Wednesday, October 30, 2013

American Blackout: Trick?...or Treat?

By Jim McFarlin

Was the timing of National Geographic’s American Blackout TV special just before Halloween inadvertently ironic? Or intentional?

If inadvertent, mark it up to curious scheduling. If intentional, are we being “tricked” by a Hollywood-style dramatization of disturbing events for entertainment purposes? Or are we being “treated” to a reality show warning us of calamitous circumstances to come, circumstances that are already storm clouds on the horizon?

For those who missed the show, American Blackout tells the story of a nation descending into social chaos following extended loss of electrical power due to cyberattacks.

The Nat Geo story, although as gripping as it is comprehensive, is incomplete. Here is the rest of the story.

Sunday, October 27, 2013

BULLETIN: Cyberattack rated number one security threat facing United States

In recent Capitol Hill testimony, Gen. James Clapper, the nation's top intelligence official, placed cyberterrorism at the top of the threats facing the United States.  Gen. Clapper stated that it would be "hard to overemphasize" the significance of the threat.

He rated America's electrical grid the most vulnerable of the nation's infrastructures, with equipment in many cases ten to twenty years out of date with no immediate plans for updating to counter cyberthreats.

NOTE: a nationwide test of America's electrical grids' ability to repel cyberattacks is scheduled for November 17th.  I will have results of that exercise for you as soon as they are available.

Financial institutions and government services rounded out Gen. Clapper's list of most vulnerable segments of our economy.  In the six months prior to his testimony, Wall Street had received 140 verified cyberattacks. In July, leading investment banks and trading exchanges were overwhelmed in a staged cyberattack exercise which closed the markets within six hours of the start of the attacks.

Stay tuned for future Bulletins.

Saturday, October 19, 2013

Are America’s Cyber Defenses On the Brink?

By Jim McFarlin

Cyberspace is a harsh and cruel world, a digital realm rife with unpleasant axioms.

One axiom is that attacks on the United States have increased in sophistication, intent, and frequency over the past several years. And it isn’t just hackivists who delight in defacing and defaming anymore – serious players are joining the fray.

The most recent interlopers include the cyber militias – mercenaries for hire around the globe who carry out attacks of the funders’ bidding. They are difficult to defend against as these mercenaries operate without predictable motives or methods.

A second axiom is that American institutions (private, government, military or otherwise) are widely ineffective in deploying cyber defenses. There are a host of excuses for this incapability, ranging from valid to self-inflicted.

These axioms point toward America’s declining security against cyberattacks. There are a few explanations, but few of these offer any meaningful hope.

Is there a way forward?

Let’s start by addressing a much-raised question: As the world’s leading technology superpower, why can’t the U.S. defend itself?

Saturday, October 12, 2013

Are Cyber Barbarians at Our Gates?

By James McFarlin
from New York City

Continually puzzled by why America’s cyber defenses do such an inadequate job of actually defending, I journeyed to Manhattan this past weekend to hear what a select gathering of global cybersecurity experts had to say on the subject.

With my mind spinning two days later from complex chart images, PowerPoint bullets and spirited discussions, I said my goodbyes and made my way to the elevator. It was only once I was in the taxi to midtown, mind roaming free, that the collective impact of the discussions began to synthesize and take form.

That’s when a sense of dark foreboding began to sweep over me. Here’s why.

Saturday, October 5, 2013

Is the NSA Breaking Bad in the Name of Cyber Security?

It is a rare week indeed that yet another National Security Agency action in the name of national safety is not unveiled for the public to see. The revelations are almost like a slow-motion card deal in Texas hold ’em, with the nation waiting to see where the next deal of the up card leads us.

The latest card? Ex-NSA contractor Edward Snowden revealed that the agency has been using its metadata collection to graph the relationships between Americans’ social connections. According to an NSA memorandum, these steps were intended “to help the agency discover and track” overseas intelligence targets.

But is the NSA actually pulling a Walter White and breaking bad in its mission to ensure American security?

The agency may feel it has probable reason to do so. Here’s why: