Is the U.S. stepping up Internet control push over unproven hacking allegations?

By BARRY GREY | WSW | FEBRUARY 21, 2013

The Obama administration is utilizing unsubstantiated charges of Chinese government cyber-attacks to escalate its threats against China. The past two days have seen allegations of hacking into US corporate and government web sites, hyped by the US media without any examination of their validity, employed to disorient the American public and justify an expansion of the Obama administration’s drive to isolate China and prepare for an eventual military attack.

The accusations of hacking against China will also be used to justify increased domestic surveillance of computer and Internet communications, as well as an expanded use of cyber warfare methods internationally.

The New York Times, functioning once again as a conduit for the Pentagon and the CIA, has taken the lead in the latest provocation against Beijing. On Tuesday it published a bellicose front-page article headlined “China’s Army Seen as Tied to Hacking Against US,” and carrying the ominous subhead “Power Grid is a Target.”

The article drips with cynicism and hypocrisy. It is well known that the United States is the world’s most ruthless practitioner of cyber warfare. The article itself acknowledged that the US worked with Israel to disrupt the Iranian nuclear program by introducing the Stuxnet virus into Iran’s computer systems. That bit of sabotage—itself an illegal act of aggression—was accompanied by a series of assassinations of Iranian scientists carried out by Israel with Washington’s support.

The sprawling front-page article, which continued on an entire inside page of the newspaper, was based on a 60-page report released that day by a private computer security firm with close ties to the Times, as well as to the US military and intelligence agencies. The report by Mandiant—founded by a retired Air Force officer and based in Alexandria, Virginia—provides no real evidence to substantiate its claim that a unit of China’s People’s Liberation Army based in Shanghai is directing hacking attacks on US corporations, organizations and government institutions.

In its report, Mandiant claims to have tracked 141 cyber attacks by the same Chinese hacker group since 2006, 115 of which targeted US corporations. On the basis of Internet footprints, including Internet provider addresses, Mandiant concludes that 90 percent of the hacking attacks come from the same neighborhood in Shanghai. It then notes that the headquarters of Unit 61398 of the People’s Liberation Army is located in that neighborhood. From this coincidence, Mandiant draws the entirely unwarranted inference that the cyber-attacks are coming from the PLA building.

As the Times admits in its article, “The firm was not able to place the hackers inside the 12-story [PLA Unit 61398 headquarters] building…” The newspaper goes on to report that “Mandiant also discovered an internal China Telecom memo discussing the state-owned telecom company’s decision to install high-speed fiber-optic lines for Unit 61398’s headquarters.” One can only assume that Mandiant “discovered” this memo by carrying out its own hacking of Chinese computers.

Chinese spokesmen have denied any involvement by the government or the military in hacking attacks and dismissed the Mandiant report as lacking any proof of its charges. The Chinese Ministry of Defense released a statement Wednesday pointing out that Internet provider addresses do not provide a reliable indication of the origin of hacking attacks, since hackers routinely usurp IP addresses. A Foreign Ministry spokesman pointed out that China is constantly being targeted by hackers, most of which originate in the US.

The Chinese position was echoed by Dell Secureworks cyber-security expert Joe Stewart, who told the Christian Science Monitor: “We still don’t have any hard proof that [the hacker group] is coming out of that [PLA Unit 61398’s] building, other than a lot of weird coincidence pointing in that direction. To me, it’s not hard evidence.”

The Obama administration followed up the Times article, which sparked a wave of frenzied media reports of Chinese cyber-attacks, by announcing on Wednesday that it would step up diplomatic pressure and consider more punitive laws to counter what it described as a wave of trade secret theft by China and other countries. The Associated Press reported that the administration was discussing “fines, penalties and tougher trade restrictions” directed against China.

The latest propaganda attack points to an escalation of the US offensive against China that went by the name “pivot to Asia” in Obama’s first term. That policy included whipping up territorial disputes in the East China and South China seas between China and a series of countries in East Asia, including Japan, Vietnam and the Philippines.

It has also included the establishment of closer military ties and new US installations in a number of countries, including India and Australia, to militarily encircle China.

The Times concluded its article by reporting that “The mounting evidence of state sponsorship… and the growing threat to American infrastructure are leading officials to conclude that a far stronger response is necessary.” It cited Rep. Mike Rogers, the Republican chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, as saying that Washington must “create a high price” to force the Chinese to back down.

