Tuesday, 26 February 2013

NBN + National Security: Turnbull, Mandiant and Huawei

In the "fifth dimension" of Warfare, Cyberspace (after land, sea, air & space), all Security is National Security. When Defence and Government and their contractors/suppliers are all connected to the wider Internet and all use the same platforms with the same weaknesses subject to the same exploits by the same group, the distinctions between Public vs Private, Defence vs Civilian and Commercial vs National Security espionage evaporate... On the Internet, it's all National Security.

When one of the premier Cybersecurity companies, founded by an ex-USAF expert takes the unprecedented step of breaking the cardinal rule of INFOSEC dating back to Churchill and Enigma, "Don't reveal your sources & capability", you know that something profound is up.

Mandiant recently released a detailed report of 6 years of study of "APT 1" [of 75 they track] with very precise evidence backing their claims, first with the New York Times and later by the BBC etc.

Not only did Mandiant name China and Chinese nationals as the attackers, they named the building they'd traced as the epicentre of the attacks and the PLA Unit that operates there. (Notably without saying the PLA Unit launched the attacks, a more subtle point).

You can be sure that the Pentagon, State Department and US President along with the NSA and other Intelligence Agencies/"Cyber Commands" were party to this decision.

The Military are very, very protective of their Intelligence, especially their techniques and capabilities. After 70 years, the work my father and his unit did in WWII, "Ultra", is not declassified. I doubt it will ever be fully released: the Military are that obsessive and protective.

So what has the very top echelons of the US Intelligence and Cybersecurity communities so spooked that they are prepared to break one of their most important basic Security Principles?

We know they are giving us "old and incomplete" information, presumably already known by all "opposition" agencies, not just those named, the Chinese.

What they've told us is simple: these are not "for-profit" hackers, but highly-resourced, skilled and persistent experts after highly specific information who prize stealth and misdirection over everything,

What are the tools and techniques they've started directing at new targets over the last 12 months?
It has to be massive and concerning to "break cover" so blatantly.

I suspect it is not unrelated to the banning of Huawei as a network provider to the US Military and Government and with the Australian Government following Intelligence advice and banning Huawei from the NBN.

Mark Gregory in The Conversation reminds us, via Josh Taylor of ZDnet, that Mr Turnbull in Aug-2012 spoke on NBN issues and in the Q&A session, very particularly says they'll "reconsider" the Huawei decision when they gain power. This was never a well-considered statement, at best disingenuous, at worst amazingly naive and ignorant of National Security. Which you can't accuse Mr Turnbull of... He broke the UK "Official Secrets" provisions with "The Spycatcher" case. The start of his answer:
Right, well I think dealing with Huawei firstly and you know you’re really asking us what do I think about the decision not to allow Huawei not to provide equipment to the NBN.
The difficulty we have there is that we are not privy to the advice that the Government has had from the intelligence services.
So that was a very very big decision to make and I’m very conscious of the fact that the British Government has taken a very different approach to Huawei and the Britons’ security concerns you would think would be just as intense as ours.
So all I can say in that we will look at that matter when we get in to government, if we get in to government, in the light of the advice.
In light of the Mandiant report, I'd have expected a comment from Mr Turnbull, even something low-key.

The Opposition can never support countering the Intelligence recommendation against Huawei, and after the Mandiant report, even less so.

Mr Turnbull knew, of should've known, all this when he spoke Aug-2012.
So why did he speak such rubbish when he clearly knows much, much better?
Who was his audience for his remarks?
Not the people in the room of the "American Chamber of Commerce", so who?

Critical now, post Mandiant, to the Coalition's credibility on National Security, Cybersecurity and Internet/NBN is Turnbull-Fletcher and perhaps Abbott restate their position. It appears to me that the current modus operandi of the Opposition is to say anything, because we'll do something completely different when in power.

That's a very scary strategy and one, if exposed, that will lead to a massive electoral backlash.
Not unlike post-1993 and John Hewson's "Fight Back" policy release. A few thousand pages of detailed policy sounded to the academic Hewson like a great way to start an informed policy debate. Instead it turned out to be "the world's longest (political) suicide note".

Every leader of every Australian political party in every campaign since has been painfully aware of the  implications and downside of being too specific and open with Policy. The upshot is that elections now are essentially "policy free zones", meaning all debates come down to rhetoric, promises/pork-barreling, personal attack and denigration/criticism.

"It's a far, far better thing to have done nothing, than to have done anything, because it can be criticised."

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