Entries Tagged "defense"

Page 1 of 2

Examining the US Cyber Budget

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 AMView Comments

The US National Cyber Strategy

Last month, the White House released the “National Cyber Strategy of the United States of America. I generally don’t have much to say about these sorts of documents. They’re filled with broad generalities. Who can argue with:

Defend the homeland by protecting networks, systems, functions, and data;

Promote American prosperity by nurturing a secure, thriving digital economy and fostering strong domestic innovation;

Preserve peace and security by strengthening the ability of the United States in concert with allies and partners ­ to deter and, if necessary, punish those who use cyber tools for malicious purposes; and

Expand American influence abroad to extend the key tenets of an open, interoperable, reliable, and secure Internet.

The devil is in the details, of course. And the strategy includes no details.

In a New York Times op-ed, Josephine Wolff argues that this new strategy, together with the more-detailed Department of Defense cyber strategy and the classified National Security Presidential Memorandum 13, represent a dangerous shift of US cybersecurity posture from defensive to offensive:

…the National Cyber Strategy represents an abrupt and reckless shift in how the United States government engages with adversaries online. Instead of continuing to focus on strengthening defensive technologies and minimizing the impact of security breaches, the Trump administration plans to ramp up offensive cyberoperations. The new goal: deter adversaries through pre-emptive cyberattacks and make other nations fear our retaliatory powers.


The Trump administration’s shift to an offensive approach is designed to escalate cyber conflicts, and that escalation could be dangerous. Not only will it detract resources and attention from the more pressing issues of defense and risk management, but it will also encourage the government to act recklessly in directing cyberattacks at targets before they can be certain of who those targets are and what they are doing.


There is no evidence that pre-emptive cyberattacks will serve as effective deterrents to our adversaries in cyberspace. In fact, every time a country has initiated an unprompted cyberattack, it has invariably led to more conflict and has encouraged retaliatory breaches rather than deterring them. Nearly every major publicly known online intrusion that Russia or North Korea has perpetrated against the United States has had significant and unpleasant consequences.

Wolff is right; this is reckless. In Click Here to Kill Everybody, I argue for a “defense dominant” strategy: that while offense is essential for defense, when the two are in conflict, it should take a back seat to defense. It’s more complicated than that, of course, and I devote a whole chapter to its implications. But as computers and the Internet become more critical to our lives and society, keeping them secure becomes more important than using them to attack others.

Posted on October 9, 2018 at 6:01 AMView Comments

Attack vs. Defense in Nation-State Cyber Operations

I regularly say that, on the Internet, attack is easier than defense. There are a bunch of reasons for this, but primarily it’s 1) the complexity of modern networked computer systems and 2) the attacker’s ability to choose the time and method of the attack versus the defender’s necessity to secure against every type of attack. This is true, but how this translates to military cyber-operations is less straightforward. Contrary to popular belief, government cyberattacks are not bolts out of the blue, and the attack/defense balance is more…well…balanced.

Rebecca Slayton has a good article in International Security that tries to make sense of this: “What is the Cyber Offense-Defense Balance? Conceptions, Causes, and Assessment.” In it, she points out that launching a cyberattack is more than finding and exploiting a vulnerability, and it is those other things that help balance the offensive advantage.

Posted on April 13, 2017 at 5:45 AMView Comments


Botnets have existed for at least a decade. As early as 2000, hackers were breaking into computers over the Internet and controlling them en masse from centralized systems. Among other things, the hackers used the combined computing power of these botnets to launch distributed denial-of-service attacks, which flood websites with traffic to take them down.

But now the problem is getting worse, thanks to a flood of cheap webcams, digital video recorders, and other gadgets in the “Internet of things.” Because these devices typically have little or no security, hackers can take them over with little effort. And that makes it easier than ever to build huge botnets that take down much more than one site at a time.

In October, a botnet made up of 100,000 compromised gadgets knocked an Internet infrastructure provider partially offline. Taking down that provider, Dyn, resulted in a cascade of effects that ultimately caused a long list of high-profile websites, including Twitter and Netflix, to temporarily disappear from the Internet. More attacks are sure to follow: the botnet that attacked Dyn was created with publicly available malware called Mirai that largely automates the process of co-opting computers.

The best defense would be for everything online to run only secure software, so botnets couldn’t be created in the first place. This isn’t going to happen anytime soon. Internet of things devices are not designed with security in mind and often have no way of being patched. The things that have become part of Mirai botnets, for example, will be vulnerable until their owners throw them away. Botnets will get larger and more powerful simply because the number of vulnerable devices will go up by orders of magnitude over the next few years.

What do hackers do with them? Many things.

Botnets are used to commit click fraud. Click fraud is a scheme to fool advertisers into thinking that people are clicking on, or viewing, their ads. There are lots of ways to commit click fraud, but the easiest is probably for the attacker to embed a Google ad in a Web page he owns. Google ads pay a site owner according to the number of people who click on them. The attacker instructs all the computers on his botnet to repeatedly visit the Web page and click on the ad. Dot, dot, dot, PROFIT! If the botnet makers figure out more effective ways to siphon revenue from big companies online, we could see the whole advertising model of the Internet crumble.

