Entries Tagged "Department of Defense"

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Details Removed from Book at Request of U.S. Department of Defense

From the AFP:

A publisher has agreed to remove US intelligence details from a memoir by a former army officer in Afghanistan after the Pentagon raised last-minute objections, officials said Friday.

The book, “Operation Dark Heart,” had been printed and prepared for release in August but St. Martin’s Press will now issue a revised version of the spy memoir after negotiations with the Pentagon, US and company officials said.

In an unusual step, the Defense Department has agreed to reimburse the company for the cost of the first printing, spokesman Colonel Dave Lapan told AFP.

The original manuscript “contained classified information which had not been properly reviewed” by the military and US spy agencies, he said.

St. Martin’s press will destroy copies from the first printing with Pentagon representatives observing “to ensure it’s done in accordance with our standards,” Lapan said.

The second, revised edition would be ready by the end of next week, said the author’s lawyer, Mark Zaid.

EDITED TO ADD (9/30): An analysis of the redacted material—obtained by comparing the two versions—is amusing.

Posted on September 23, 2010 at 7:19 AMView Comments

Cyber-Offence is the New Cyber-Defense

This is beyond stupid:

The Pentagon is contemplating an aggressive approach to defending its computer systems that includes preemptive actions such as knocking out parts of an adversary’s computer network overseas—but it is still wrestling with how to pursue the strategy legally.

The department is developing a range of weapons capabilities, including tools that would allow “attack and exploitation of adversary information systems” and that can “deceive, deny, disrupt, degrade and destroy” information and information systems, according to Defense Department budget documents.

But officials are reluctant to use the tools until questions of international law and technical feasibility are resolved, and that has proved to be a major challenge for policymakers. Government lawyers and some officials question whether the Pentagon could take such action without violating international law or other countries’ sovereignty.

“Some” officials are questioning it. The rest are trying to ignore the issue.

I wrote about this back in 2007.

Posted on September 2, 2010 at 7:33 AMView Comments

The Threat of Cyberwar Has Been Grossly Exaggerated

There’s a power struggle going on in the U.S. government right now.

It’s about who is in charge of cyber security, and how much control the government will exert over civilian networks. And by beating the drums of war, the military is coming out on top.

“The United States is fighting a cyberwar today, and we are losing,” said former NSA director—and current cyberwar contractor—Mike McConnell. “Cyber 9/11 has happened over the last ten years, but it happened slowly so we don’t see it,” said former National Cyber Security Division director Amit Yoran. Richard Clarke, whom Yoran replaced, wrote an entire book hyping the threat of cyberwar.

General Keith Alexander, the current commander of the U.S. Cyber Command, hypes it every chance he gets. This isn’t just rhetoric of a few over-eager government officials and headline writers; the entire national debate on cyberwar is plagued with exaggerations and hyperbole.

Googling those names and terms—as well as “cyber Pearl Harbor,” “cyber Katrina,” and even “cyber Armageddon“—gives some idea how pervasive these memes are. Prefix “cyber” to something scary, and you end up with something really scary.

Cyberspace has all sorts of threats, day in and day out. Cybercrime is by far the largest: fraud, through identity theft and other means, extortion, and so on. Cyber-espionage is another, both government- and corporate-sponsored. Traditional hacking, without a profit motive, is still a threat. So is cyber-activism: people, most often kids, playing politics by attacking government and corporate websites and networks.

These threats cover a wide variety of perpetrators, motivations, tactics, and goals. You can see this variety in what the media has mislabeled as “cyberwar.” The attacks against Estonian websites in 2007 were simple hacking attacks by ethnic Russians angry at anti-Russian policies; these were denial-of-service attacks, a normal risk in cyberspace and hardly unprecedented.

A real-world comparison might be if an army invaded a country, then all got in line in front of people at the DMV so they couldn’t renew their licenses. If that’s what war looks like in the 21st century, we have little to fear.

Similar attacks against Georgia, which accompanied an actual Russian invasion, were also probably the responsibility of citizen activists or organized crime. A series of power blackouts in Brazil was caused by criminal extortionists—or was it sooty insulators? China is engaging in espionage, not war, in cyberspace. And so on.

One problem is that there’s no clear definition of “cyberwar.” What does it look like? How does it start? When is it over? Even cybersecurity experts don’t know the answers to these questions, and it’s dangerous to broadly apply the term “war” unless we know a war is going on.