In an editorial published Wednesday, the Times noted that the administration has decided to give US Internet providers and anti-virus vendors information on the signatures of Chinese hacker groups, leading to a denial of access to US networks for these groups. It also reported that President Obama last week signed an executive order authorizing increased sharing of information on cyber threats between the government and private companies that oversee critical infrastructure, such as the electrical grid.

The Wall Street Journal in its editorial called for “targeted sanctions” against Chinese individuals and institutions.

The background to this new salvo of anti-China propaganda underscores that it is part of an aggressive expansion of US military capabilities, both conventional and cyber-based. Obama raised the issue of cyber war in his February 12 State of the Union address, accusing US “enemies” of seeking to “sabotage our power grid, our financial institutions, our air traffic control systems,” and insisting that action be taken against such attacks.

In the same speech, he defended his drone assassination program, which is based on the claim that the president has the unlimited and unilateral power to order the murder of anyone anywhere in the world, including US citizens.

Last October, Obama signed an executive order expanding military authority to carry out cyber-attacks and redefine as “defensive” actions that would previously have been considered acts of aggression—such as the cutting off of computer networks. Around the same time, Defense Secretary Leon Panetta gave a bellicose speech in which he warned of a “cyber Pearl Harbor.” Panetta told Time magazine: “The three potential adversaries out there that are developing the greatest capabilities are Russia, China and Iran.”

At the end of January, the New York Times accused Chinese authorities of hacking into its news operations, a charge that was quickly seconded by the Washington Post and the Wall Street Journal. That same week, the Washington Post reported that the US military had approved a five-fold increase of personnel in its Cyber Command. Days later, the Times reported on its front page that the Obama administration had concluded that the president had the power to authorize pre-emptive cyber war attacks.

This bellicose posture toward China and expansion of cyber warfare methods goes hand in hand with growing threats to democratic rights at home. The cyber war plans include options for military action within the US. The Times reported earlier this month that the military “would become involved in cases of a major cyber-attack within the United States” under certain vaguely defined conditions.

Efforts to increase government control of the Internet and surveillance of Internet communications are being stepped up. Just last week, Rep. Rogers of Michigan and Democratic Senator Dutch Ruppersberger of California reintroduced the Cyber Intelligence Sharing and Protection Act (CISPA). The bill died in the Senate last year in the midst of protests over provisions allowing the government to spy on emails and other Internet-based communications.

Bilderberg Wants Mandatory Internet ID for Europe

AARON DYKES | INFOWARS | MAY 23, 2012

While the international ACTA treaty and United States’ CISPA legislation are setting the stage to clamp down on the world wide web, technocrats are working overtime to try to pin down your identity and make sure all your activities are thoroughly monitored and under control.

The European Union is now moving to create a mandatory electronic ID system for all EU citizens that would be implemented across Europe to standardize business both online and in person, authenticating users via a common ‘electronic signature.’ A single authenticating ID would guard access to the Internet, online data and most commerce. It is nothing short of an attempt to phase in a Mark of the Beast system, and a prominent Bilderberg attendee is behind the scheme.

Neelie Kroes is the EU’s Digital Agenda Commissioner, and is introducing legislation she hopes will force “the adoption of harmonised e-signatures, e-identities and electronic authentication services (eIAS) across EU member states.”

The extent of such a system would, of course, expand over time, particularly as many EU nations have resisted the big government encroachment of ID requirements on civil rights grounds, which even now smack of the Nazi regime’s draconian “papers please” policies that empowered their other avenues of tyranny. According to EurActiv.com, Neelie Kroes would later “widen the scope of the current Directive by including also ancillary authentication services that complement e-signatures, like electronic seals, time/date stamps, etc,” as the supra-national body attempts to corral more nations into participation.

Read Full Article →

How Bad is CISPA when a Giant Tech Company Cries Foul?

By DARA KERR | CNET | MAY 2, 2012

Despite big name tech companies — such as Facebook, Microsoft, and Oracle — supporting the controversial Internet surveillance bill that passed in the House last week, Mozilla has come out against the legislation.

“While we wholeheartedly support a more secure Internet, CISPA has a broad and alarming reach that goes far beyond Internet security,” the tech company wrote to Forbes reporter Andy Greenberg. “The bill infringes on our privacy, includes vague definitions of cybersecurity, and grants immunities to companies and government that are too broad around information misuse.”

Mozilla is the first major tech company to unreservedly speak out against the Cyber Intelligence Sharing and Protection Act, or CISPA.

The day after the U.S. House of Representatives passed the bill in a 248-168 vote, Microsoft said that its support was abating and any new law must allow “us to honor the privacy and security promises we make to our customers.” However, it still hasn’t withdrawn support for the legislation.

