Wednesday, October 26, 2011

MANDIANT Webinar Friday

Join me and Lucas Zaichkowsky on Friday at 2 pm eastern as we talk about what happened at our annual MANDIANT conference, MIRCon! Registration is free and I expect you'll enjoy the discussion! We plan to review what we saw and heard, and how those lessons will help your security program.

Sunday, October 23, 2011

Review of America the Vulnerable Posted

Amazon.com just posted my five star review of America the Vulnerable by Joel Brenner. I reproduce the review in its entirety below.

I've added bold in some places to emphasize certain areas.




America the Vulnerable (ATV) is one of the best "big picture" books I've read in a long while. The author is a former NSA senior counsel and inspector general, and was the National Counterintelligence Executive (NCIX). In these roles he could "watch the fireworks" (not his phrase, but one popular in the intel community) while the nation suffered massive data exfiltration to overseas adversaries. ATV explains the problem in terms suitable for those familiar with security issues and those learning about these challenges. By writing ATV, Joel Brenner accurately and succinctly frames the problems facing the US and the West in cyberspace.

In this review I'd like to highlight some of Mr Brenner's insights and commentary.

On pp 65-7 he discusses "China's Long View... China had the world's largest economy for eighteen of the past twenty centuries. The two exceptions were those of America's youth and rise to power.... Like India, China does not regard Western domination as normal, and it does not suffer from an inferiority complex. China's chief national strategic objectives are to lift its population out of poverty and reestablish its place in the international order."

On pp 68-71 he explains the problem with the binary thinking of Westerners regarding war. China does not see war as a binary issue, where one is either at peace OR at war. "This kind of ambiguity is difficult for Americans to digest. We are direct and aboveboard, and we like to think others are like us -- or would be if given half a chance... [W]e suffer from a Western misconception in our law, religion, and policy that 'peace' and 'war' are opposites that cannot occur at the same time... Many Americans cling to this view, even though war has not been declared on the planet since 1945, while there have been hundreds of organized, violent, and militarized struggles in the interim."

On pp 71-3 he reiterates my point that the consequences of digital assault from China are indeed new, as well as the assault itself. "Our companies are under constant, withering attack. After the Google heist, companies [all emphasis is original] started asking the government for help in defending themselves against nations. This was unprecedented. We are now in uncharted territory... the boundary between economic security and national security has completely disappeared... While the scope of and intensity of economic espionage have assumed startling proportions, the 'traditional' espionage assault on our national defense establishment dwarfs anything we have ever before experienced."

On pp 75-77 Mr Brenner describes instances of espionage and consequences. "[Chi Mak] is the first spy (that we know of) through whom we lost critical military secrets and who was not a government employee. He will not be the last. If further proof were required, the case thus illustrates how thoroughly the functional boundary between the private sector and the government has dissolved... In essence, the PRC is leveraging the Pentagon's R&D budget in support of its own war-making capability."

Mr Brenner focuses on Chinese espionage in ATV; the following from p 78 is a good summary: "In contrast to the Russians, who are highly professional, the PRC often enlists amateurs from among a huge pool of sympathizers."

In the middle of the book Mr Brenner concentrates on the China threat by correctly identifying that the Chinese do not want a shooting war with the US. Rather (quoting Chinese military thinkers on p 118) "the objective in warfare would not be killing or occupying territory, but rather paralyzing the enemy's military and financial computer networks and its telecommunications. How? By taking out the enemy's power system. Control, not bloodshed, would be the goal... [Continuing on pp 126-7,] The Prussian Carl von Clausewitz, and Mao after him, had called war 'politics by other means.' [Strategists] Qiao and Wang seemed to be saying the reverse: Politics -- and economics and communications and everything else -- was war by other means. And while Clausewitz had preached the doctrine of the decisive battle, Qiao and Wang said there would be no more decisive battles."

