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.

Internet Tax Proposed by European to be Handled by U.N.

Taxes on large Internet providers is an attempt to set the precedent that taxes on the Web are somehow a good idea.

By  DECLAN McCULLAGH | CNET.com | JUNE 8, 2012

The United Nations is considering a new Internet tax targeting the largest Web content providers, including Google, Facebook, Apple, and Netflix, that could cripple their ability to reach users in developing nations.

The European proposal, offered for debate at a December meeting of a U.N. agency called the International Telecommunication Union, would amend an existing telecommunications treaty by imposing heavy costs on popular Web sites and their network providers for the privilege of serving non-U.S. users, according to newly leaked documents.

The documents (No. 1No. 2) punctuate warnings that the Obama administration and Republican members of Congress raised last week about how secret negotiations at the ITU over an international communications treaty could result in a radical re-engineering of the Internet ecosystem and allow governments to monitor or restrict their citizens’ online activities.

“It’s extremely worrisome,” Sally Shipman Wentworth, senior manager for public policy at the Internet Society, says about the proposed Internet taxes. “It could create an enormous amount of legal uncertainty and commercial uncertainty.”

The leaked proposal was drafted by the European Telecommunications Network Operators Association, or ETNO, a Brussels-based lobby group representing companies in 35 nations that wants the ITU to mandate these fees.

While this is the first time this proposal been advanced, European network providers and phone companies have been bitterly complaining about U.S. content-providing companies for some time. France Telecom, Telecom Italia, and Vodafone Group, want to “require content providers like Apple and Google to pay fees linked to usage,” Bloomberg reportedlast December.

ETNO refers to it as the “principle of sending party network pays” — an idea borrowed from the system set up to handle payments for international phone calls, where the recipient’s network set the per minute price. If its proposal is adopted, it would spell an end to the Internet’s long-standing, successful design based on unmetered “peered” traffic, and effectively tax content providers to reach non-U.S. Internet users.

In a statement (PDF) sent to CNET on Friday morning, ETNO defended its proposal as “innovative” and said it had been adopted unanimously by its executive board. It would amend the treaties by saying, “to ensure an adequate return on investment in high bandwidth infrastructures, operating agencies shall negotiate commercial agreements to achieve a sustainable system of fair compensation for telecommunications services,” ETNO said.

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Russia, China and Arabs want to surrender Internet Control to United Nations

By JIM ALGAR | UPI | JUNE 4, 2012

The Internet could someday look very different and be less open and  free if a proposal for the International Telecommunications Union, an arm of the  United Nations, to take over management of the Internet comes to pass, critics  of the proposal say.

A growing movement led by China, Russia and some Arab states to  hand more control of the Web to the United Nations has U.S. lawmakers and  Internet companies warning of censorship, surveillance and taxes.

The ITU and its 93 member states will meet in Dubai in December to  reconsider a key 1988 communications treaty, with a number of foreign  governments arguing it needs to be updated as the influence of Internet  communications increases worldwide.

Advocates of a free and open Internet say that could create an  opening for countries where free speech and civil liberties are often harshly  suppressed to propose the United Nations establish a new “information security”  regime to replace ICANN, the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and  Numbers, a non-profit U.S. organization serving as the Internet’s de facto  governing body since the late 1990s.

Federal Communications Commission member Robert McDowell has warned  that some ITU member countries seek to hobble the  open and free nature of the  Internet because it causes problems for dictatorships and autocracies.

“[L]et’s face it. Strong-arm regimes are threatened by popular  outcries for political freedom that are empowered by unfettered Internet  connectivity. They have formed impressive coalitions, and their efforts have  progressed significantly,” he wrote in an op-ed in the Wall Street Journal.

A bipartisan group of U.S. congressional officials said they would  resist any change in the way the Internet is regulated and maintained.

Members of the Commerce, Manufacturing and Trade Subcommittee have  issued a resolution urging the U.S. government to maintain “the consistent and  unequivocal policy of the United States to promote a global Internet free from  government control and preserve and advance the successful multi-stakeholder  model that governs the Internet today.”