Other tech companies that support the bill are Facebook, Oracle, Symantec, Verizon, AT&T, Intel, and trade association CTIA, which counts representatives of T-Mobile, Sybase, Nokia, and Qualcomm as board members.

If passed by the Senate, CISPA would not formally grant the NSA or Homeland Security any additional surveillance authority. But it would usher in a new era of information sharing between companies and government agencies — with limited oversight and privacy safeguards.

In its e-mail to Forbes, Mozilla wrote, “We hope the Senate takes the time to fully and openly consider these issues with stakeholder input before moving forward with this legislation.”

US House Approves CISPA Bill

Although Obama had expressed concerns about the power of the new legislation, he’s said he will sign it anyways.

By PETE KASPEROWICZ | THE HILL | APRIL 27, 2012

The House on Thursday approved controversial cybersecurity legislation that the Obama administration has threatened to veto.

Members approved the Cyber Intelligence Sharing and Protection (CISPA) act, H.R. 3523, in a 248-168 vote that split both parties somewhat. The bill was supported by 42 Democrats, while 28 Republicans opposed it.

The House approved the bill after making a number of changes aimed at limiting the way the government could use the information that companies provide.

CISPA would make it easier for companies to share information with the government about the threats facing their networks. Supporters — Republicans and Democrats alike — said the proposal is a reasonable compromise between the need for privacy and security.

“The intelligence community has the ability to detect these cyber threats, these malicious codes and viruses, before they are able to attack our networks,” said Intelligence Committee ranking member Dutch Ruppersberger (D-Md.). “But right now, federal law prohibits our intelligence community from sharing the classified cyber threat with the companies that will protect us that control the network, the AT&Ts, the Verizons, the Comcasts, those groups.

“We have the ability to give them the information to protect us, but yet we have to pass a law to do that.”

The bill enjoyed strong bipartisan support before the administration issued a veto threat and sided with privacy advocates who argue the bill does not do enough to protect consumers’ private information. The White House also wants regulatory mandates for critical infrastructure providers, which are not contained in CISPA.

Ruppersberger said earlier Thursday that Obama’s veto threat of his bill was like a “kick in the solar plexus“.

It also seemed to have the effect of peeling Democrats off the bill, as several Democrats took up Obama’s arguments during floor debate.

“In an effort to foster information sharing, this bill would erode the privacy protections of every single American using the Internet,” said Rep. Bennie Thompson (D-Miss.). “It would create a Wild West of information sharing, where any certified business can share with any government agency, who can then use the information for any national security purpose and grant the business immunity from virtually any liability.”

Rep. Jared Polis (D-Colo.) added that the bill is an “unprecedented, sweeping piece of legislation that would waive every single privacy law ever enacted in the name of cybersecurity.”

Republicans did allow several amendments to be considered that narrowed the scope of the bill, including proposals from members of both parties. One from Rep. Ben Quayle (R-Ariz.) would allow the government to use the information it collects only for five purposes, all related to protecting people and prosecuting crimes.

Others would prohibit the government from using certain electronic data as it works to fight cyber threats, narrow the definition of what information can be shared, and encourage the government to create procedures to protect privacy.

Even before those amendments, supporters argued that the bill has enough safeguards in it to ensure the privacy of consumer data.

“The bill includes significant safeguards to protect personal and private information,” Rep. Rich Nugent (R-Fla.) said. “It significantly limits the federal government’s use of that information that the private companies voluntarily provide, including the government’s authority to search data.”

The bill is one of four cybersecurity bills the House is expected to consider this week. The others are the Federal Information Security Amendments act (H.R. 4257), the Cybersecurity Enhancement act (H.R. 2096), and the Advancing America’s Networking and Information Technology Research and Development act (H.R. 3834). House Republicans have put these three bills on the suspension calendar, a process usually reserved for non-controversial bills that will require them to pass by a two-thirds majority vote.

Google Founder: Internet Freedom Under Greatest Threat Ever

Threats range from governments trying to control citizens to the rise of Facebook and Apple-style ‘walled gardens’.

By IAN KATZ | UK GUARDIAN | APRIL 16, 2012

The principles of openness and universal access that underpinned the creation of the internet three decades ago are under greater threat than ever, according to Google co-founder Sergey Brin.

In an interview with the Guardian, Brin warned there were “very powerful forces that have lined up against the open internet on all sides and around the world”. “I am more worried than I have been in the past,” he said. “It’s scary.”

