Sunday, January 8, 2012


Unbeknown to most, the electronic thingamabobs embedded in your car, personal computer, passport, TV remote, toll-booth transponders that receive your unencrypted EZ Pass or FasTrak, Smart phone, tablet, mp3 player, digital camera, mobile phone, or driver’s license may be providing information about you to a number of sources. These commonly used gadgets broadcast many aspect of your life without your knowledge; your EZ Pass info can be stolen or cloned; your car may monitor and store data about how well, or poorly, you drive; information off your driver‘s license info can be ascertained...the list is endless.

We, as individuals, are becoming increasingly dependent on these modern gadgets which can open up our personal lives to hackers.

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But, what about expanding this individual threat to a broader scale that involves national security threats? These "gadget" devices now outnumber PC’s on the Internet by 5 to 1. Their popularity is expanding exponentially and far outnumber our computer workstations. Each device has little ability to protect itself and hackers can enter your PC, or the Pentagon’s, through these gadgets. Yes, they control the brakes on your car and many applications on your smart phone and tablet, but they also dominate the valves in a chemical plant, make adjustments to electrical substations and make penetration to America‘s military, intelligence and critical infrastructure information systems fair game to hackers. The national electrical power grid, gas and oil pipeline, financial, air traffic-control, and telecommunication systems are practically defenseless against professional hackers. They have penetrated our power plants, stolen our latest submarine technology, robbed money from our banks, and have invaded the Pentagon’s secret communications systems. A new silent submarine drive system and new advanced radar system, each costing billions and requiring years of research to develop, have been pilfered by foreign intelligence service hackers. Our electrical network has already been attacked and an expensive electrical generator, nearly impossible to replace, was destroyed in Idaho as a demonstration by hackers.

I’m not referring to a high school kid with a 190 IQ…I’m referring to foreign spy networks and criminal organizations. The FBI estimates that China’s PLA has over 30,000 cyber spies, in addition to 150,000 in their private sector. Russia has similar numbers. America’s cyberspace is also being attacked by clandestine stations in the Middle East and France as well. Our government, intelligence services, and companies dealing with top-secret defense contracts are literally “glass houses”, transparent to our enemies.

An exaggeration? No, because the Chinese already downloaded over 20 terabytes of information from the Department of Defense (DOD), which is about one fifth of all data housed in the Library of Congress. What about Wiki-Leaks and its theft of classified diplomatic cables?
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The U.S. has classified computer systems that aren’t connected, meaning that users must use thumb drives to transfer classified info from one system to another. Many computer drives have been loaded with malware prior to sale. Some Afghan groups know how to download images in real-time from our satellites and drone UAV’s. Foreign-made microchips sold to defense companies were infected with viruses that allowed them to be disabled upon command from a malicious source. Counterfeit computer chips have already been discovered in our fighter aircraft and our own soldiers unknowingly used intentionally corrupted thumb drives that downloaded classified intel from laptops in Iraq.

Botnets or linked computers that take directions from unknown sources can shut down targeted systems and make tracking down the overseas perpetrators nearly impossible. They operate in countries with no laws against cyber crimes, such as Africa and Latin America. Any computer can be recruited into a botnet by running a malicious software. Such a “drive-by” download will exploit web browser vulnerabilities or trick you into running a Trojan horse program in an e-mail attachment. The hacker and his/her software ends up controlling your computer and is controlled by the botnet that he/she owns. Many groups of computers known as “zombie” computers are compromised by this software that’s controlled by tech-savvy hackers. These “drive-by” downloads occur by clicking on a seemingly innocuous website. The hackers, known as “botnet herders”, control the compromised computers from remote locations and are experts in computer programming and software creation.

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They communicate globally over the Internet via their herd of compromised “zombie” computers. Millions of botnets are regularly formed on the Internet. If they want, they can bring down individual computers or entire networks. Not surprisingly, in 2008, hackers pilfered customer files from the Royal Bank of Scotland and used them to withdraw $9 million from ATM’s throughout the United States…in a half hour’s time!

Unfortunately, in addition to robbing banks, they can penetrate our power plants, steal our latest submarine technology, and invade the Pentagon’s secret communications systems. Our national security infrastructure has already been permeated and the IC only has an inkling of what it doesn’t know. So, it’s time to assume the worst case scenario and react accordingly. How?
  1. We need a “gathering” of all those in the Intelligence Community who deal with cyber security to form an organization supervised by the CIA's counter-intelligence. Let's call it the Cyber Counterintelligence Group(CCG).
  2. Botnet owners and other computer-crime perpetrators who compromise national security must be aggressively sought and arrested. Congress should initiate this legislation and make it national law. Of the thousands of Internet crimes in the U.S each year, there were a measly 15 arrests or prosecutions. That must change.
  3. ISP's must notify its customers when a computer has been tied into a botnet.
  4. The newly-formed counterintelligence team noted in item 1 above, the CCG, be given complete computer access to all companies and entities that the Dept. of Defense and IC conducts business with. Appropriate action is taken when computers are found to be tied-in to a botnet.
  5. There are opportunities for the DOD and IC to "make a sows ear into a silk purse" out of this cyber threat. If malicious botnets are uncovered by the CCG, then damaging disinformation (to our enemies) can be purposefully broadcast far, wide, and at the speed of light around the globe.
  6. Make it written policy that the DOD and IC do not conduct business with companies and organizations hooked-in to botnets.
  7. Click to learn more!
  8. If you are responsible for protecting national info from cyber theft, you must keep abreast of the evolving and expanding threat-base. 

Further reading:
 "Stuxnet trojan worm worries intelligence community"
"Computer hackers worry OSINT researchers"

Robert Morton, Ed., Ed.S. is a member of the Association Of Former Intelligence Officers (AFIO) and writes the online Spy novel series "Corey Pearson, CIA Spymaster in the Caribbean". Contact us on the SECURE CONTACT FORM

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