He is intelligent, but not experienced. His pattern indicates two-dimensional thinking.
I though this quote could describe many of the advanced persistent threat critics, particularly those who claim "it's just espionage" or "there's nothing new about this." Consider this one last argument to change your mind. (Ha, like that will happen. For everyone else, this is how I arrive at my conclusions.)
I think the problem is APT critics are thinking in one or two dimensions at most, when really this issue has at least five. When you only consider one or two dimensions, of course the problem looks like nothing new. When you take a more complete look, it's new.
- Offender. We know who the attacker is, and like many of you, I know this is not their first activity against foreign targets. I visited the country as an active duty Air Force intelligence officer in 1999. I got all the briefings, etc. etc. This is not the first time I've seen network activity from them. Wonderful.
- Defender. We know the offender has targeted national governments and militaries, like any nation-state might. What's different about APT is the breadth of their target base. Some criticize the Mandiant report for saying:
The APT isn't just a government problem; it isn't just a defense contractor problem. The APT is everyone's problem. No target is too small, or too obscure, or too well-defended. No organization is too large, two well-known, or too vulnerable. It's not spy-versus-spy espionage. It's spy-versus-everyone.
The phrasing here may be misleading (i.e., APT is not attacking my dry cleaner) but the point is valid. Looking over the APT target list, the victims cover a broad sweep of organizations. This is certainly new.
- Means. Let's talk espionage for a moment. Not everyone has the means to be a spy. You probably heard how effective the idiots who tried bugging Senator Landrieu's office were. With computer network exploitation (at the very least), those with sufficient knowledge and connectivity can operate at nearly the same level as a professional spy. You don't have to spend nearly as much time teaching tradecraft for CNE, compared to spycraft. You can often hire someone with private experience as a red teamer/pen tester and then just introduce them to your SOPs. Try hiring someone who has privately learned national-level spycraft.
- Motive. Besides "offender," this is the second of the two dimensions that APT critics tend to fixate upon. Yes, bad people have tried to spy on other people for thousands of years. However, in some respects even this is new, because the offender has his hands in so many aspects of the victim's centers of power. APT doesn't only want military secrets; it wants diplomatic, AND economic, AND cultural, AND...
- Opportunity. Connectivity creates opportunity in the digital realm. Again, contrast the digital world with the analog world of espionage. It takes a decent amount of work to prepare, insert, handle, and remove human spies. The digital equivalent is unfortunately still trivial in comparison.
To summarize, I think a lot of APT critics are focused on offender and motive, and ignore defender, means, and opportunity. When you expand beyond two-dimensional thinking, you'll see that APT is indeed new, without even considering technical aspects.