an important conclusion: the US keeps saying that we need to prioritize defense, but in fact we prioritize attack.
To its credit, this budget does reveal an overall growth in cybersecurity funding of about 5 percent above the fiscal 2019 estimate. However, federal cybersecurity spending on civilian departments like the departments of Homeland Security, State, Treasury and Justice is overshadowed by that going toward the military:
- The Defense Department’s cyber-related budget is nearly 25 percent higher than the total going to all civilian departments, including the departments of Homeland Security, Treasury and Energy, which not only have to defend their own critical systems but also partner with critical infrastructure to help secure the energy, finance, transportation and health sectors ($9.6 billion compared to $7.8 billion).
- The funds to support just the headquarters element — that is, not even the operational teams in facilities outside of headquarters — of U.S. Cyber Command are 33 percent higher than all the cyber-related funding to the State Department ($532 million compared to $400 million).
- Just the increased funding to Defense was 30 percent higher than the total Homeland Security budget to improve the security of federal networks ($909 million compared to $694.1 million).
- The Defense Department is budgeted two and a half times as much just for cyber operations as the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA), which is nominally in charge of cybersecurity ($3.7 billion compared to $1.47 billion). In fact, the cyber operations budget is higher than the budgets for the CISA, the FBI and the Department of Justice’s National Security Division combined ($3.7 billion compared to $2.21 billion).
- The Defense Department’s cyber operations have nearly 10 times the funding as the relevant Homeland Security defensive operational element, the National Cybersecurity and Communications Integration Center (NCCIC) ($3.7 billion compared to $371.4 million).
- The U.S. government budgeted as much on military construction for cyber units as it did for the entirety of Homeland Security ($1.9 billion for each).
We cannot ignore what the money is telling us. The White House and National Cyber Strategy emphasize the need to protect the American people and our way of life, yet the budget does not reflect those values. Rather, the budget clearly shows that the Defense Department is the government’s main priority. Of course, the exact Defense numbers for how much is spent on offense are classified.
Posted on June 15, 2020 at 6:06 AM •
Long and nuanced story about Marcus Hutchins, the British hacker who wrote most of the Kronos malware and also stopped WannaCry in real time. Well worth reading.
Posted on May 15, 2020 at 6:43 AM •
The Army is developing a new electronic warfare pod capable of being put on drones and on trucks.
…the Silent Crow pod is now the leading contender for the flying flagship of the Army’s rebuilt electronic warfare force. Army EW was largely disbanded after the Cold War, except for short-range jammers to shut down remote-controlled roadside bombs. Now it’s being urgently rebuilt to counter Russia and China, whose high-tech forces — unlike Afghan guerrillas — rely heavily on radio and radar systems, whose transmissions US forces must be able to detect, analyze and disrupt.
It’s hard to tell what this thing can do. Possibly a lot, but it’s all still in prototype stage.
Historically, cyber operations occurred over landline networks and electronic warfare over radio-frequency (RF) airwaves. The rise of wireless networks has caused the two to blur. The military wants to move away from traditional high-powered jamming, which filled the frequencies the enemy used with blasts of static, to precisely targeted techniques, designed to subtly disrupt the enemy’s communications and radar networks without their realizing they’re being deceived. There are even reports that “RF-enabled cyber” can transmit computer viruses wirelessly into an enemy network, although Wojnar declined to confirm or deny such sensitive details.
The pod’s digital brain also uses machine-learning algorithms to analyze enemy signals it detects and compute effective countermeasures on the fly, instead of having to return to base and download new data to human analysts. (Insiders call this cognitive electronic warfare). Lockheed also offers larger artificial intelligences to assist post-mission analysis on the ground, Wojnar said. But while an AI small enough to fit inside the pod is necessarily less powerful, it can respond immediately in a way a traditional system never could.
EDITED TO ADD (5/14): Here are two reports on Russian electronic warfare capabilities.
Posted on May 13, 2020 at 8:49 AM •
Interesting article discussing cyber-warranties, and whether they are an effective way to transfer risk (as envisioned by Akerlof’s “market for lemons”) or a marketing trick.
Warranties must transfer non-negligible amounts of liability to vendors in order to meaningfully overcome the market for lemons. Our preliminary analysis suggests the majority of cyber warranties cover the cost of repairing the device alone. Only cyber-incident warranties cover first-party costs from cyber-attacks — why all such warranties were offered by firms selling intangible products is an open question. Consumers should question whether warranties can function as a costly signal when narrow coverage means vendors accept little risk.
