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.

NASA: Solar flares from ‘huge space storm’ will cause devastation

Telegraph

Britain could face widespread power blackouts and be left without critical communication signals for long periods of time, after the earth is hit by a once-in-a-generation “space storm”, Nasa has warned.

National power grids could overheat and air travel severely disrupted while electronic items, navigation devices and major satellites could stop working.

National power grids could overheat and air travel severely disrupted while electronic items, navigation devices and major satellites could stop working after the Sun reaches its maximum power in a few years.

Senior space agency scientists believe the Earth will be hit with unprecedented levels of magnetic energy from solar flares after the Sun wakes “from a deep slumber” sometime around 2013, The Daily Telegraph can disclose.

In a new warning, Nasa said the super storm would hit like “a bolt of lightning” and could cause catastrophic consequences for the world’s health, emergency services and national security unless precautions are taken.

Scientists believe it could damage everything from emergency services’ systems, hospital equipment, banking systems and air traffic control devices, through to “everyday” items such as home computers, iPods and Sat Navs.

Due to humans’ heavy reliance on electronic devices, which are sensitive to magnetic energy, the storm could leave a multi-billion pound damage bill and “potentially devastating” problems for governments.

“We know it is coming but we don’t know how bad it is going to be,” Dr Richard Fisher, the director of Nasa’s Heliophysics division, said in an interview with The Daily Telegraph.

“It will disrupt communication devices such as satellites and car navigations, air travel, the banking system, our computers, everything that is electronic. It will cause major problems for the world.

“Large areas will be without electricity power and to repair that damage will be hard as that takes time.”

Dr Fisher added: “Systems will just not work. The flares change the magnetic field on the earth that is rapid and like a lightning bolt. That is the solar affect.”

A “space weather” conference in Washington DC last week, attended by Nasa scientists, policy-makers, researchers and government officials, was told of similar warnings.

While scientists have previously told of the dangers of the storm, Dr Fisher’s comments are the most comprehensive warnings from Nasa to date.

Dr Fisher, 69, said the storm, which will cause the Sun to reach temperatures of more than 10,000 F (5500C), occurred only a few times over a person’s life.

Every 22 years the Sun’s magnetic energy cycle peaks while the number of sun spots – or flares – hits a maximum level every 11 years.

Dr Fisher, a Nasa scientist for 20 years, said these two events would combine in 2013 to produce huge levels of radiation.

He said large swathes of the world could face being without power for several months, although he admitted that was unlikely.

A more likely scenario was that large areas, including northern Europe and Britain which have “fragile” power grids, would be without power and access to electronic devices for hours, possibly even days.

He said preparations were similar to those in a hurricane season, where authorities knew a problem was imminent but did not know how serious it would be.

“I think the issue is now that modern society is so dependent on electronics, mobile phones and satellites, much more so than the last time this occurred,” he said.

“There is a severe economic impact from this. We take it very seriously. The economic impact could be like a large, major hurricane or storm.”

The National Academy of Sciences warned two years ago that power grids, GPS navigation, air travel, financial services and emergency radio communications could “all be knocked out by intense solar activity”.

It warned a powerful solar storm could cause “twenty times more economic damage than Hurricane Katrina”. That storm devastated New Orleans in 2005 and left an estimated damage bill of more than $125bn (£85bn).

Dr Fisher said precautions could be taken including creating back up systems for hospitals and power grids and allow development on satellite “safe modes”.

“If you know that a hazard is coming … and you have time enough to prepare and take precautions, then you can avoid trouble,” he added.

His division, a department of the Science Mission Directorate at Nasa headquarters in Washington DC, which investigates the Sun’s influence on the earth, uses dozens of satellites to study the threat.

The government has said it was aware of the threat and “contingency plans were in place” to cope with the fall out from such a storm.

These included allowing for certain transformers at the edge of the National Grid to be temporarily switched off and to improve voltage levels throughout the network.

The National Risk Register, established in 2008 to identify different dangers to Britain, also has “comprehensive” plans on how to handle a complete outage of electricity supplies.

Watch Dr. Richard Fisher’s explanation here.