Yet recent news articles have claimed that China declared cyberwar on Google, that Germany attacked China, and that a group of young hackers declared cyberwar on Australia. (Yes, cyberwar is so easy that even kids can do it.) Clearly we’re not talking about real war here, but a rhetorical war: like the war on terror.

We have a variety of institutions that can defend us when attacked: the police, the military, the Department of Homeland Security, various commercial products and services, and our own personal or corporate lawyers. The legal framework for any particular attack depends on two things: the attacker and the motive. Those are precisely the two things you don’t know when you’re being attacked on the Internet. We saw this on July 4 last year, when U.S. and South Korean websites were attacked by unknown perpetrators from North Korea—or perhaps England. Or was it Florida?

We surely need to improve our cybersecurity. But words have meaning, and metaphors matter. There’s a power struggle going on for control of our nation’s cybersecurity strategy, and the NSA and DoD are winning. If we frame the debate in terms of war, if we accept the military’s expansive cyberspace definition of “war,” we feed our fears.

We reinforce the notion that we’re helpless—what person or organization can defend itself in a war?—and others need to protect us. We invite the military to take over security, and to ignore the limits on power that often get jettisoned during wartime.

If, on the other hand, we use the more measured language of cybercrime, we change the debate. Crime fighting requires both resolve and resources, but it’s done within the context of normal life. We willingly give our police extraordinary powers of investigation and arrest, but we temper these powers with a judicial system and legal protections for citizens.

We need to be prepared for war, and a Cyber Command is just as vital as an Army or a Strategic Air Command. And because kid hackers and cyber-warriors use the same tactics, the defenses we build against crime and espionage will also protect us from more concerted attacks. But we’re not fighting a cyberwar now, and the risks of a cyberwar are no greater than the risks of a ground invasion. We need peacetime cyber-security, administered within the myriad structure of public and private security institutions we already have.

This essay previously appeared on CNN.com.

EDITED TO ADD (7/7): Earlier this month, I participated in a debate: “The Cyberwar Threat has been Grossly Exaggerated.” (Transcript here, video here.) Marc Rotenberg of EPIC and I were for the motion; Mike McConnell and Jonathan Zittrain were against. We lost.

We lost fair and square, for a bunch of reasons—we didn’t present our case very well, Jonathan Zittrain is a way better debater than we were—but basically the vote came down to the definition of “cyberwar.” If you believed in an expansive definition of cyberwar, one that encompassed a lot more types of attacks than traditional war, then you voted against the motion. If you believed in a limited definition of cyberwar, one that is a subset of traditional war, then you voted for it.

This continues to be an important debate.

EDITED TO ADD (7/7): Last month the Senate Homeland Security Committee held hearings on “Protecting Cyberspace as a National Asset: Comprehensive Legislation for the 21st Century.” Unfortunately, the DHS is getting hammered at these hearings, and the NSA is consolidating its power.

EDITED TO ADD (7/7): North Korea was probably not responsible for last year’s cyberattacks. Good thing we didn’t retaliate.

Posted on July 7, 2010 at 12:58 PMView Comments

Behavioral Profiling at Airports

There’s a long article in Nature on the practice:

It remains unclear what the officers found anomalous about George’s behaviour, and why he was detained. The TSA’s parent agency, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), has declined to comment on his case because it is the subject of a federal lawsuit that was filed on George’s behalf in February by the American Civil Liberties Union. But the incident has brought renewed attention to a burgeoning controversy: is it possible to know whether people are being deceptive, or planning hostile acts, just by observing them?

Some people seem to think so. At London’s Heathrow Airport, for example, the UK government is deploying behaviour-detection officers in a trial modelled in part on SPOT. And in the United States, the DHS is pursuing a programme that would use sensors to look at nonverbal behaviours, and thereby spot terrorists as they walk through a corridor. The US Department of Defense and intelligence agencies have expressed interest in similar ideas.

Yet a growing number of researchers are dubious ­ not just about the projects themselves, but about the science on which they are based. “Simply put, people (including professional lie-catchers with extensive experience of assessing veracity) would achieve similar hit rates if they flipped a coin,” noted a 2007 report from a committee of credibility-assessment experts who reviewed research on portal screening.

