Declaring Cyberwar On Russia Because Of The DNC Hack Is A Bad Idea

from the calm-the-fuck-down dept

There’s been plenty of talk, of course, about whether or not Russia did the hack that exposed various Democratic National Committee emails and other documents. While we’ve already pointed out that this shouldn’t impact the newsworthy nature of the material leaked, it’s still an interesting story. We’ve highlighted some reasons to be skeptical of the claims attributing the hack to Russia, but it does appear that more and more evidence is pointing in that direction. Thomas Rid, over at Vice, has a pretty good analysis of why much of the evidence points to Russia as being behind the attack, and the FBI is now apparently on board with that as well. While I’d still prefer more evidence, at least at this point, it should be admitted that there’s quite a lot of evidence pointing in Russia’s direction making it, at the very least, the most likely suspect.

But, then, of course, there’s the question about what it means and what should be done about it. And we’re seeing some hysterical responses. Over at Ars Technica, they have a “guest editorial” from a cybersecurity firm CEO, Dave Aitel, (who also is, of course, ex-NSA), more or less arguing that we should declare cyberwar on Russia over this:

What occurred with the recently disclosed breach of the Democratic National Committee servers, and the dumping of stolen data on a WordPress site, is more than an act of cyber espionage or harmless mischief. It meets the definition of an act of cyberwar, and the US government should respond as such.

This is insane for a variety of reasons, and hopefully no one is seriously listening to this. First of all, hacking happens all the time. In fact, as Ed Snowden points out, revealed documents show that the US itself has authorized the hacking of foreign political parties. So if Russian hackers possibly doing that to us is a “cyberwar attack” and it’s the kind of thing we need to hit back on, then, uh, haven’t we been committing “cyberwar” on tons of other parties via the NSA — for which we, too, deserve retaliation?

Second, the idea that hacking into a political party’s servers is “cyberwar” is a ludicrous exaggeration — especially when their own security practices were suspect. As the ACLU’s Chris Soghoian reminds us, it wasn’t that long ago that our very own CIA director John Brennan found his personal email hacked by a 16-year-old. Was that a “cyberwar attack” as well? People are going to get hacked. It happens. Sometimes because they have weak security, and sometimes because the hackers are persistent and determined (no system is completely secure). That, alone, should never make it something that escalates to the level of “war.”

Finally, beware of so-called “cybersecurity” firms continuing to beat this drum. Their entire business relies on keeping people freaked out about this stuff, including the idea that “nation state” hackers are trying to break into everything. They have lots of incentive to play up attacks and get people worked up about “war.” “Cyberwar” (whatever the hell that means) is good for business for cybersecurity companies. In fact, some of those companies admit that the lessening of “cyber” tensions between the US and other countries is bad for their business:

None of this is to deny that nation state-level hacks may very well be happening. But let’s keep things in perspective. Even if something like a “cyberwar” (again, whatever that means) happens, it’s likely to be a lot less bloody than an actual war, and so much of the talk about this seems to be driven entirely by people who have a vested interest in promoting greater fear — with little reason to suggest that, perhaps, this isn’t a huge deal. In fact, perhaps a lot of this could be helped by simply employing better security practices and more encryption. But, you know, those kinds of solutions don’t make headlines. “Cyberwar” does.

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Comments on “Declaring Cyberwar On Russia Because Of The DNC Hack Is A Bad Idea”

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38 Comments
Machin Shin (profile) says:

Cyberwar

You know, I think we are actually getting very close to the perfect kind of war. We just need the countries to come together and agree to a neutral third party to regulate things

Then both countries will send in their best solders who will fight it out in the ultimate game of team fortress. Whatever side wins has won the war. Suddenly “Cyberwar” becomes a lot less deadly and much more fun way to handle wars.

Of course depending on the conflict the countries could choose different games, but same idea still would apply.

Machin Shin (profile) says:

Re: Re: Cyberwar

Yeah, I can’t think of any way that kind of system would make sense though. I guess you could argue that it cuts down on damage to infrastructure, but if I am going to die from a war I would prefer to actually fight in it.

Now having a virtual reality war, that I can see making sense considering if we get the technology good enough we could fight an entirely virtual war and prevent any real death or damage.

Sadly though I think we are more likely to just keep going with the “lets build robots that can kill” idea. So in the end we can all die a horrible death at the hands of our own robots.

Hephaestus (profile) says:

Re: Re: Cyberwar

entire point of any war: to take something of economic value from the enemy and/or to eliminate the ability of the enemy to do something that war-maker objects to.

That’s a pleasant view of war, if this was 100 years ago I would agree. Now its all about enriching the coffers of companies that manufacture weapons, plus what you said.

Machin Shin (profile) says:

Re: Re: Cyberwar

Yeah, sadly there is also the whole ego thing. I would love to see us move away from all this stupid fighting and direct that energy elsewhere, but idiots will be idiots.