Worse still, buyers cannot compare across cyber-incident warranty contracts due to the diversity of obligations and exclusions. Ambiguous definitions of the buyer’s obligations and excluded events create uncertainty over what is covered. Moving toward standardized terms and conditions may help consumers, as has been pursued in cyber insurance, but this is in tension with innovation and product diversity.
Theoretical work suggests both the breadth of the warranty and the price of a product determine whether the warranty functions as a quality signal. Our analysis has not touched upon the price of these products. It could be that firms with ineffective products pass the cost of the warranty on to buyers via higher prices. Future studies could analyze warranties and price together to probe this issue.
In conclusion, cyber warranties — particularly cyber-product warranties — do not transfer enough risk to be a market fix as imagined in Woods. But this does not mean they are pure marketing tricks either. The most valuable feature of warranties is in preventing vendors from exaggerating what their products can do. Consumers who read the fine print can place greater trust in marketing claims so long as the functionality is covered by a cyber-incident warranty.
Posted on March 26, 2020 at 6:27 AM •
WhatsApp is suing the Israeli cyberweapons arms manufacturer NSO Group in California court:
WhatsApp’s lawsuit, filed in a California court on Tuesday, has demanded a permanent injunction blocking NSO from attempting to access WhatsApp computer systems and those of its parent company, Facebook.
It has also asked the court to rule that NSO violated US federal law and California state law against computer fraud, breached their contracts with WhatsApp and “wrongfully trespassed” on Facebook’s property.
This could be interesting.
EDITED TO ADD: Citizen Lab has a research paper in the technology involved in this case. WhatsApp has an op ed on their actions. And this is a good news article on how the attack worked.
EDITED TO ADD: Facebook is deleting the accounts of NSO Group employees.
EDITED TO ADD (11/13): Details on the vulnerability.
Posted on October 30, 2019 at 9:36 AM •
Interesting details on Olympic Destroyer, the nation-state cyberattack against the 2018 Winter Olympic Games in South Korea. Wired’s Andy Greenberg presents evidence that the perpetrator was Russia, and not North Korea or China.
EDITED TO ADD (11/13): Attribution to Russia is not new.
Posted on October 21, 2019 at 6:23 AM •
More nation-state activity in cyberspace, this time from Russia:
Per the different reports in Russian media, the files indicate that SyTech had worked since 2009 on a multitude of projects since 2009 for FSB unit 71330 and for fellow contractor Quantum. Projects include:
- Nautilus — a project for collecting data about social media users (such as Facebook, MySpace, and LinkedIn).
- Nautilus-S — a project for deanonymizing Tor traffic with the help of rogue Tor servers.
- Reward — a project to covertly penetrate P2P networks, like the one used for torrents.
- Mentor — a project to monitor and search email communications on the servers of Russian companies.
- Hope — a project to investigate the topology of the Russian internet and how it connects to other countries’ network.
- Tax-3 — a project for the creation of a closed intranet to store the information of highly-sensitive state figures, judges, and local administration officials, separate from the rest of the state’s IT networks.
BBC Russia, who received the full trove of documents, claims there were other older projects for researching other network protocols such as Jabber (instant messaging), ED2K (eDonkey), and OpenFT (enterprise file transfer).
Other files posted on the Digital Revolution Twitter account claimed that the FSB was also tracking students and pensioners.
Posted on July 22, 2019 at 6:17 AM •
The International Committee of the Red Cross has just published a report: “The Potential Human Cost of Cyber-Operations.” It’s the result of an “ICRC Expert Meeting” from last year, but was published this week.
Here’s a shorter blog post if you don’t want to read the whole thing. And commentary by one of the authors.
Posted on May 31, 2019 at 5:01 PM •
Israel has acknowledged that its recent airstrikes against Hamas were a real-time response to an ongoing cyberattack. From Twitter:
CLEARED FOR RELEASE: We thwarted an attempted Hamas cyber offensive against Israeli targets. Following our successful cyber defensive operation, we targeted a building where the Hamas cyber operatives work.
HamasCyberHQ.exe has been removed. pic.twitter.com/AhgKjiOqS7
Israel Defense Forces (@IDF) May 5, 2019
I expect this sort of thing to happen more — not against major countries, but by larger countries against smaller powers. Cyberattacks are too much of a nation-state equalizer otherwise.
EDITED TO ADD (5/7): Commentary.
Posted on May 6, 2019 at 4:09 PM •
Sidebar photo of Bruce Schneier by Joe MacInnis.