Committee member Rep. Fred Upton, R-Mich., said U.N.-led control of  the Internet would affect Internet users around the world.

“The Internet has become this economic and social juggernaut not  because governmental actors willed it to be so, but because the government took  a step back and let the private sector drive its evolution,” he said.  “International regulatory intrusion into the Internet would have disastrous  results not just for the United States, but for people around the world.”

Vinton Cerf, Google’s chief Internet evangelist and former chairman  of ICANN, addressing the congressional committee, said the ITU meeting could  lead to “top-down control dictated by governments” that could impact free  expression.

“Such proposals raise the prospect of policies that enable  government controls but greatly diminish the ‘permissionless innovation’ that  underlies extraordinary Internet-based economic growth, to say nothing of  trampling human rights,” he said.

“If all of us do not pay attention to what is going on, users  worldwide will be at risk of losing the open and free Internet that has brought  so much to so many.”

Internet Architects Oppose Online Anti-Piracy Bill

AFP
December 18, 2011

A group of prominent architects of the Internet added their voices Thursday to those opposing legislation in the US Congress intended to crack down on online piracy.

In an open letter to Congress, more than 80 engineers, inventors and software developers expressed concerns about the bills introduced in the Senate and the House of Representatives.

Their letter came a day after the founders of Google, Twitter, Yahoo! and other Internet giants voiced opposition to the Stop Online Piracy Act being considered in the House and the Senate version known as the Protect IP Act.

The legislation has received the backing of Hollywood, the music industry, the Business Software Alliance, the National Association of Manufacturers, the US Chamber of Commerce and other groups.

But it has come under fire from digital rights and free speech organizations for allegedly paving the way for US authorities to shut down websites accused of online piracy, including foreign sites, without due process.

“If enacted, either of these bills will create an environment of tremendous fear and uncertainty for technological innovation, and seriously harm the credibility of the United States in its role as a steward of key Internet infrastructure,” the Internet architects said in their letter.

“Both bills will risk fragmenting the Internet’s global domain name system and have other capricious technical consequences,” they said, such as promoting censorship.

“All censorship schemes impact speech beyond the category they were intended to restrict, but these bills are particularly egregious in that regard because they cause entire domains to vanish from the Web, not just infringing pages or files,” they said.

“An incredible range of useful, law-abiding sites can be blacklisted under these proposals.”

The signatories, who included Vint Cerf, considered one of the “Fathers of the Internet,” said censorship of Internet infrastructure “will inevitably cause network errors and security problems.

“This is true in China, Iran and other countries that censor the network today; it will be just as true of American censorship,” they said.

“If the US begins to use its central position in the network for censorship that advances its political and economic agenda, the consequences will be far-reaching and destructive.”

 

“The U.S. should be able to shut internet down”

Former CIA Chief, Michael Hayden added that his personal view is that “it is probably wise to legislate some authority to the President”

Reuters

Former CIA director Michael Hayden

Cyberterrorism is such a threat that the U.S. president should have the authority to shut down the Internet in the event of an attack, Former CIA Director Michael Hayden said.

Hayden made the comments during a visit to San Antonio where he was meeting with military and civilian officials to discuss cyber security. The U.S. military has a new Cyber Command which is to begin operations on October 1.

Hayden said the president currently does not have the authority to shut down the Internet in an emergency.

“My personal view is that it is probably wise to legislate some authority to the President, to take emergency measures for limited periods of time, with clear reporting to Congress, when he feels as if he has to take these measures,” he said in an interview on the weekend.

“But I would put the bar really high as to when these kinds of authorities might take place,” he said.

He likened cyberwarfare to a “frontier.”

“It’s actually the new area of endeavor, I would compare it to a new age of exploration. Military doctrine calls the cyber thing a ‘domain,’ like land sea, air, space, and now cyber … It is almost like a frontier experience” he said.

Hayden, a retired U.S. Air Force general, was director of the Central Intelligence Agency during the administration of President George W. Bush from 2006 to 2009.