I mean come on, what are these wars even over these days? Lot of times it seems to be stupid religious fighting. You don’t follow same god as me so I must kill you junk. How about we all just drop the stupid fighting and instead focus on more fun things like going into space.

Imagine the things we could do if all the military budgets world wide were taken away and directed at space programs. I bet we would have already colonized a few planets by now.

Anonymous Coward says:

pointless… the loser will just just claim cheating and go to actual war.

At the end of the day, physical violence is the only solution. Those that say it is not, well, tell them to talk things out in a kangaroo court with false evidence against them and a lying judge, cop, prosecutor, and ignorant as fuck jury after their life.

Might makes right, no matter how wrong any asshole is!

Machin Shin (profile) says:

Re: Re:

Real irony though is strength doesn’t necessarily win wars. A small poorly armed group could take on the largest of armies and still win. Strategy plays a huge part in a war, as does moral of your troops.

Really just look around the world today. I don’t think anyone would call the US military weak, yet they are sure having a lot of trouble with these little terror groups.

I.T. Guy says:

Hypocrisy is running high lately.

“So if Russian hackers possibly doing that to us is a “cyberwar attack” and it’s the kind of thing we need to hit back on, then, uh, haven’t we been committing “cyberwar” on tons of other parties via the NSA — for which we, too, deserve retaliation?”

How do we know this isn’t? We’ve been doing shitty things all around the world and in Cyberspace. Why is it we think there are no repercussions for our actions? Do as I say not as I do? It doesn’t work that way.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re:

The irony and hypocrisy are found in people who are in a tizzy over Russia “hacking” the DNC email servers (Just to be clear, given how ridiculously clueless about computer security many democrats seem to act, I wouldn’t at all be surprised if Russia just brute forced the password for root.), yet thought Hillary’s email server was much ado about nothing.

This whole fiasco is clearly a case of ‘chicken coming home to roost’ for democrat.

I.T. Guy says:

Re: Re: Re:

Much ado about nothing? You know why I run my own email server and have done so since 2000… Because I wanted control of what goes where and where the information is housed. Letter agencies can goto my isp all they want and they will say I have never used their email. Sensitive stuff gets digitally signed and encrypted.

Now… if you’re a Senator… particularly one that has gone through what her and Bill did… you know DAMN WELL that running your own server is a big no no, and the only thing I can conclude is she wanted to be a sneaky bitch. And it worked too.

https://www.google.com/search?q=hillarys+missing+emails&ie=utf-8&oe=utf-8#q=hillary%27s+missing+emails

Anonymous Coward says:

Hacking email vs. hacking infrastructure vs. war apparatus

Before we declare a cyberwar we should consider the cost. Is it really worth possibly turning it into a real war just for an email server hack? Now if a nation-state is hacking infrastructure or the war machine then it might be worth considering.

Of course it is worth considering having real security to prevent such attacks in all circumstances.

Machin Shin (profile) says:

Re: Hacking email vs. hacking infrastructure vs. war apparatus

You really think they aren’t hacking the “war machine”? It is one thing to hack an email server and then brag/showoff. It is quite different when you hack into a system to steal plans for weapons.

You don’t want anyone to know their classified weapons system is leaking valuable data, they might plug the leak. Their email though? That is rather useless and boring and not such a big deal if you loose access for a bit.

Anonymous Coward says:

Oh, it's really not.

This is insane for a variety of reasons, and hopefully no one is seriously listening to this.

It’s not insane. It’s profitable — for Dave Aitel, and for every specious “expert” like him who is willing to hype threats so that they can line their own pockets. Why should he care about the hundreds of millions of people who’d be adversely affected…as long as the cash register is ringing?

If you want sober commentary on security, dismiss self-promoting frauds like Aitel and turn to academic researchers. The typical post-doc researcher offers a much more reasoned and nuanced analysis, devoid of the necessity of exaggeration for profit’s sake.

Peter (profile) says:

There a plenty of stories of Chinese hackers and Russian hackers walking away with American data as they please. On a regular basis, some British teenager is shipped over to the US for breaking into CIA and DoD and Pentagon computers.

Other than the Snowden-papers, which are more bragging about capabilities than evidence for successful data retrieval, there are few stories of US hackers getting anywhere with breaking into foreign systems. One can’t help but wonder if the US cyberwarriors are really playing in the same league.

If they aren’t, it might not be such a good idea to start a cyberwar …

sallyride20 (profile) says:

cyber warfare

I am not sure why you didn’t contact more intelligence officials for this article, it was not accurate. We already are considered to be in a cyber war with Russia. Cyber war is different from typical hacking. It specifically seeks to alter the political outcome or destroy another countries trajectory and move it to towards the originators direction. Think of it as if you were able to drop a bomb to change a government or political outcome but it’s not needed, you can now use code. We have already been at war with Russia for years. Trump just asked Russia to intervene in our political system, he thinks it wasn’t treason. He knows nothing about cyber warfare.

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