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Time to Play Offense
The United States in under cyber-attack. An article in Time magazine titled "The Invasion of the Chinese Cyberspies" discusses a computer-network security official for Sandia National Laboratories who had been "tirelessly pursuing a group of suspected Chinese cyberspies all over the world."

The article notes that the cyberespionage ring, known to US investigators as Titan Rain, has been "penetrating secure computer networks at the country's most sensitive military bases, defense contractors and aerospace companies." It should be noted that a recent Washington Post front page story on Titan Rain stated there is a dispute among US analysts as to whether "the attacks constitute a coordinated Chinese government campaign to penetrate U.S. networks and spy on government databanks..." or are "the work of other hackers simply using Chinese networks to disguise the origins of the attacks."

Time magazine claims they obtained a Pentagon alert "that raises the concern that Titan Rain could be a point patrol for more serious assaults that could shut down or even take over a number of U.S. military networks." A DOD official was quoted as saying "When we have breaches of our networks, it puts lives at stake." U.S. allies have also been attacked. Britain's National Infrastructure Security Co-Ordination Center warned that these "electronic attacks have been under way for a significant period of time, with a recent increase in sophistication."

However, the Time article explains that "Federal rules prohibit military-intelligence officers from working with U.S. civilians..." and that U.S law forbids Americans from to hacking into foreign computers. Thus, the Sandia employee investigating Titan Rain was fired and stripped of his security clearance. The Department of Energy said that the official's "after-hours sleuthing...was an inappropriate use of confidential information he had gathered at his day job" even though he was working with the FBI and other federal officials.

"Titan Rain presents a severe test for the patchwork of agencies digging into the problem," according to Time. "The FBI would need high-level diplomatic and Department of Justice authorization to do what" the former Sandia official "did in sneaking into foreign computers." Furthermore, "if any U.S. agency got caught, it could spark an international incident."

Although a robust defensive is essential for protecting national cybersecurity, the US also needs to play offense. Going of the offensive does not mean taking rash actions or sanctioning rogue or illegal operations. Instead, a good offense will require sober, thoughtful and creative analysis. However, playing offense does mean recognizing that passive defense alone will likely prove insufficient to protect national security.

  • See Time article

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