“No scientific evidence exists to support the detection or inference of future behaviour, including intent,” declares a 2008 report prepared by the JASON defence advisory group. And the TSA had no business deploying SPOT across the nation’s airports “without first validating the scientific basis for identifying suspicious passengers in an airport environment”, stated a two-year review of the programme released on 20 May by the Government Accountability Office (GAO), the investigative arm of the US Congress.

Commentary from the MindHacks blog.

Also, the GAO has published a report on the U.S. DHS’s SPOT program: “Aviation Security: Efforts to Validate TSA’s Passenger Screening Behavior Detection Program Underway, but Opportunities Exist to Strengthen Validation and Address Operational Challenges.”

As of March 2010, TSA deployed about 3,000 BDOs at an annual cost of about $212 million; this force increased almost fifteen-fold between March 2007 and July 2009. BDOs have been selectively deployed to 161 of the 457 TSA-regulated airports in the United States at which passengers and their property are subject to TSA-mandated screening procedures.

It seems pretty clear that the program only catches criminals, and no terrorists. You’d think there would be more important things to spend $200 million a year on.

EDITED TO ADD (6/14): In the comments, a couple of people asked how this compares with the Israeli model of airport security—concentrate on the person—and the idea that trained officers notice if someone is acting “hinky”: both things that I have written favorably about.

The difference is the experience of the detecting officer and the amount of time they spend with each person. If you read about the programs described above, they’re supposed to “spot terrorists as they walk through a corridor,” or possibly after a few questions. That’s very different from what happens when you check into a flight an Ben Gurion Airport.

The problem with fast detection programs is that they don’t work, and the problem with the Israeli security model is that it doesn’t scale.

Posted on June 14, 2010 at 6:23 AMView Comments

Faking Background Checks for Security Clearances

What do you do if you have too many background checks to do, and not enough time to do them? You fake them, of course:

Eight current and former security clearance investigators say they have been pressured to work faster and take on crushing workloads in recent years, as the government tried to eliminate a backlog that once topped 531,000 cases.

Investigators have eliminated that backlog, but they now are trying to meet congressionally mandated deadlines to speed up the security clearance process. The 2004 Intelligence Reform and Terrorism Prevention Act requires agencies to issue at least 80 percent of initial security clearances within 120 days after receiving a completed application. This December, agencies must issue at least 90 percent of their initial security clearances within 60 days.

“This job is a shredder, and agents are grist for the mill,” said K.C. Smith, an OPM investigator in Austin, Texas, with 23 years of experience. “There are people who are getting sick, under a lot of stress, their family life is suffering. They are just beat down.”

Investigators say it is common practice to spend nights, weekends and holidays writing up reports, and some don’t report the overtime they work for fear it will be held against them in their performance evaluations.

Some say their superiors have made it clear that the priority is to close cases, and they say they have felt pressure to turn in even incomplete cases that lack crucial interviews or records if it will help them keep their numbers up. A recent Government Accountability Office report found that the Defense Department’s security clearance process is plagued by such incomplete cases: 87 percent of the 3,500 initial top-secret security clearance cases Defense approved last year were missing at least one interview or important record.

It’s all a matter of incentives. The investigators were rewarded for completing investigations, not for doing them well.

Posted on May 28, 2009 at 2:40 PMView Comments

DHS Recruitment Drive

Anyone interested?

General Dynamics Information Technology put out an ad last month on behalf of the Homeland Security Department seeking someone who could “think like the bad guy.” Applicants, it said, must understand hackers’ tools and tactics and be able to analyze Internet traffic and identify vulnerabilities in the federal systems.

In the Pentagon’s budget request submitted last week, Defense Secretary Robert Gates said the Pentagon will increase the number of cyberexperts it can train each year from 80 to 250 by 2011.

Posted on April 21, 2009 at 6:25 AMView Comments

The Pentagon's World of Warcraft Movie-Plot Threat

In a presentation that rivals any of my movie-plot threat contest entries, a Pentagon researcher is worried that terrorists might plot using World of Warcraft:

In a presentation late last week at the Director of National Intelligence Open Source Conference in Washington, Dr. Dwight Toavs, a professor at the Pentagon-funded National Defense University, gave a bit of a primer on virtual worlds to an audience largely ignorant about what happens in these online spaces. Then he launched into a scenario, to demonstrate how a meatspace plot might be hidden by in-game chatter.

