Obama Administration Looking To Expand Definition Of 'Critical Infrastructure' To Hit Back At Russians

from the oh-really-now? dept

One of the ridiculous parts of all of the discussions around “cybersecurity” concerns what should be considered “critical infrastructure.” That’s because, thanks to various executive orders, what the President declares as “critical infrastructure” leads to different cybersecurity requirements. There have been concerns that this will result in broadly classifying the internet as “critical infrastructure” in a manner that will lead to easier surveillance. But, as we noted nearly a decade ago, broadly classifying the internet as critical infrastructure would be silly, when the use of that designation should be narrowly focused on things like voting and banking (not to mention things like energy grids and water supplies).

Apparently, however, as the Obama administration is looking to respond to what it believes was Russian “interference” in the 2016 Presidential election, it is realizing that none of it targeted “critical infrastructure.” And thus… it now wants to change the definition of what’s covered. That should be concerning.

First off, at this point we should make a quick aside that there remains zero evidence released publicly that there was any actual hacking of our voting systems. None. Zip. Zero. And basically everything claiming otherwise has been partisan hackery. Before the election Trump supporters were going on and on about how voting machines could be hacked — but have been mostly silent since the election. Instead, since the election ended, it’s been Clinton supporters insisting that Russian hackers tampered with voting machines. For a decade and a half we’ve been warning about bad e-voting machines and how insecure they are, but so far no one has presented anything in the way of proof that electronic voting machines were hacked. Actual voting infrastructure is pretty clearly “critical infrastructure.” But what about other things — like the emails of top party leaders? Well, that’s what the administration now seems to want to change into “critical infrastructure.”

This is from a Washington Post article on the expected response by the White House against Russia:

The sanctions portion of the package culminates weeks of debate in the White House on how to revise a 2015 executive order that was meant to give the president authority to respond to cyberattacks from overseas but that did not cover efforts to influence the electoral system.


But officials concluded this fall that the order could not, as written, be used to punish the most significant cyber-provocation in recent memory against the United States ? Russia?s hacking of Democratic organizations, targeting of state election systems and meddling in the presidential election.

With the clock ticking, the White House is working on adapting the authority to punish the Russians, according to the officials, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss internal deliberations. President Obama pledged this month that there would be a response to Moscow?s interference in the U.S. elections.

The targeting of “state election systems” definitely seems a bit more like it should obviously be considered “critical infrastructure” — though those attacks on state systems were not targeted at the actual voting infrastructure, but computer systems that contained information about voters and such. But it seems a lot more questionable to argue that political parties’ computer systems should automatically be seen as “critical infrastructure.” That seems to be heading down the slippery slope of declaring certain individuals email accounts critical infrastructure, and lots of mischief could be associated with such a designation.

As the article notes, even though it’s believed by many that Russian hackers got into election systems, it doesn’t appear they did anything in those systems, so it’s tough to show that there was actual harm:

?You would (a) have to be able to say that the actual electoral infrastructure, such as state databases, was critical infrastructure, and (b) that what the Russians did actually harmed it,? said the administration official. ?Those are two high bars.?

Although Russian government hackers are believed to have penetrated at least one state voter-registration database, they did not tamper with the data, officials said.

It definitely seems that voting systems should be seen as critical infrastructure, but given how declarations of critical infrastructure come with some pretty hefty requirements — and opening up the possibility of greater surveillance — the administration should be pretty careful about expanding the list as a reactionary move to the last election.

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Comments on “Obama Administration Looking To Expand Definition Of 'Critical Infrastructure' To Hit Back At Russians”

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Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:2 hillarys email problem

You have no standing, based on your comment you are willing to give Hillary a pass because Bush got away with something. Someone like you should be disregarded.

Hillary broke the law and has been now proven a liar which are facts that are not even being contested now, she is skating because there is a recommendation to NOT DO ANYTHING about it. People have gone to jail for less and you don’t seem to care.

I probably hate Bush more than you do but I try to avoid allowing my political pettiness to distract me from the issue at hand. Bush was a disgrace so was Hillary. As long as you are okay with either of them you have no standing to bitch about another.

Anonymous Coward says:

Exposing corruption of the Democratic party should be seen as a good thing

Protecting the parties email systems should be up to the parties themselves. Getting us into a war with a Russia or anyone else over an email server is ridiculous. The Dems lost fair and square and have nobody to blame but themselves. Lashing out at the 11th hour is a dangerous move by Obama. Whoever exposed the corruption did the US a favor.

Tin-Foil-Hat says:

Re: Exposing corruption of the Democratic party should be seen as a good thing

I wouldn’t exactly call our elections fair but it’s an issue that started long ago. Even in countries much more corrupt then the US they still call a bribe what it is. Voting machines should have a paper trail and be secure so they don’t end up part of a ddos botnet.

orbitalinsertion (profile) says:

What, are the options for a response too boring if the targets purportedly hacked by purported Russians are not “critical infrastructure”? Smells more like an excuse du jour for expanding the definition for other reasons. And the Obama administration seems like it just wants to make absolutely sure that anyone paying the slightest bit of attention, and who was not already wildly disappointed with it, will be so by the time they pack their desks.

Almost Anonymous (profile) says:

Hacking or trolling?

I’m definitely not completely convinced that the Russians “hacked” our election, although there seems to be pretty good evidence that they hacked the DNC (and possibly the RNC) and leaked documents that may have *affected* the election. Also, isn’t it a pretty poorly kept secret that the Russians employ a state-sponsored troll army to perform… well, cyber warfare? Social media warfare?