Similarly, botnets can be used to evade spam filters, which work partly by knowing which computers are sending millions of e-mails. They can speed up password guessing to break into online accounts, mine bitcoins, and do anything else that requires a large network of computers. This is why botnets are big businesses. Criminal organizations rent time on them.

But the botnet activities that most often make headlines are denial-of-service attacks. Dyn seems to have been the victim of some angry hackers, but more financially motivated groups use these attacks as a form of extortion. Political groups use them to silence websites they don’t like. Such attacks will certainly be a tactic in any future cyberwar.

Once you know a botnet exists, you can attack its command-and-control system. When botnets were rare, this tactic was effective. As they get more common, this piecemeal defense will become less so. You can also secure yourself against the effects of botnets. For example, several companies sell defenses against denial-of-service attacks. Their effectiveness varies, depending on the severity of the attack and the type of service.

But overall, the trends favor the attacker. Expect more attacks like the one against Dyn in the coming year.

This essay previously appeared in the MIT Technology Review.

Posted on March 1, 2017 at 6:53 AMView Comments

Defending All the Targets Is Impossible

In the wake of the recent averted mass shooting on the French railroads, officials are realizing that there are just too many potential targets to defend.

The sheer number of militant suspects combined with a widening field of potential targets have presented European officials with what they concede is a nearly insurmountable surveillance task. The scale of the challenge, security experts fear, may leave the Continent entering a new climate of uncertainty, with added risk attached to seemingly mundane endeavors, like taking a train.

The article talks about the impossibility of instituting airport-like security at train stations, but of course even if were feasible to do that, it would only serve to move the threat to some other crowded space.

Posted on August 27, 2015 at 6:57 AMView Comments

Shooting Down Drones

A Kentucky man shot down a drone that was hovering in his backyard:

“It was just right there,” he told Ars. “It was hovering, I would never have shot it if it was flying. When he came down with a video camera right over my back deck, that’s not going to work. I know they’re neat little vehicles, but one of those uses shouldn’t be flying into people’s yards and videotaping.”

Minutes later, a car full of four men that he didn’t recognize rolled up, “looking for a fight.”

“Are you the son of a bitch that shot my drone?” one said, according to Merideth.

His terse reply to the men, while wearing a 10mm Glock holstered on his hip: “If you cross that sidewalk onto my property, there’s going to be another shooting.”

He was arrested, but what’s the law?

In the view of drone lawyer Brendan Schulman and robotics law professor Ryan Calo, home owners can’t just start shooting when they see a drone over their house. The reason is because the law frowns on self-help when a person can just call the police instead. This means that Meredith may not have been defending his house, but instead engaging in criminal acts and property damage for which he could have to pay.

But a different and bolder argument, put forward by law professor Michael Froomkin, could provide Meredith some cover. In a paper, Froomkin argues that it’s reasonable to assume robotic intrusions are not harmless, and that people may have a right to “employ violent self-help.”

Froomkin’s paper is well worth reading:

Abstract: Robots can pose — or can appear to pose — a threat to life, property, and privacy. May a landowner legally shoot down a trespassing drone? Can she hold a trespassing autonomous car as security against damage done or further torts? Is the fear that a drone may be operated by a paparazzo or a peeping Tom sufficient grounds to disable or interfere with it? How hard may you shove if the office robot rolls over your foot? This paper addresses all those issues and one more: what rules and standards we could put into place to make the resolution of those questions easier and fairer to all concerned.

The default common-law legal rules governing each of these perceived threats are somewhat different, although reasonableness always plays an important role in defining legal rights and options. In certain cases — drone overflights, autonomous cars, national, state, and even local regulation — may trump the common law. Because it is in most cases obvious that humans can use force to protect themselves against actual physical attack, the paper concentrates on the more interesting cases of (1) robot (and especially drone) trespass and (2) responses to perceived threats other than physical attack by robots notably the risk that the robot (or drone) may be spying – perceptions which may not always be justified, but which sometimes may nonetheless be considered reasonable in law.

We argue that the scope of permissible self-help in defending one’s privacy should be quite broad. There is exigency in that resort to legally administered remedies would be impracticable; and worse, the harm caused by a drone that escapes with intrusive recordings can be substantial and hard to remedy after the fact. Further, it is common for new technology to be seen as risky and dangerous, and until proven otherwise drones are no exception. At least initially, violent self-help will seem, and often may be, reasonable even when the privacy threat is not great — or even extant. We therefore suggest measures to reduce uncertainties about robots, ranging from forbidding weaponized robots to requiring lights, and other markings that would announce a robot’s capabilities, and RFID chips and serial numbers that would uniquely identify the robot’s owner.

The paper concludes with a brief examination of what if anything our survey of a person’s right to defend against robots might tell us about the current state of robot rights against people.

Note that there are drones that shoot back.

Here are two books that talk about these topics. And an article from 2012.

EDITED TO ADD (8/9): How to shoot down a drone.

Posted on August 4, 2015 at 8:24 AMView Comments

Admiral Rogers Speaking at the Joint Service Academy Cyber Security Summit

Admiral Mike Rogers gave the keynote address at the Joint Service Academy Cyber Security Summit today at West Point. He started by explaining the four tenets of security that he thinks about.

