Inside a grocery store, empty shelves in every aisle gather dust. Outside, the ATM flickers “OUT OF SERVICE” before finally losing power to a blackout. Water faucets run dry and phone networks disappear.
These are all feasible effects of cyber warfare in a digitally-dependent nation, and it’s not a stretch to see that these are well within the capabilities of the National Security Agency, the agency known for treating the Fourth Amendment as No Such Amendment.
“I’ll talk about what I know, which is offense,” said former NSA employee Charlie Miller to his audience at Defcon in 2010.
For his presentation entitled Kim Jong-il and Me: How to Build A Cyber Army to Attack the U.S., Miller presented a hypothetical proposal to a country (North Korea in this case) on how to wage cyber warfare to control and disrupt American targets including freight shipping, power grids, phone service, air traffic, and even Wall Street.
Prior to this speech, Miller spent five years as a Global Network Exploitation Analyst for the NSA in which he exploited foreign computer networks.
Outside of the NSA, Miller has exposed security holes in Apple products such as the iPhone which allowed applications to connect to remote computers and transfer personal data.
“You don’t hear much about what people say what they did at the NSA, and for good reason,” said Miller.
Miller went on to state that he cannot believe the NSA even allowed him to acknowledge his experience exploiting foreign targeted computers.
According to Miller, targeted computers can be exploited through previously unknown vulnerabilities, called zero-day attacks because they occur on “day zero” of awareness of the vulnerability. The vulnerability is known only to the attacker; it is unknown to the community at large or even the software vendor.
Before being patched, zero-day vulnerabilities can exist from three months to nearly three years, with the average lifespan of nearly a year, per Miller’s presentation. Much like an invading army using an unguarded tunnel to capture a fortified city, it is extremely difficult to defend against unknown vulnerabilities.
Miller’s speech considers only unintentional vulnerabilities, but this aspect of cyber warfare could also be applied to intentionally-made “back doors.” In the Dark Knight, Bruce Wayne intentionally places a back door into cell phones sold by his company in order to implement a city-wide sonar grid.
In the same manner, computer software or systems can have built-in back doors which allow access and control to an outsider, similar to how NSA’s PRISM is supposed to operate. It is certainly easier to access data directly than through legal requests.
During his speech, Miller referred to attribution, the act of establishing who is responsible for an attack. “Maybe a computer from China is attacking you but really that computer is some Russian dude who’s logged into that computer,” he said. “So you can’t tell if it was Russia or China.”
Miller continues on the subject of attribution. “On the opposite side, it will make attribution really hard for your opponent because you’ll be able to attack from a thousand different places, and from all over the world and they’re not going to know who you are,” he said.
Miller also mentioned the strategy of dominating cyberspace by controlling as many computer devices around the world as possible. “If you have tons and tons and tons of computers all throughout the world under your control, then you’re in a better position to decide who’s attacking you,” he said. “Because maybe they’re attacking from one of the boxes you already control.”
These points are interesting because, much like zero-day vulnerabilities, they can be applied to a feasible concept outside the context of Miller’s speech. The ability to launch cyber attacks from a controlled network in a foreign country, then attribute the attack to any country or faction which would be hard to disprove are all qualities desirable for a false flag attack.
This concept could allow an Internet takeover through legislation, such as the recently stalled Cyber Intelligence Sharing and Protection Act, if the population experiences mass hysteria through a false flag cyber attack, such as a stock market crash blamed on a foreign power. The NSA certainly wouldn’t be held back by their budget, which is reported to be in the billions.
Washington think tanks have recommended that the federal government better control cyberspace, as reported in this previous Infowars article on the domestic spy grid.
In building a cyber army without bringing attention to its purpose, Miller suggested compartmentalization: contracting out to existing companies so that no one company knows the overall purpose.
With so many defense contractors currently hiring exploitation analysts, similar to Miller’s former position at the NSA, it appears that federal agencies already practice compartmentalization.
What would prevent the NSA from engaging in these cyber warfare aspects and strategies for sinister purposes? Policy documents? Surely not the Bill of Rights which the NSA has ignored with impunity.