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.

670 Million People Without Electricity in India

By FRANK JACK DANIEL | REUTERS | JULY 31, 2012

Half of India’s 1.2 billion people were without power on Tuesday as the grids covering a dozen states broke down, the second major blackout in as many days and an embarrassment for the government as it struggles to revive economic growth.

Stretching from Assam, near China, to the Himalayas and the deserts of Rajasthan, the power cut was the worst to hit India in more than a decade.

Trains were stranded in Kolkata and Delhi and thousands of people poured out of the sweltering capital’s modern metro system when it ground to a halt at lunchtime. Office buildings switched to diesel generators and traffic jammed the roads.

“We’ll have to wait for an hour or hour and a half, but till then we’re trying to restore metro, railway and other essential services,” Power Minister Sushilkumar Shinde told reporters.

More than a dozen states with a total population of 670 million people were without power, with the lights out even at major hospitals in Kolkata.

Shinde blamed the system collapse on some states drawing more than their share of electricity from the overstretched grid. Asia’s third-largest economy suffers a peak-hour power deficit of about 10 percent, dragging on economic growth.

“This is the second day that something like this has happened. I’ve given instructions that whoever overdraws power will be punished.”

The country’s southern and western grids were supplying power to help restore services, officials said.

The problem has been made worse by weak a monsoon in agricultural states such as wheat-belt Punjab and Uttar Pradesh in the Ganges plains, which has a larger population than Brazil. With less rain to irrigate crops, more farmers resort to electric pumps to draw water from wells.

Power shortages and a creaky road and rail network have weighed heavily on the country’s efforts to industrialize. Grappling with the slowest economic growth in nine years, Delhi recently scaled back a target to pump $1 trillion into infrastructure over the next five years.

Major industries have dedicated power plants or large diesel generators and are shielded from outages — but the inconsistent supply hits investment and disrupts small businesses.

High consumption of heavily subsidized diesel by farmers and businesses has fuelled a gaping fiscal deficit that the government has vowed to tackle to restore confidence in the economy. But the poor monsoon means a subsidy cut is politically difficult.

On Tuesday, the central bank cut its economic growth outlook for the fiscal year that ends in March to 6.5 percent, from the 7.3 percent assumption made in April, putting its outlook closer to that of many private economists.

Coming Solar Storms May Damage Electric Grids

Reuters
August 8, 2011

Three large explosions from the Sun over the past few days have prompted U.S. government scientists to caution users of satellite, telecommunications and electric equipment to prepare for possible disruptions over the next few days.

“The magnetic storm that is soon to develop probably will be in the moderate to strong level,” said Joseph Kunches, a space weather scientist at the Space Weather Prediction Center, a division of the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA).

He said solar storms this week could affect communications and global positioning system (GPS) satellites and might even produce an aurora visible as far south as Minnesota and Wisconsin.

An aurora, called aurora borealis or the northern lights in northern latitudes, is a natural light display in the sky in the Arctic and Antarctic regions caused by the collision of energetic charged particles with atoms in the high altitude atmosphere.

Major disruptions from solar activity are rare but have had serious impacts in the past.

In 1989, a solar storm took down the power grid in Quebec, Canada, leaving about six million people without power for several hours.

The largest solar storm ever recorded was in 1859 when communications infrastructure was limited to telegraphs.

The 1859 solar storm hit telegraph offices around the world and caused a giant aurora visible as far south as the Caribbean Islands.

Some telegraph operators reported electric shocks. Papers caught fire. And many telegraph systems continued to send and receive signals even after operators disconnected batteries, NOAA said on its website.

A storm of similar magnitude today could cause up to $2 trillion in damage globally, according to a 2008 report by the National Research Council.

“I don’t think this week’s solar storms will be anywhere near that. This will be a two or three out of five on the NOAA Space Weather Scale,” said Kunches.

SOLAR SCALE

The NOAA Space Weather Scale measures the intensity of a solar storm from one being the lowest intensity to five being the highest, similar to scales that measure the severity of hurricanes, tornadoes and earthquakes.

The first of the three solar explosions from the sun this week already passed the Earth on Thursday with little impact, Kunches said, noting, the second was passing the Earth now and “seems to be stronger.”

And the third, he said, “We’ll have to see what happens over the next few days. It could exacerbate the disturbance in the Earth’s magnetic field caused by the second (storm) or do nothing at all.”

Power grid managers receive alerts from the Space Weather Prediction Center to tell them to prepare for solar events, which peak about every 12 years, Tom Bogdan, director of the center said.

He said the next peak, called a solar maximum, was expected in 2013.

“We’re coming up to the next solar maximum, so we expect to see more of these storms coming from the sun over the next three to five years,” Bogdan said.

Massive Solar Storm to Hit Earth in 2012

Por Luis R. Miranda
The Real Agenda
August 28, 2010

Astronomers are predicting that a massive solar storm, much bigger in potential than the one that caused spectacular light shows on Earth earlier this month, is to strike our planet in 2012 with a force of 100 million hydrogen bombs.

Several US media outlets have reported that NASA was warning the massive flare this month was just a precursor to a massive solar storm building that had the potential to wipe out the entire planet’s power grid.

Despite its rebuttal, NASA’s been watching out for this storm since 2006 and reports from the US this week claim the storms could hit on that most Hollywood of disaster dates – 2012.

Similar storms back in 1859 and 1921 caused worldwide chaos, wiping out telegraph wires on a massive scale. The 2012 storm has the potential to be even more disruptive.

“The general consensus among general astronomers (and certainly solar astronomers) is that this coming Solar maximum (2012 but possibly later into 2013) will be the most violent in 100 years,” News.com.au quoted astronomy lecturer and columnist Dave Reneke as saying.

“A bold statement and one taken seriously by those it will affect most, namely airline companies, communications companies and anyone working with modern GPS systems.

“They can even trip circuit breakers and knock out orbiting satellites, as has already been done this year,” added Reneke.

No one really knows what effect the 2012-2013 Solar Max will have on today’s digital-reliant society.

Dr Richard Fisher, director of NASA’s Heliophysics division, told Reneke the super storm would hit like “a bolt of lightning”, causing catastrophic consequences for the world’s health, emergency services and national security unless precautions are taken.

NASA said that a recent report by the National Academy of Sciences found that if a similar storm occurred today, it could cause “1 to 2 trillion dollars in damages to society’s high-tech infrastructure and require four to 10 years for complete recovery”.

The reason for the concern comes as the sun enters a phase known as Solar Cycle 24.

Most experts agree, although those who put the date of Solar Max in 2012 are getting the most press.

They claim satellites will be aged by 50 years, rendering GPS even more useless than ever, and the blast will have the equivalent energy of 100 million hydrogen bombs.

“We know it is coming but we don’t know how bad it is going to be,” Fisher told Reneke.

“Systems will just not work. The flares change the magnetic field on the Earth and it’s rapid, just like a lightning bolt. That’s the solar effect,” he added.

The findings are published in the most recent issue of Australasian Science. (ANI)