In it, two World of Warcraft players discuss a raid on the “White Keep” inside the “Stonetalon Mountains.” The major objective is to set off a “Dragon Fire spell” inside, and make off with “110 Gold and 234 Silver” in treasure. “No one will dance there for a hundred years after this spell is cast,” one player, “war_monger,” crows.

Except, in this case, the White Keep is at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue. “Dragon Fire” is an unconventional weapon. And “110 Gold and 234 Silver” tells the plotters how to align the game’s map with one of Washington, D.C.

I don’t know why he thinks that the terrorists will use World of Warcraft and not some other online world. Or Facebook. Or Usenet. Or a chat room. Or e-mail. Or the telephone. I don’t even know why the particular form of communication is in any way important.

The article ends with this nice paragraph:

Steven Aftergood, the Federation of the American Scientists analyst who’s been following the intelligence community for years, wonders how realistic these sorts of scenarios are, really. “This concern is out there. But it has to be viewed in context. It’s the job of intelligence agencies to anticipate threats and counter them. With that orientation, they’re always going to give more weight to a particular scenario than an objective analysis would allow,” he tells Danger Room. “Could terrorists use Second Life? Sure, they can use anything. But is it a significant augmentation? That’s not obvious. It’s a scenario that an intelligence officer is duty-bound to consider. That’s all.”

My guess is still that some clever Pentagon researchers have figured out how to play World of Warcraft on the job, and they’re not giving that perk up anytime soon.

Posted on September 18, 2008 at 1:29 PMView Comments

Pentagon Consulting Social Scientists on Security

This seems like a good idea:

Eager to embrace eggheads and ideas, the Pentagon has started an ambitious and unusual program to recruit social scientists and direct the nation’s brainpower to combating security threats like the Chinese military, Iraq, terrorism and religious fundamentalism.

The article talks a lot about potential conflicts of interest and such, and less on what sorts of insights the social scientists can offer. I think there is a lot of potential value here.

Posted on June 30, 2008 at 12:13 PMView Comments

Pentagon May Issue Pocket Lie Detectors to Afghan Soldiers

This is just ridiculous. Lie detectors are pseudo-science at best, and even the Pentagon knows it:

The Pentagon, in a PowerPoint presentation released to msnbc.com through a Freedom of Information Act request, says the PCASS is 82 to 90 percent accurate. Those are the only accuracy numbers that were sent up the chain of command at the Pentagon before the device was approved.

But Pentagon studies obtained by msnbc.com show a more complicated picture: In calculating its accuracy, the scientists conducting the tests discarded the yellow screens, or inconclusive readings.

That practice was criticized in the 2003 National Academy study, which said the “inconclusives” have to be included to measure accuracy. If you take into account the yellow screens, the PCASS accuracy rate in the three Pentagon-funded tests drops to the level of 63 to 79 percent.

Posted on April 14, 2008 at 12:57 PMView Comments

Idiotic Cryptography Reporting

Oh, this is funny:

A team of researchers and engineers at a UK division of Franco-German aerospace giant EADS has developed what it believes is the world’s first hacker-proof encryption technology for the internet.

[…]

Gordon Duncan, the division’s government and commercial sales manager, said he was convinced that sensitive data could now be sent across the world without fear of it being spied on by hackers. “All the computer technology in the world cannot break it,” he said yesterday.

At the heart of the system is the lightning speed with which the “keys” needed to enter the computer systems can be scrambled and re-formatted. Just when a hacker thinks he or she has broken the code, the code changes. “There is nothing to compare with it,” said Mr Duncan.

EADS is in talks with the Pentagon about supplying the US military with the system, although some American defence companies are also working on what they believe will be fool-proof encryption systems.

Snake oil, absolute snake oil.

EDITED TO ADD (9/26): Steve Bellovin, who knows what he’s talking about, writes:

Actually, it’s not snake oil, it’s very solid—till it got to Marketing. The folks at EADS built a high-assurance, Type I (or the British equivalent) IP encryptor—a HAIPE, in NSA-speak. Their enemy isn’t “hackers”, it’s the PLA and the KGB++. See this and this.

Of course, Marketing did get hold of it.

David Lacey makes the same point here.

Posted on September 24, 2007 at 1:58 PMView Comments

Sidebar photo of Bruce Schneier by Joe MacInnis.