Snowden on Cyber Attacks: U.S. Has More to Lose than Anyone Else

Snowden on Cyber Attacks: U.S. Has More to Lose than Anyone Else

New interview with PBS talks NSA damage control, and how the priorities of the agency have shifted in recent years.

PBS and journalist James Bamford sat down with NSA whistlerblower Edward Snowden last June, and the transcript of their interview is finally online.

During the Q&A, Snowden explored the long-term ramifications of cyber attacks both on the United States, and perpetrated by the nation's various agencies. "[The United States has] more to lose than any other nation on earth," said Snowden to PBS. "The technical sector is the backbone of the American economy, and if we start engaging in these kind of behaviors...we're creating a new international norm of behavior that says this is what nations do."

Snowden then goes on to point a finger at Congress for the shifted priorities of the NSA; an agency that used to focus on both offensive attacks and defending the United States has radically tipped the scales towards the former. "...when [the NSA] went to Congress, they saw they could get more budget money if they advertised their success in attacking," said Snowden, "because nobody is ever really interested in doing the hard work of defense."

The interview was conducted by PBS as it preps a documentary for viewers like you. Due out later this year, CyberWar will serve as "a larger investigation of the hard science and highly sophisticated technology driving the new era of offensive software and an exploration of the development of the first cyber weapons."

Also discussed in the interview?

On the impact of Snowden's NSA data leak: "The NSA chief [Admiral Michael S. Rogers]...is calling the alleged damage from the last year's revelations to be much more insignificant than it was represented publicly over the last year. We were led to believe that the sky was going to fall, that the oceans were going to boil off, the atmosphere was going to ignite, the world would end as we know it. But what [Rogers is] saying is that it does not lead him to the conclusion that the sky is falling.

On how cyber attacks are now the norm: "I think the public still isn't aware of the frequency with which these cyber-attacks, as they're being called in the press, are being used by governments around the world, not just the US."

On how frail the Internet is as a target: "The internet is critical infrastructure to the United States ... If an adversary didn't target our power plants but they did target the core routers, the backbones that tie our internet connections together, entire parts of the United States could be cut off."

The entire transcript can be read here, unabridged.

Source: Nova (PBS)

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It's terrifying when you think about it. Governments spend all this money on fancy toys to kill each other way, but generals and the like who are in charge are kept in check because if you just went and fly a jet into Iran and dropped a bomb on an Iran nuclear plant everyone would know and it would be about as blatant a declaration of war you could get. But destroy that same nuclear plant by infiltrating it digitally with and planting a computer virus? This is a battlefield that today's generals can play in and get away with. And that's something that did actually happen, with analysis of the virus pointing towards the US as the origin.

In a way it may be like the turn of the last century, from what I recall from history class. Great Britain had long been secure in it's complete naval dominance, but with new technology making the old wooden ships obsolete they had to start over building the new destroyers and battleships, and suddenly Germany was able to keep pace. While maybe not a direct factor this helped contribute to the tensions that lead Europe towards WW1.

You can sort of see the parallels here. While the developed nations of the world have more or less settled into a state of peace in terms of conventional weaponry (we mostly just sell them to poor nations to do the killing now), this cyberwarfare front is a new battlefield with an unwritten set of boundaries and code of conduct. And while no one can come close to touching the US in terms of conventional weaponry, cyber attacks are a whole new ballgame.

RandV80:
But destroy that same nuclear plant by infiltrating it digitally with and planting a computer virus? This is a battlefield that today's generals can play in and get away with. And that's something that did actually happen, with analysis of the virus pointing towards the US as the origin.

Well then we can be thankful that most nations have their nuclear power plants completely isolated from the internet, making that type of infiltration impossible.

It is scary to think about some of the implications, but lets not overdue it and pretend that isolated networks can be infiltrated without someone physically being there to plant the virus.

RandV80:
You can sort of see the parallels here. While the developed nations of the world have more or less settled into a state of peace in terms of conventional weaponry (we mostly just sell them to poor nations to do the killing now), this cyberwarfare front is a new battlefield with an unwritten set of boundaries and code of conduct. And while no one can come close to touching the US in terms of conventional weaponry, cyber attacks are a whole new ballgame.

Hmm, you've got a good point. Personally I wouldn't mind seeing the US knocked off it's high horse, sick of the greed and arrogance it's government and corporations have. Still this could easily go astray especially if it gives smaller but more violent nations like NK a way to threaten far larger nations.

He's not the first to point out that anyone's security is everyone's security. Much of the world uses the same software and hardware; leaving (or manufacturing) holes in it's safety when it is created with an eye to espionage or sabotage ultimately leaves everyone vulnerable.

Zontar:

RandV80:
But destroy that same nuclear plant by infiltrating it digitally with and planting a computer virus? This is a battlefield that today's generals can play in and get away with. And that's something that did actually happen, with analysis of the virus pointing towards the US as the origin.

Well then we can be thankful that most nations have their nuclear power plants completely isolated from the internet, making that type of infiltration impossible.

It is scary to think about some of the implications, but lets not overdue it and pretend that isolated networks can be infiltrated without someone physically being there to plant the virus.

you dont need acess to internet to infect somone digitally.

there was an experiment done in US a few years back. basically they made USB devices with malware whose sole intention was to report what computers got infected with it. Then they left the USB on the ground in parking lot of government buildings. the results?

There was a 53% probability of malware infecting government computer that day. 86% if the USB had a sticker with official government logo on it.

Zontar:

RandV80:
But destroy that same nuclear plant by infiltrating it digitally with and planting a computer virus? This is a battlefield that today's generals can play in and get away with. And that's something that did actually happen, with analysis of the virus pointing towards the US as the origin.

Well then we can be thankful that most nations have their nuclear power plants completely isolated from the internet, making that type of infiltration impossible.

It is scary to think about some of the implications, but lets not overdue it and pretend that isolated networks can be infiltrated without someone physically being there to plant the virus.

Say that to Stuxnet, a US/Israeli worm designed specifically to spread through local networks and USB drives. From there on it would look for the Siemens controllers used in nuclear power plants, more specifically Iranian ones, and try to break down the turbines. And it worked, it did reach nuclear power plants in Iran and caused major damage to about one fifth of their turbines.

 

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