Ch 9, "Thinking About Intelligence," is one of my favorite chapters because Mr Brenner examines the role of information and intelligence agencies in the modern world. On p 196 he makes a fascinating point: "To understand the future of the private sector's role in intelligence, we don't need a crystal ball. We can just as well look backward as forward, because we are experiencing a return to a historical norm." He then argues that the private sector is developing intel capabilities rivaling the government, which was the case prior to the creation of national agencies in the 20th century. On p 209 he recommends the following: "[T]he best way to run an intelligence agency is to focus tightly on the parts of the business that are really secret and separate them from the rest. You spend more money on open-source collection and analysis, and let them happen in controlled but unclassified space. You beef up counterintelligence. And you pay much more attention to the electronic handling and dissemination of information."

In the final chapter he offers some recommendations for improvement. I liked this statement on p 216: "If you wait for the incoming danger to reach you, you won't be able to defend against it. CYBERCOM solves this problem by letting the general in charge of defending national security networks use offensive tools outside his networks in order to know what's coming. To be blunt, espionage is an essential aspect of defense. To know what's coming, we must be living inside our adversaries' networks before they launch attacks against us." Note that is the traditional role of espionage, a model which the Chinese shatter by living inside our companies' networks, solely to steal our intellectual property.

I only found one small typo on p 194: The Yom Kippur War happened in 1973, not 2003.

Overall, I really enjoyed ATV. While I don't think the suggestions for improvement in the last chapter are sufficient to mitigate the threat, several of them are a good start. I highly recommend reading ATV at your earliest opportunity!

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Republican Presidential Candidates on China

(Photo: Business Insider)

This is not a political blog, so I'm not here to endorse candidates. However, I do want to point out another example of high-level policymakers discussing ongoing activities by China against the US and other developed economies.

First, the Washington Post published an editorial by Mitt Romney which included the following:

China seeks advantage through systematic exploitation of other economies. It misappropriates intellectual property by coercing “technology transfers” as a condition of market access; enables theft of intellectual property, including patents, designs and know-how; hacks into foreign commercial and government computers...

The result is that China sells high-quality products to the United States at low prices. But too often the source of that high quality is American innovations stolen by Chinese companies.


I missed this in August, but former ambassador to China Jon Huntsman said the following during a debate:

Huntsman Jr. pointed to China as a culprit in what he described as “the new war field” — cyber-intrusion as a way to steal corporate and government secrets. “Not only have government institutions been hacked into, but private individuals have been hacked, too. It’s gone beyond the pale,” Huntsman said.

The third candidate in the photo, Rick Perry, is also involved in the China debate. He's currently defending Texas' relationship with Huawei.

I'm going to be fairly strict regarding comment publishing for this post, so please be civil, nonpolitical, and relevant. Again, my point is to show that Chinese cyber campaigns are now a hot topic in political campaigns.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Bejtlich in "The expanding cyber industrial complex"

Christopher Booker interviewed me and several other policy-oriented security people for his video Financial Times story The expanding cyber industrial complex. This was a different experience for me for two reasons. First, Christopher conducted the interviews via Skype. Second, you can see what appear to be the home offices of several of the contributors, including me.

One technical note on the video: I had some trouble getting it to play. To get it working I selected another video then went back to this one.

Thank you again to Christopher Booker for the opportunity to offer my opinions.

(Bonus points to anyone who can identify the box on the shelf over my right shoulder, on the lower left side of the photo.)

Computer Incident Response Team Organizational Survey, 2011

Today at MIRCon I mentioned that one of my colleagues, Jeff Yeutter, had updated the somewhat famous CERT/CC study of CIRT characteristics as part of his degree program. Jeff posted the survey online as Computer Incident Response Team Organizational Survey, 2011 with this description:

In 2003, the CERT CSIRT Development Team (www.CERT.org) released a study on the state of international computer security incident response teams with the goal of providing "better insight into various CSIRT organizational structures and best practices" for new and existing members of the CSIRT community (Killcrece, Kossakowski, Ruefle, & Zajicek, 2003). The attached survey, a modified form of the original, will be used to update the 2003 study with a greater focus on the methods of organization used by American and international CIRTs, the tools that they employ, and how these vary across organizations of different sizes and industries.

This research is being conducted, and is independently funded, by Jeff Yeutter, Technical Sales Executive at Mandiant, as the final project for his Master's in Information Systems with a concentration in Computer Security Management at Strayer University. This survey will also be distributed to members of the Forum of Incident Response and Security Teams (www.FIRST.org) with the assistance of Richard Bejtlich, Chief Security Officer and VP, MCIRT, at Mandiant.