First: partnerships. This includes government, civilian, everyone. Capabilities, knowledge, and insight of various groups, and aligning them to generate better outcomes to everyone. Ability to generate and share insight and knowledge, and to do that in a timely manner.

Second, innovation. It’s about much more than just technology. It’s about ways to organize, values, training, and so on. We need to think about innovation very broadly.

Third, technology. This is a technologically based problem, and we need to apply technology to defense as well.

Fourth, human capital. If we don’t get people working right, all of this is doomed to fail. We need to build security workforces inside and outside of military. We need to keep them current in a world of changing technology.

So, what is the Department of Defense doing? They’re investing in cyber, both because it’s a critical part of future fighting of wars and because of the mission to defend the nation.

Rogers then explained the five strategic goals listed in the recent DoD cyber strategy:

  1. Build and maintain ready forces and capabilities to conduct cyberspace operations;
  2. Defend the DoD information network, secure DoD data, and mitigate risks to DoD missions;
  3. Be prepared to defend the U.S. homeland and U.S. vital interests from disruptive or destructive cyberattacks of significant consequence;
  4. Build and maintain viable cyber options and plan to use those options to control conflict escalation and to shape the conflict environment at all stages;
  5. Build and maintain robust international alliances and partnerships to deter shared threats and increase international security and stability.

Expect to see more detailed policy around these coming goals in the coming months.

What is the role of the US CyberCommand and the NSA in all of this? The CyberCommand has three missions related to the five strategic goals. They defend DoD networks. They create the cyber workforce. And, if directed, they defend national critical infrastructure.

At one point, Rogers said that he constantly reminds his people: “If it was designed by man, it can be defeated by man.” I hope he also tells this to the FBI when they talk about needing third-party access to encrypted communications.

All of this has to be underpinned by a cultural ethos that recognizes the importance of professionalism and compliance. Every person with a keyboard is both a potential asset and a threat. There needs to be well-defined processes and procedures within DoD, and a culture of following them.

What’s the threat dynamic, and what’s the nature of the world? The threat is going to increase; it’s going to get worse, not better; cyber is a great equalizer. Cyber doesn’t recognize physical geography. Four “prisms” to look at threat: criminals, nation states, hacktivists, groups wanting to do harm to the nation. This fourth group is increasing. Groups like ISIL are going to use the Internet to cause harm. Also embarrassment: releasing documents, shutting down services, and so on.

We spend a lot of time thinking about how to stop attackers from getting in; we need to think more about how to get them out once they’ve gotten in — and how to continue to operate even though they are in. (That was especially nice to hear, because that’s what I’m doing at my company.) Sony was a “wake-up call”: a nation-state using cyber for coercion. It was theft of intellectual property, denial of service, and destruction. And it was important for the US to acknowledge the attack, attribute it, and retaliate.

Last point: “Total force approach to the problem.” It’s not just about people in uniform. It’s about active duty military, reserve military, corporations, government contractors — everyone. We need to work on this together. “I am not interested in endless discussion…. I am interested in outcomes.” “Cyber is the ultimate team sport.” There’s no single entity, or single technology, or single anything, that will solve all of this. He wants to partner with the corporate world, and to do it in a way that benefits both.

First question was about the domains and missions of the respective services. Rogers talked about the inherent expertise that each service brings to the problem, and how to use cyber to extend that expertise — and the mission. The goal is to create a single integrated cyber force, but not a single service. Cyber occurs in a broader context, and that context is applicable to all the military services. We need to build on their individual expertises and contexts, and to apply it in an integrated way. Similar to how we do special forces.

Second question was about values, intention, and what’s at risk. Rogers replied that any structure for the NSA has to integrate with the nation’s values. He talked about the value of privacy. He also talked about “the security of the nation.” Both are imperatives, and we need to achieve both at the same time. The problem is that the nation is polarized; the threat is getting worse at the same time trust is decreasing. We need to figure out how to improve trust.

Third question was about DoD protecting commercial cyberspace. Rogers replied that the DHS is the lead organization in this regard, and DoD provides capability through that civilian authority. Any DoD partnership with the private sector will go through DHS.

Fourth question: How will DoD reach out to corporations, both established and start-ups? Many ways. By providing people to the private sectors. Funding companies, through mechanisms like the CIA’s In-Q-Tel. And some sort of innovation capability. Those are the three main vectors, but more important is that the DoD mindset has to change. DoD has traditionally been very insular; in this case, more partnerships are required.

Final question was about the NSA sharing security information in some sort of semi-classified way. Rogers said that there are lot of internal conversations about doing this. It’s important.

In all, nothing really new or controversial.

These comments were recorded — I can’t find them online now — and are on the record. Much of the rest of the summit was held under Chatham House Rules. I participated in a panel on “Crypto Wars 2015” with Matt Blaze and a couple of government employees.

EDITED TO ADD (5/15): News article.

Posted on May 14, 2015 at 1:12 PMView Comments

Sidebar photo of Bruce Schneier by Joe MacInnis.