Comment: Not So Fast, Cyberwarriors! [updated]
July 14, 2009 2 Comments
By JOSEPH FITSANAKIS | intelNews.org |
Rep. Peter Hoekstra wants to launch a cyberwar against North Korea. The Republican from Michigan, who heads his party’s delegation on the US House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence, urged the US government last Thursday to “launch a cyber attack” or at least increase international sanctions on Pyongyang. Hoekstra urged this in response to a series of mysterious cyber-attacks that paralyzed major South Korean and US government websites for three days earlier this month. And he’s not alone. Last Friday, ABC News technology pundit Michael Malone effectively echoed Hoekstra and warned that “enemies of freedom everywhere” could use cyberterrorism to kill untold numbers of Americans by remotely controlling “fetal monitoring systems, surgical equipment, robotic bomb demolition equipment and ICBMs”. But South Korean cybersecurity specialists, who intensely monitor North Korean information systems, and were the ones who actually informed their US counterparts of the unfolding cyber-attacks on July 4, are not so sure that Pyongyang was behind the attacks. The Seoul-based National Intelligence Service (NIS), South Korea’s primary spy agency, initially stated that North Korean hackers were probably to blame for the attacks, which were perpetrated from IP addresses in at least 18 different countries. But none of the IP addresses were located in the North, and NIS had to actually backtrack on Saturday by stating that “it has yet to conclude that North Korea was behind [the] massive cyber-attacks”. The spy agency also cautioned the South Korean public that “it was too early to conclude that North Korea was responsible”, and that “the investigations were still under way”.
NIS backtracked after it was accused by several South Korean lawmakers and journalists of issuing a knee-jerk reaction in order to cover up its failure to prevent the cyber-attacks and its inability to shield its own information systems from the denial of service assaults. Top-selling South Korean daily Hankyoreh said in an editorial that the unverified claims were dangerous and “undermin[ed] the credibility of the nation’s top intelligence body”.
Independent experts in the US have also pointed to insufficient evidence to support the allegations that North Korean government hackers –or operatives of any government, for that matter– were behind the attacks. One detailed technical analysis on the Shadowserver Foundation website concludes that “we have seen no evidence to point a finger at North Korea” and that “[u]nless someone has a lot of extra information” the allegations must be treated as “pure wild speculation”.
Rep. Hoekstra and his supporters simply must provide that missing evidence prior to directing public calls to the US government to effectively go to war with another nation, based on what appears to be pure conjecture. The last time Washington went to war based on pure conjecture was March of 2003, and one hopes that American lawmakers would have learned something from that disturbing experience.
Currently, the House Intelligence Committee, to which Rep. Hoekstra belongs, is at the center of what is proving to be a major intelligence oversight scandal. Specifically, the CIA appears to have undermined the 1947 US National Security Act by failing to inform the elected representatives of the American people about a covert assassination squad that was preparing to operate on behalf of the US government. If Rep. Hoekstra seriously preoccupied himself with this issue, he would probably discover that some of the most dangerous “enemies of freedom” are much closer to home than he thinks.
(Update 07/16/2009 08:18 GMT: Wired magazine’s Kim Zetter says that the attacks on US and South Korean websites have now been traced to two master servers in Britain and Florida. She accordingly notes that “[w]ith hawks in Congress and the press urging President Barack Obama to launch an all-out cyber war in retaliation for the website outages, things are looking bad for the Sunshine State”).