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U.S. Government Attempts to Thwart Chinese Network Intrusions
National Defense Magazine, Stew Magnuson, July 2012
U.S. companies large and small, and in many sectors of the economy, are under assault by sophisticated and persistent cyberespionage operations.
Some of these attacks originate in Russia, the FBI said in a report last year, but most of them come from China.
Companies must do what they can to protect their intellectual property, but they are up against a large, well-funded, technologically sophisticated and apparently growing enterprise.
If the might of the Chinese government — as many believe — is behind this massive operation, what can the might of the U.S. government do to help companies facing the onslaught?
Eric Rosenbach, deputy assistant secretary of defense for cyber policy, said what he sees in the Pentagon is that “the problem is so amazing and daunting and brilliant, that we have this tendency to sit there and stare at it, and talk about it and kind of marvel at it, and you never get to the point … of what do we do about it?”
Nevertheless, “It is worth mentioning that the administration does take this issue very seriously and is thinking a lot about it and different policy options,” he said.
Some of these efforts are classified, he said.
One that isn’t top secret is the Defense Industrial Base Cyber Security/ Information Assurance program, where companies and the Defense Department share information about the latest threats. Officials would like to see at least 1,000 companies join the three dozen that were originally enrolled, Deputy Chief Information Officer for Cybersecurity Richard Hale told reporters recently.
Part of this effort is the Defense Industrial Base Enhanced Cyber Security Services program, which scans Internet traffic going to defense contractors for “threat signatures” such as malware. The Defense Department announced it is expanding the program to allow commercial Internet Service Providers, or ISPs, to offer cybersecurity services to participating defense contractors. Three of the nation’s largest ISPs will develop security tools that they could sell to defense contractors in a fee-for-service arrangement.
“Is this the silver bullet? No, and it shouldn’t be. It is just one additional piece of risk mitigation,” Rosenbach said of the program.
And, it is intended for the defense industrial base only. There are many sectors of the U.S. economy at risk from wide-scale intellectual property theft, he said. Too often in the Defense Department, officials look at the problem through this narrow national defense prism. But cyber-espionage threatens the economy as a whole, he noted.
The program could be used as a model for other sectors, Rosenbach said. Hale noted that there are around 8,000 defense contractors.
Jason Lewis, chief technology officer of Looking Glass Cyber Solutions, agreed that information sharing is important. It is already done in the financial sector.
“If all the defense industrial base were sharing information with each other, then there would be less of a chance of this occurring … By not sharing, I think it hurts everyone.”
Can the United States take more direct action against China, and retaliate against it and other countries that intrude on its networks and those of critical industries?
It is an “uncomfortable truth” that nations accept espionage as a fact of life and, traditionally, wars don’t erupt over spying, Rosenbach said.
And then there are treaties. The idea that the international community agrees not to spy on each other or launch more catastrophic cyberwars has been proposed in some quarters. Rosenbach was skeptical.
It was unlikely that there will be international consensus that will lead to a major treaty, and such agreements take many years to come to fruition, he said.
“It is important for us as a government — DoD, the Hill, Homeland Security, the FBI — to think about what we can do to help solve this problem especially of [intellectual property] theft. Because from my perspective, this is a very grave national security threat,” Rosenbach said.