The best-laid schemes o’ mice an’ men gang aft agley –Robert Burns
UPDATE 5/15/17 1924 EDT: New variant of virus has emerged, the fix discovered by registering the domain has been bypassed. Estimated infection rate is roughly 3,600 computers/hour. Symantec and Kaspersky Labs appear to think that it is connected to PRNK. More details here.
The most recent and rather eye-opening news this weekend was the cyber attack by an unknown entity on the majority of the developed world. From ZeroHedge “questions are mounting why code created by the NSA. has i) fallen in the wrong hands and ii) is being used to hold the world hostage. As the NYT notes, the ability of the cyberattack to spread so quickly was partly because of its high level of sophistication.” The laundry list of disabled organizations includes Nissan plants, the UK’s NHS, Deutsche Bahn, Telefonica (Spain telecom giant), FedEx, Renault, and the Russian Interior Ministry. The virus has currently affected about 9M computers in ~200 countries. More competent people than myself in the subject have noted its origin is likely the stolen NSA cyber weapons. The inability and incompetence of both the NSA and CIA to keep their information secure further illustrates why both philosophical and Machiavellian reasons exist to drastically reform the agencies.
Currently about 90% of funding for the federal cyber budget goes to ‘offensive’ operations, or figuring out ways to compromise, destroy or manipulate electronics. The converse is that 10% of the funding, and presumably the commensurate manpower, goes to defending from such attacks. Current operating guidelines indicate the agencies were aware of vulnerabilities, such as flaws in Cisco equipment, and failed to inform the company about its vulnerabilities to exploit it for offensive capabilities. The attitude and actions of both agencies have demonstrated a dangerous naiveté toward other state-level cyberwarfare capabilities and non-state actors. The result is precisely what we have seen this weekend, the intersection of gross incompetence with an all-to-familiar disregard for the taxpayers they work for.
The obvious philosophical arguments aside, this latest development provides an in-your-face example of why these agencies are making the world and America an increasingly dangerous place rather than safer. The recent theft of the NSA’s suite of cyber weapons illustrates their continued inability to keep information secure. Many forgot about the Chinese hack of the OPM’s Form 86s that revealed 14M people’s personal information, contacts and personal history going back a decade or more of everyone with a TS security clearance. Going back more than a decade now the NSA and CIA have left a trail of leaks, all of which have left the taxpayers and private sector as collateral damage. My own family members were impacted by the OPM hack and the public was asked to nod understandingly and simply forget it ever happened. For $1.5B and virtually limitless power over our data and personal information, the results have been…less than satisfactory.
The human experimentation done in places like Holmsburg Prison by the US government, Dow Chemical, and Johnson & Johnson on unwitting prisoners for things like dioxin and chemical torture compounds should disabuse the readers of any notions that compartmentalized and bureaucratic government agencies should be granted any great amount of trust. The primary function seems to be creating weapons and then unwittingly using them on the native population or allowing them to be used in such a manner. Such is the case here, using our tax dollars to not only fail to do their primary responsibility, protect the electronic infrastructure in the US, but also display a stunning level of incompetence in allowing the very weapons they intended to use on dissident citizens and enemies of the US to be co-opted for use by 21st century pirates. Given the last decade, it is a wonder they allow either agency to have computers or sharp objects in the building. Let us not forget the same people not only got caught lying about meta-data collection, but also siphon off ungodly amounts of money to fund their giant data storage facilities. I fear it is too much to ask that my overlords at least be semi-competent when they demand I submit myself to their electronic voyeurism.
The current ransomware attack was halted before it reached catastrophic levels by a stroke of luck, and nothing more. A basement-dwelling nerd who was on vacation managed to stumble onto a solution before the US was largely affected. The fragility of our private sector was on full display, whether it be the transportation, medical, financial and media industry. The imbalance of funding and continued insistence on the weaponization and domestic spying of the NSA and CIA, to the detriment of our domestic security, do not bode well for our ability to defend against state and private actors. The mantra of ‘if you don’t hold it and can’t defend it you don’t own it’ bears true. Whether through D.C’s incompetence, malfeasance or another party, this will not end here. The proof of concept has already happened and the return on the investment is immense. Even if you were to pay an individual millions, the damage caused to infrastructure, the economy and potential loss of life far outweigh conventional munitions.
While I’m sure there may be one or two of you who might be devastated if this site was no longer available, or the internet at large for that matter, a smart man will take this warning for what it is. Can your loved ones get to you without access to telecommunications? Does your wife know your PACE comms plan? Do you have any rally points set up and a way to find each other in the event you cannot communicate with each other? Do you have cash on hand in the event you cannot access digital funds? DO YOU HAVE A MAP IN YOUR VEHICLES? A simple way to approach it, assuming your house is in order, is to put a FRAGPLAN or extremely simplified OPORD into an envelope and keep it in the glove box. OPORD’s are excellent ways to flesh out the 5 W’s and organize information in a readily understandable and easily referenced manner. Your wife/kids/you should be able to open it, understand where you need to be, what time you need to be there by and what the other people will do if you aren’t there by then. People panic, people forget and verbal instructions are highly suspect when a person is under a large amount of stress. Write. It. Down. You’re not Jason Bourne and if you are concerned about opsec then come up with a number to easily remember that modifies the time/address written down to the correct one. For instance, use the first or last number on the license plate of the vehicle and it is added to every number written on the document.
Part of being resilient is making your family resilient. The cost for rejecting government interference is personal responsibility for you and your family’s welfare. I guarantee if this ransomware had taken down Verizon, Sprint or AT&T rather than Telefonica, there would be guys in III% hats and ‘muh gunz’ bumper stickers scrambling to find their families and begging the very government they profess to be so independent of for help. Don’t be that guy. If the internet went dark tomorrow I would miss out on the cornucopia of stupid that is YouTube and some news sites. Life would go on in JJLand. Cell phones and the internet are nice, but realize they are niceties and increasingly fragile. None of what has been discussed is hi-speed ninja operator skills, it really boils down to simple planning and some foresight. It might cost you $20 in maps and a few sheets of paper, so there is absolutely no excuse not to have done this. The industry term is low risk-high yield investment. In other words, it costs you next to nothing and the potential reward is astronomical, much like the hacking that prompted this article. Don’t talk about being independent, be independent.
– Jesse James