No identifying information is required to complete this survey. Participants may include such information if they are interested in immediately being notified of the results of the study once it is complete, or if they would like to make themselves available for follow-up questions. Any and all identifying personal or professional identifying information offered by participants will be held in strict confidence. The results of this study, minus any identifying information, may be included in a future, cost-free whitepaper.

The original CERT study from 2003 can be found at: www.cert.org/archive/pdf/03tr001.pdf

The time to complete this survey is approximately 10-15 minutes.


If you're a CIRT member and want to contribute, please consider completing the survey at Computer Incident Response Team Organizational Survey, 2011. Thank you!

Friday, October 07, 2011

Interview with One of My Three Wise Men

Tony Sager from the NSA is one of my Three Wise Men. (Dan Geer and Ross Anderson are the other two.) Eric Parizo from SearchSecurity.com interviewed Tony this week and posted the video online.

Tony notes that the escalation in threat activity during the last few years is real. He is in a position to know, given he has worked at NSA since the 1970s. Tony says the threat activity is getting people's attention now, especially at more senior levels of the government and industry. Now targeted organizations are thinking beyond the question "does this affect my company" to "does this affect my industry?"

Tony explains that a generational effect may account for the change in awareness. More senior leaders grew up with technology, so they know how to think about it. There is also more public reporting on serious security incidents today.

My favorite quote was:

"If you're not a little concerned, you haven't been paying attention."

Since Tony is Mr Reasonable, I think that's a significant statement!

Eric asked Tony for his opinion on APT, and he replied that APT isn't that useful a concept for his line of work. That's possibly because his agency uses the original intrusion set names to manage threat intelligence, rather than an unclassified, "umbrella" term for discussing threat actors in private industry. Tony did explain that the "advanced" aspect for him means conducting operations in multiple "domains," e.g., escalating to physical, non-digital attacks when necessary.

Russia v China -- Sound Familiar?

Thanks to a source who wishes to remain anonymous, I read Chinese spy mania sweeps the world, an article not from a Western publication. Rather, it's from Voice of Russia. Does any of this sound familiar?

[T]his is the most powerful secret service based on the principle of attracting all ethnic Chinese, wherever they may live. An adherent of the “total espionage” strategy, Beijing even encourages emigration in the hope that its citizens will remain loyal to and useful for their historical homeland after moving to another country...

"The history of China’s espionage activities on Russian armaments is not only limited to one precedent or one type of weapons. One of the top Chinese priorities is to produce complete replicas of Russia’s best machines and weapons, from the Sukhoi Su-33 fighter jet to missiles, aircraft carriers and so on.

This is a truly purpose-oriented strategy of a large country - snatch anything you can and reproduce it domestically," ["IT expert"] Andrei Masalovich points out.


Cynics will point out that perhaps this article is trying to deflect attention from Russia's own espionage activities. However, you can't deny that even the Russians have issues with Chinese operations.

For an example of the sorts of problems Russia is having, see this ABC News story China Still Spies the Old Fashioned Way, Russia Says:

Russia's secretive spy agency, the Federal Security Service (FSB), issued a rare statement Wednesday claiming the state had arrested a Chinese citizen who, posing as a translator for official delegations, was working under the direction of the Chinese government in an attempt to buy state secrets from Russians about Russia's S-300 missile system.

Thursday, October 06, 2011

It's All About the Engines

(Photo credit: AINOnline)

I just read Big New Chinese Order for Russian Fighter Engines at China Defense Blog, which quoted AINOnline:

China has placed additional orders for Russian AL-31-series fighter engines. State arms trade agency Rosoboronexport clinched two big contracts earlier this year...

To serve them, Salut has established partnerships with Limin Corp. and Tyan Li company in Chengdu on deliveries and manufacturing of spare parts for both the AL-31F and the AL-31FN. Russia has also agreed to provide all necessary maintenance and repair documentation to the Chinese partners.


To see China treats or will treat Western aircraft and aircraft engine makers, look no further than Russia.

