World View: American Businesses Debate Cyber Counter-Attack on China

This morning's key headlines from

  • Britain may supply weapons to anti-government rebels in Syria
  • American businesses debate cyber counter-attack on China
  • Administration says cyber defense impacted by sequestration
  • Venezuela to investigate America's 'cancer poisoning' of Chávez

Britain may supply weapons to anti-government rebels in Syria

David Cameron
David Cameron

British Prime Minister David Cameron said on Tuesday that he might break with the rest of the European Union and supply weapons to anti-regime rebels in Syria. This comes in response to continuing atrocities by the regime of Syria's president Bashar al-Assad, targeting innocent women and children in their homes, beds, and schools, using weapons supplied by the Russians and the Iranians. 

All 27 member states of the European Union have agreed to an arms embargo with respect to Syria, but Britain recently pushed for and won an agreement to amend the embargo to supply non-lethal equipment such as body armor and armored vehicles. 

But now Cameron wants to go farther and hopes that Britain and the other EU members will agree. "But if we can't, then it's not out of the question we might have to do things in our own way. It's possible." The Germans oppose such a move, for fear that it would spread conflict in the region. Reuters

American businesses debate cyber counter-attack on China

For years, everybody "knew" that it was Chinese hackers that were hacking into the networks of thousands of American companies and stealing information. However, the Chinese just kept denying culpability, and no one could say for sure that the Chinese government was involved. 

That changed last month with the report published last month by Mandiant (See "20-Feb-13 World View -- New report reveals massive cyber war attack by China's army"). The report provides forensic proof that China's People's Liberation Army (PLA) has been systematically conducting cyberwar against American government and corporate organizations. 

In particular, the PLA's "Unit 61398," working out of a building in Shanghai, gains control of a company's network, retains control in stealth mode, and downloads all the data in the network over a period of months, sometimes constituting terabytes of data. 

The state of Georgia decided to counter-attack when it discovered that the networks of its ministries, parliament, and banks had been compromised. They tricked the hackers into downloading a poisoned file that installed malware on the hackers' computers. The Georgia researchers then were able to download data from the hackers' computers and prove that the attack came from Russian security agencies. 

A lot of U.S. companies would like to get similar revenge against Chinese hackers. They're tired of having to spend billions of dollars trying to protect their networks, while the Chinese hackers continue to get away and hack into other companies' networks and steal data. And there's a new phrase coming into vogue -- "hacking back" -- which means hacking into an attacker's network either to steal data or to do actual damage. 

However, there are two problems with a hackback strategy: 

  • It's generally against the law to hack into someone else's computer, even in self-defense.
  • The Obama administration opposes any aggressive counter-strategy against China, because it would complicate relations with China.
The Mandiant report has hardened attitudes on this issue. The Chinese will continue to express indignant outrage, as they do whenever they're questioned about their rapidly increasing military belligerence anywhere, but they'll also continue and even escalate cyberattacks on Western governments and companies. NPR and Georgia Government Data Exchange Agency (PDF) and Steptoe Cyberblog

Administration says cyber defense impacted by sequestration

Cyberwar has entered the sequestration debate arena. Attempts to protect America against cyberattacks is being compromised by sequestration, according to Senate testimony on Tuesday by National Intelligence Director James Clapper. 

Our cyber efforts will be impacted. This is an area where, you all know, we need to keep ahead of rapid technology advances to maintain and increase access to adversaries, as well as provide warning of a cyber attack against the U.S.

However, others say that President Barack Obama in August 2011 rejected a series of tough actions against China, including counter-cyber attacks and economic sanctions, for Beijing’s aggressive campaign of cyber espionage against the U.S. government and private businesses networks. 

VOA and Free Beacon

Venezuela to investigate America's 'cancer poisoning' of Chávez

Venezuela's acting president Nicolás Maduro announced on Tuesday that foreign scientists will be invited to join a government commission to investigate whether America "poisoned" Hugo Chávez, causing him to develop cancer and die from it. 

We will seek the truth. We have the intuition that our commander Chávez was poisoned by dark forces that wanted him out of the way.

The accusation has been derided by critics of the government, who say that it's a typical Chávez-style conspiracy theory intended to feed fears of "imperialist" threats. Al-Jazeera

KEYS: Generational Dynamics, Britain, David Cameron, Syria, Bashar al-Assad, Mandiant, China, People's Liberation Army, Unit 61398, Georgia, Russia, hacking back, James Clapper, sequestration, Venezuela, Nicolás Maduro, Hugo Chávez 

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