Anyway, I can’t help but think the Russians had a nasty little hand, but overall I doubt anything they did made a big difference. Blaming the Russians for Trump’s election would be nice, but we’re fully capable of screwing our own selves without their help.

Michael (profile) says:

Re: Hacking or trolling?

“although there seems to be pretty good evidence that they hacked the DNC (and possibly the RNC) and leaked documents that may have affected the election.”

It says something about US politicians when they are claiming the release of FACTUAL INFORMATION about what they have been doing is “hacking the election”.

Stop being slimy, underhanded, liars and start representing your people and someone exposing your emails will not be a problem.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Hacking or trolling?

It says something about US politicians when they are claiming the release of FACTUAL INFORMATION about what they have been doing is "hacking the election".

Makes you wonder why all these republicans are bitching and moaning about bias in media.

I don’t remember seeing a corresponding republican email dump.

You know, just to be fair.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re:

this is my problem with both parties.

Every time they do something that robs more liberty from the people, they keep it in there.

the Dems bitch and moan like girls when a Rep is in power, and the Reps bitch and moan like girls when a Dep is in power.

But when their own is in power… then its just fucking fine and dandy. Anyone voting for an R or D should shut the fuck up because they have ZERO standing to bitch about anything.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:

There’s no reason why a good candidate with an R or a D should disqualify you from being allowed to bitch about the bad ones. I would tend to assign more weight to the bitches a voter has about their own party than those from the other side, as it means that it’s bad enough party loyalty is breaking down (Which I somewhat like).

Now, full disclosure: I voted L on the presidential, R on a few local things, and D on a few others, as well as indies for other state/local positions. I picked those who I though would do the job best. I would think I get to bitch, since I took the time to do more than check the box that says I vote the party slate.

Anonymous Coward says:

Yay, Russians!

Even if I stipulate to the assertion that the Russians hacked the DNC to reveal embarrassing documents, this is not an attack on our democracy. In the case of the DNC releases, **the info revealed an attack on our democracy by the DNC**, i.e., Wasserman Schultz and company’s decision to put Hillary in office regardless of the will of the people. That helped me to make an informed decision not to vote for an anti-democratic candidate. If the “thank you” for the enlightened nature of my decision goes to the Russians, I’m okay with that. Contrary to their expressed opinions, **the DNC are not the government, and hence, a hack of the DNC’s systems is not an attack on our government**.

It is total asshattery that anyone from the U.S. government should wag a finger at another nation for cyber attacks on non-government assets given our track-record of hacking real, infrastructural military and industrial assets of foreign governments, e.g., the Iranian uranium-enrichment program.

Finally, repeating over and over again that our intelligence agencies say they have high confidence that the Russians did the deed convinces me of nothing. I’m approaching the point where I might not believe a “convincing” trail of evidence from the intelligence community, but I certainly don’t take fuzzy, third-party statements about CIA/NSA confidence as a justification to tie my shoe much less sanction Russia, or as some would have it, rattle sabers.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Yay, Russians!

Believing anything any branch of government says is the very definition of stupidity. Obama & Hillary blamed a YouTube video for the attack on Benghazi. That was debunked within 2 days. Yet 2 weeks afterward Obama repeated the lie in front of the UN, thus embarrassing himself and the entire US.

AC says:

Why isn’t anyone concerned with all the OTHER countries who are tampering with the US elections? I mean, technically every single person without citizenship who votes is affecting the results, so shouldn’t we be investigating them? Voter ID laws would seem to make sense…

Oh, wait – I forgot, partisanship. If they vote Democrat, it’s all good.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re:

Agree, Obama had 2 whole Administrations to ensure that our Elections are secure and free as possible from outside interference.

It is my opinion that even if it is True that Russia was successful in completely stealing the election for Trump the Democrats completely deserve it.

I want both parties to take this shit seriously and right now… neither of them are paying anything other than political lip service to it all as “The People” just keep voting in the biggest idiot.

Anonymous Coward says:

IMHO Obama’s response has nothing to do with what Russia did or did not do. The donkeys, and some elephants, are concerned that Trump is too friendly with Russia. They are trying to put something in place, that if Trump acts to remove it, will bring more scrutiny on Trump’s relationship with Russia. If it damages Trump politically, all the better.

norahc (profile) says:

critical infrastructure

The only reason people would even consider classifying either political party as critical infrastructure is because it would give the illusion to the American public that the political party is essential to the American government. God forbid people ever realize that political parties come and go, and aren’t really essential to governing.

Anonymous Coward says:

Proving Trump correct

Trump keeps complaining Obama is figuratively poisoning the well before leaving office to make things difficult for him.
Trump’s made no secret that he wants to cosy up with Russia. And here is Obama, damaging Russian relationships practically to the point of severing them entirely.

Really makes you wonder if Trump has a point and if Obama is doing this out of spite.

(And before anyone accuses me of being pro-Trump or anti-Obama or whatever: I’m not even American. I don’t care who the US president is. I’m not Russian either for that matter.)

Wendy Cockcroft (user link) says:

Re: Re: Proving Trump correct

That ship has sailed. I’d say China is in the lead at the moment. Protip: don’t send manufacturing and IT jobs to a rival nation, then bitch when they come out on top. That is HOW they come out on top.

The only benefit of the left/right see-saw politics game is to distract us from the fact that this has all been done in the name of the “free market” and “to benefit consumers.”

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