The comments in the CDB post pointed me to this engine comparison for the J-20, which I sometimes mention in my classes. Essentially the Chinese appear to be testing two engines on the J-20, because they are not sure if they will use a Russian-made engine (or copy) or an "indigenous" engine (which is probably a copy of someone else's technology).

House Cybersecurity Task Force Report Released

The House Cybersecurity Task Force released its report (.pdf) today. NextGov offers a good summary in their story House GOP Cyber Task Force Touts Industry Leadership by Jessica Herrera-Flanigan.

The report includes the following recommendation:

Companies, including Internet Service Providers (ISPs) and security and software vendors, are already conducting active operations to mitigate cybersecurity attacks. However, these are largely done independently according to their individual business interests and priorities. Congress should facilitate an organization outside of government to act as a clearing house of information and intelligence sharing between the government and critical infrastructure to improve security and disseminate real-time information designed to help target and defeat malicious cyber activity.

I would like something bolder, like the National Digital Security Board I proposed in 2006. Still, such a "clearing house" could evolve into an organization with the authority to investigate incidents, or at least contract an organization to conduct investigations, and then publish anonymized lessons and results.

I would find leading that organization to be a great challenge!

C-SPAN Posts Video of Tuesday Hearing

You can now access video of Tuesday's House Select Committee on Intelligence Hearing on Cybersecurity at C-SPAN.

Some people are already asking "what's new" about this. For me, what's new is that the chairman of the HPSCI is pointing his finger straight at the threat, and letting the world know in an open hearing that the adversary's actions are unacceptable and will not be tolerated. This is exactly the sort of attention and action that the threat deserves and I applaud the Chairman and HPSCI for pursuing this course.

Remember that the HPSCI is more likely to hold closed hearings than open hearings due to the nature of its classified intelligence oversight work. By conducting an open hearing, Chairman Rogers wanted to send a clear message to victims, the public, and the adversary.

Tuesday, October 04, 2011

Inside a Congressional Hearing on Digital Threats

Today I was fortunate to attend a hearing of the US House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence (HPSCI). That's me on the far left of the photo, seated behind our MANDIANT CEO Kevin Mandia. I'd like to share a few thoughts on the experience.

First, I was impressed by the attitudes of all those involved with HPSCI, from the staffers to the Representatives themselves. They were all courteous and wanted to hear the opinions of Kevin and the other two witnesses (Art Coviello from RSA and Michael Hayden from the Chertoff Group), whether before, during, or after the hearing.

Second, I thought Reps Mike Rogers (R-MI, HPSCI Chairman) and C.A. Dutch Ruppersberger (D-MD, HPSCI Ranking Member) offered compelling opening statements. Rep Rogers squarely pointed the finger at our overseas adversaries. As reported by PCWorld in U.S. Lawmakers Point to China as Cause of Cyberattacks, Rep Rogers said:

"I don't believe that there is a precedent in history for such a massive and sustained intelligence effort by a government to blatantly steal commercial data and intellectual property...

China's economic espionage has reached an intolerable level and I believe that the United States and our allies in Europe and Asia have an obligation to confront Beijing and demand that they put a stop to this piracy."


You can watch all of Rep Rogers' statement on YouTube as Rep. Mike Rogers criticizes Chinese economic cyber-espionage (currently 21 views -- let's increase that!)

General Hayden reinforced Rep Rogers' sentiment with this quote:

"As a professional intelligence officer, I step back in awe of the breadth, the depth, the sophistication, the persistence of the Chinese espionage effort against the United States of America."

Third, I was very pleased that this hearing was conducted in an open forum, and not behind closed doors. While I haven't found the whole hearing online or on TV yet (aside from Rep Rogers' statement and that of Rep Myrick (R-NC)), I encourage as much discussion as possible about this issue.

One of General Hayden's points was that we are not having a debate about how to address digital threats because no one agrees what the facts are. If you work counter-intrusion operations every day, or participate in the intelligence community, you know what's happening. Outside that world, you likely think "APT" and the like are false concepts. We can really only build a national approach to countering the threat if enough people know what is happening.

As more information becomes available I will likely publish it via my @taosecurity Twitter account.