The threat to the freedom of the internet comes, he claims, from a combination of governments increasingly trying to control access and communication by their citizens, the entertainment industry’s attempts to crack down on piracy, and the rise of “restrictive” walled gardens such as Facebook and Apple, which tightly control what software can be released on their platforms.

The 38-year-old billionaire, whose family fled antisemitism in the Soviet Union, was widely regarded as having been the driving force behind Google’s partial pullout from China in 2010 over concerns about censorship and cyber-attacks. He said five years ago he did not believe China or any country could effectively restrict the internet for long, but now says he has been proven wrong. “I thought there was no way to put the genie back in the bottle, but now it seems in certain areas the genie has been put back in the bottle,” he said.

He said he was most concerned by the efforts of countries such as China, Saudi Arabia and Iran to censor and restrict use of the internet, but warned that the rise of Facebook and Apple, which have their own proprietary platforms and control access to their users, risked stifling innovation and balkanising the web.

“There’s a lot to be lost,” he said. “For example, all the information in apps – that data is not crawlable by web crawlers. You can’t search it.”

Brin’s criticism of Facebook is likely to be controversial, with the social network approaching an estimated $100bn (£64bn) flotation. Google’s upstart rival has seen explosive growth: it has signed up half of Americans with computer access and more than 800 million members worldwide.

Brin said he and co-founder Larry Page would not have been able to create Google if the internet was dominated by Facebook. “You have to play by their rules, which are really restrictive,” he said. “The kind of environment that we developed Google in, the reason that we were able to develop a search engine, is the web was so open. Once you get too many rules, that will stifle innovation.”

He criticised Facebook for not making it easy for users to switch their data to other services. “Facebook has been sucking down Gmail contacts for many years,” he said.

Brin’s comments come on the first day of a week-long Guardian investigation of the intensifying battle for control of the internet being fought across the globe between governments, companies, military strategists, activists and hackers.

From the attempts made by Hollywood to push through legislation allowing pirate websites to be shut down, to the British government’s plans to monitor social media and web use, the ethos of openness championed by the pioneers of the internet and worldwide web is being challenged on a number of fronts.

In China, which now has more internet users than any other country, the government recently introduced new “real identity” rules in a bid to tame the boisterous microblogging scene. In Russia, there are powerful calls to rein in a blogosphere blamed for fomenting a wave of anti-Vladimir Putin protests. It has been reported that Iran is planning to introduce a sealed “national internet” from this summer.

Ricken Patel, co-founder of Avaaz, the 14 million-strong online activist network which has been providing communication equipment and training to Syrian activists, echoed Brin’s warning: “We’ve seen a massive attack on the freedom of the web. Governments are realising the power of this medium to organise people and they are trying to clamp down across the world, not just in places like China and North Korea; we’re seeing bills in the United States, in Italy, all across the world.”

Writing in the Guardian on Monday, outspoken Chinese artist and activist Ai Weiwei says the Chinese government’s attempts to control the internet will ultimately be doomed to failure. “In the long run,” he says, “they must understand it’s not possible for them to control the internet unless they shut it off – and they can’t live with the consequences of that.”

Amid mounting concern over the militarisation of the internet and claims – denied by Beijing – that China has mounted numerous cyber-attacks on US military and corporate targets, he said it would be hugely difficult for any government to defend its online “territory”.

“If you compare the internet to the physical world, there really aren’t any walls between countries,” he said. “If Canada wanted to send tanks into the US there is nothing stopping them and it’s the same on the internet. It’s hopeless to try to control the internet.”

He reserved his harshest words for the entertainment industry, which he said was “shooting itself in the foot, or maybe worse than in the foot” by lobbying for legislation to block sites offering pirate material.

He said the Sopa and Pipa bills championed by the film and music industries would have led to the US using the same technology and approach it criticised China and Iran for using. The entertainment industry failed to appreciate people would continue to download pirated content as long as it was easier to acquire and use than legitimately obtained material, he said.

“I haven’t tried it for many years but when you go on a pirate website, you choose what you like; it downloads to the device of your choice and it will just work – and then when you have to jump through all these hoops [to buy legitimate content], the walls created are disincentives for people to buy,” he said.

Brin acknowledged that some people were anxious about the amount of their data that was now in the reach of US authorities because it sits on Google’s servers. He said the company was periodically forced to hand over data and sometimes prevented by legal restrictions from even notifying users that it had done so.

He said: “We push back a lot; we are able to turn down a lot of these requests. We do everything possible to protect the data. If we could wave a magic wand and not be subject to US law, that would be great. If we could be in some magical jurisdiction that everyone in the world trusted, that would be great … We’re doing it as well as can be done.”