Disclosure of IMF, Google hacks support cybersecurity legislation

By Byron Acohido, USA TODAY, 15June2011, P1B

The recent rash of disclosures about cyberspying — aimed at undermining the United States — comes as the White House is making its third attempt to push through a historic federal cybersecurity law.

The timing is no coincidence, some cybersecurity analysts say. After two previous bills went nowhere, the White House needs to garner public support for a new law that could equip America for cyberwarfare.

UPDATE -Click here: DHS has slightly reduced role in Langevin bill vs. White House and Senate versions


“The best way to do that is to get folks worried that we’re under attack from some foreign state like China or North Korea,” says Ed Adams, CEO of Security Innovation, which integrates security systems for government agencies. “Most people don’t realize how much of this is premeditated.”

Recent disclosures of cyberattacks against the International Monetary Fund, Google and several defense contractors coincided with an unprecedented pronouncement last week by CIA Director Leon Panetta, who warned a U.S. Senate panel that the U.S. needs to take “defensive measures as well as aggressive measures” to win at cyberwarfare.

The bill is gaining bipartisan support in Congress. It would establish a framework for distributing billions of dollars for new cybersecurity systems, while placing responsibility for securing cyberspace with the Department of Homeland Security.


In an op-ed piece Tuesday in The Hill, Rep. Jim Langevin, D-R.I., the bill’s chief sponsor, underscored the need to engage Americans “in a continuous dialogue about threats we face and steps taken to protect them.”

In that vein, the FBI will help investigate what’s believed to be the theft of e-mails and other documents related to the IMF’s role in stabilizing currency exchange rates and keeping global trade in balance.

“This is part of a wave of economic espionage putting additional pressure on the U.S. economy,” says Alan Paller, research director at SANS Institute, a cybersecurity think tank.

Mike Baker, president and co-founder of consultancy Diligence, agrees that the threats are palpable. The data thieves’  agenda could involve terrorists or military goals, such as disrupting critical  infrastructure, or economic cheating to influence currency exchange rates.

“At the end of the day if I’ve got more information than you, then I’m going to win — however I define winning,” says Baker.

The recent breach disclosures, which include losses of strategically important data at EMC’s RSA security division, Lockheed Martin, L-3 Communications and Northrop Grumman,  help provide  supporting evidence for the importance of a strong cybersecurity bill, says Harry Sverdlove, chief technology officer at security firm Bit9.


“One of the provisions of the cybersecurity bill proposed by the White House is a federal data breach notification statute. Almost every state already has its own data breach notification law, but in today’s global economy, having a consistent set of guidelines that can be enforced across the nation is essential,” says Sverdlove.

Google recently voluntarily revealed that hackers pilfered information from the Gmail accounts of hundreds of high-profile individuals, including U.S. government officials. “The dialogue around cybersecurity has definitely become politicized and militarized,” says Dave Jevans, chairman of IronKey, which secures data and online access.

By pinpointing Jinan, China, as the origination point of the Gmail hack, Google “elevated the awareness of the enemy,” says  Sverdlove. “That could influence both the cybersecurity bill … (and) the rules of engagement for cyberwarfare being debated by the Pentagon,” says Sverdlove.

Sverdlove, for one, isn’t convinced that the traditionally tight-lipped  IMF was manipulated into making its disclosure to support the push for a new U.S. cybersecurity law.  Says Sverdlove:

When Google announced that the Gmail accounts of specific and highly influential individuals had been hacked, I speculated that the timing was designed to influence public policy. Google made their disclosure in the midst of news on the recent breaches at defense contractors Lockheed Martin, L-3 Communications, and Northrop Grumman. In that case, while the cyber attacks on the defense contractors were described as sophisticated and, at least in the Lockheed Martin case, related to the data breach at RSA months earlier, no one was publicly identifying the source of the attacks.

In the IMF case, however, I don’t believe an international organization within the United Nations has such overt and nation specific motives. More likely, assuming the timing was a conscious decision, the disclosure was more about hiding amidst the noise; there have been so many high profile attacks recently that, while this one might be the most frightening from a global impact perspective, it also just becomes one in a long list of recent breaches (RSA, Lockheed Martin, Citigroup, Sony, PBS, Gmail, …).

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