Feeds

Bush on cyber war: 'a subject I can learn a lot about'

Real gov network strike might be scarier than botnet DDoS

Choosing a cloud hosting partner with confidence

When the presidents of the USA and Estonia met on Monday, cyber warfare was still very much on the Estonian agenda.

Estonia has recently cooled its jets somewhat on the issue of the serious DDoS attacks it suffered in recent months. Initially, the Estonian Government suggested that the Russian Government had mounted a purposeful digital assault, leading to a wave of wide-eyed "cyber-war!" headlines in the Western media.

But Estonia is a NATO member, and no one else in the alliance wanted to hear about a Russian attack on a member state. That would have to be treated as a Russian attack on them all, and so the other nations might have had to respond. Relations with Russia are fraught enough as it is, without an added internet scuffle.

Once Estonia calmed down and adopted a new position - that the DDoS attacks were "terrorist" or "criminal" in nature - NATO was quite happy to rally round with offers of assistance, though nothing terribly concrete.

And it has to be said, the Estonian cyber assault bore more the hallmarks of a criminal effort rather than a sophisticated spook/military one. Large botnets - a standard net-crime tool - were employed. Many of the machines were Russian, but that's entirely normal. Many of the more prominent net villains operate in or through Russia, and a good proportion are actually Russian and thus likely to be mildly cheesed off by the removal of Soviet-era war memorials in Estonia - the apparent trigger for the attacks.

Governments, by this point in time, might be expected to manage something a little more subtle and effective than botnet DDoS. Security researchers working in secret labs worldwide have no incentive to publish vulns they come across, and no reason to use exploits they develop until they have a job to do (other than to test them within their own closed networks). A serious assault launched by a government that had invested resources over time could be expected to involve a number of previously unknown techniques.

That's more the sort of thing that might be brewing in the black labs of the new US air force cyber command, and has probably been going on for some time at the American NSA, British GCHQ and other places - not least the dedicated info-war units being set up by the Chinese.

It's probably true, as President Bush said yesterday in a joint statement with the Estonian leader Toomas Hendrik Ilves, that cyber attack is a subject that he personally "can learn a lot about". But that doesn't mean the US is wide open to cyber attack, or incapable of mounting digital thrusts of its own.

Indeed, Ilves admitted that "the United States and Israel and Denmark have come under cyber attack before". They just didn't shout about it so much - though to be fair, they don't have the resurgent, hardline-once-again Russians throwing their weight about close by. Physically close by, that is - in theory it ought not to matter for this purpose that Russia is right next to Estonia, but it does. Meatspace is still more important for threatening people than cyberspace.

As James Andrew Lewis, director of the Technology and Public Policy Program at the Centre for Strategic & International Studies, said in the weekend New York Times:

“The idea that Estonia was brought to its knees - that's when we have to stop sniffing glue."

The cyber "war" is, in fact, almost certainly well under way and has been since well before the Estonian DDoS scuffle. But this is a war fought within an architecture mainly developed in America - even the "Great Firewall of China" has been built with the assistance of US companies. It's a war where money and physical locations and tools will be key, perhaps even more than technical skill - thus a war which the US and its allies are uniquely well-equipped for.

There's probably no great need for Westerners to panic about it; and even the Estonians might relax a little.®

Internet Security Threat Report 2014

More from The Register

next story
FYI: OS X Yosemite's Spotlight tells Apple EVERYTHING you're looking for
It's on by default – didn't you read the small print?
Russian hackers exploit 'Sandworm' bug 'to spy on NATO, EU PCs'
Fix imminent from Microsoft for Vista, Server 2008, other stuff
Edward who? GCHQ boss dodges Snowden topic during last speech
UK spies would rather 'walk' than do 'mass surveillance'
Microsoft pulls another dodgy patch
Redmond makes a hash of hashing add-on
NOT OK GOOGLE: Android images can conceal code
It's been fixed, but hordes won't have applied the upgrade
'LulzSec leader Aush0k' found to be naughty boy not worthy of jail
15 months home detention leaves egg on feds' faces as they grab for more power
China is ALREADY spying on Apple iCloud users, claims watchdog
Attack harvests users' info at iPhone 6 launch
prev story

Whitepapers

Forging a new future with identity relationship management
Learn about ForgeRock's next generation IRM platform and how it is designed to empower CEOS's and enterprises to engage with consumers.
Why and how to choose the right cloud vendor
The benefits of cloud-based storage in your processes. Eliminate onsite, disk-based backup and archiving in favor of cloud-based data protection.
Three 1TB solid state scorchers up for grabs
Big SSDs can be expensive but think big and think free because you could be the lucky winner of one of three 1TB Samsung SSD 840 EVO drives that we’re giving away worth over £300 apiece.
Reg Reader Research: SaaS based Email and Office Productivity Tools
Read this Reg reader report which provides advice and guidance for SMBs towards the use of SaaS based email and Office productivity tools.
Security for virtualized datacentres
Legacy security solutions are inefficient due to the architectural differences between physical and virtual environments.