Syria-Iran cyberwar fears are a diversion from real issues

Syria-Iran cyberwar fears are a diversion from real issues

Summary: Will western military action against Syria redound as cyber-disaster in western Internet infrastructure? There are many reasons for the US not to attack, but this isn't one of them.

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TOPICS: Security
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You've read it before, maybe in the New York Times (although not yesterday): The US is vulnerable to a debilitating "cyberattack". Remote enemies, from the comfort of their military bases and dorm rooms, can poison our water supplies, cripple our power grids and (gasp!) even stop us from tweeting.

With a US military action against the Syrian government possibly imminent, the usual harbingers of cyberwar are out warning the world of what awaits us when the cruise missiles strike. This Reuters analysis notes that this would be the first time the US directly attacked a country with cyberwar capability, although this is a reference to the Syrian Electronic Army (SEA), responsible for yesterday's DNS misdirection attacks against Twitter and the New York Times. The SEA may profess loyalty to the Baath regime in Syria, but we don't know who they really are. They could be a bunch of smart-ass kids anywhere trying to sound as obnoxious as possible. (There have been some reasonable efforts to trace the actual identities of the SEA, but none of them are conclusive.) Honestly, with the troubles they have these days, I'd be surprised of the Syrian government puts meaningful funds into cyberwarfare research, but perhaps I overestimate their rationality.

Reuters also alludes to help Syria might get in such attacks from their ally Iran, and this is certainly more reasonable.

"It's likely that the Syrian Electronic Army does something in response, perhaps with some assistance from Iranian-related groups," said former White House cybersecurity and counter terror advisor Richard Clarke.

You need years of government experience at the highest levels to come up with insight like that.

Former U.S. National Security Agency director Michael Hayden told Reuters that the SEA "sounds like an Iranian proxy," but the article also notes that there's no evidence that the group has the sort of capabilities that are the subject of real cyberwarfare talk: crashing major banks and ISPs, causing outages and damage to public utilities, disabling basic governmental functions and so on. The SEA is best known for hacking an AP Twitter feed; impressive as these things go, but not exactly World War III.

It's reasonable to assume that the Iranians are capable of much more. It's even more reasonable, as Reuters notes, that the Russians have not only high-level capabilities in cyberwar, but the most real-world experience in hot conflicts, owing to their work in Estonia and (to a much lesser extent) Georgia.

There are many, many good reasons for us not to attack Syria. This isn't one of them. Personally, I think that since we've waited this long we've lost the opportunity for any attack we make to have a constructive effect; the only thing we could show at this point is that we're willing to follow through on our insincere threats even when it's not in our interests to do so.

But as for the threat of cyberwar, if it's not the attack on Syria then another perfectly good pretext for Syrian/Iranian/Russian proxies to attack us is just months away. Either we retreat into isolationism or we're going to piss off someone out there, and if we're going to oppose anyone I'd say that the Iranian and Syrian governments seem worth opposing. 

Topic: Security

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11 comments
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  • GovComm 333j

    There is no threat~!
    The Syrians and Iranians are about as backwards as is possible.
    They just got Windows 3.1 ......
    NSAagent666
    • Iranian are not so stupid. Iranian regime is dumb and criminal

      No they stole it without asking any one. Even if there are some sales of Windows, they also have all versions of it without any problem, running on computers built in China like any one of us.

      They also have iPhones, Android phones and tablets, or Linux servers/desktops/notebooks. All technologies are avaialble there, and sold as a vivid business whch also includes the production of Internet services.

      They also have all the latest HDTV, mobile networks, internet accesses in homes or on the go (even if they are partly monitored, but their national surveillance won't care if people are attacking sites of theri foreign public enemies, they just care about shariah rule for what people do and who they love in their country).

      Iran is a rich modern country, even if their governement is deadly harmful and dangerous, and if there are dangerous mollah controlling it and threatening the population in their public life. But people also have a much more liberal private life, even if they don't expose it in the street or on the Internet. But life is realy hard in Iran for all non-islamic minorities (their religion is legal, but they have to apply the shariah law), or even within some non-dominant islamic schools.

      And Iranian regime is still criminal against LGBT people. I really mean here "crime against humanity" and organized genocide.
      PhilippeV
  • we must attack!

    this will provide a new stimulus for the economy, will create thousands of war jobs and will improve our standing in the world.
    LlNUX Geek
  • We don't need another war...

    Let's leave Syria for UN and the rest of the world to deal with. We are still paying for Iraq's trillion dollars bill and ALL the accomplishments we got there... (...).
    States are cutting education and unemployment funds because we don't have enough for those services. Why should we spend more our of taxes on a war that is not ours?
    Of course, it may be a human cause, but we are not sure who is using the chemical weapons. Our intelligence was wrong about Iraq's weapons, and it cost us too much. Let's not repeat history, but learn with it.
    FuzzyIce
    • Correct

      Recall that we were told (read: flat out lied to) that going into Iraq would cost $50 billion and take a few weeks.

      If Americans remain dumb as dirt and keep buying into these lies they can keep wondering why the economy is the way that it is.
      Astringent
  • Well...

    "Remote enemies, from the comfort of their military bases and dorm rooms, can poison our water supplies, cripple our power grids and (gasp!) even stop us from tweeting."

    Except for the tweeting, these all sound like real reasons to drop real bombs on whomever. There was a lot of discusion on this topic here a year or two ago.

    Personally, I'm thinking that messing in somebody's civil war because we don't like one side's conduct is not a reason to get involved.
    Bill4
  • No Syria, No cry

    "When innocent lives are taken in the most reprehensible of ways, to whom do their souls cry? Whence comes their justice? Is America's moral leadership in the world carved out by the tip of its sword?"

    Charles M. Blow
    from this morning's New York Times

    Words that should be etched in granite, Mr. Blow. Now what the heck did I do with my chisel....

    Maybe this is the only positive legacy of the disgusting administration of George W. Bush: he has left America, the planet's Super Cop, quite war-weary indeed. An attack on Syria - while the motivations might very well be noble - could create more problems than it solves. Maybe now is the time to come up with an alternative to military intervention. In
    fact the time is long overdue.

    While it's true that giving peace a chance is futile in a situation like the one in Syria, an attack on the Syrian military could result in collateral damage that will only inflame the Arab world. In case it's slipped your mind, we poll lower than athlete's foot in that region of the world these days. Why throw gas on the fire?

    The headline in one of the New York tabloids yesterday morning read, "THE BRITISH AREN'T COMING! THE Indeed. And can you blame them for not wanting to go down this road again? I can't.

    We'd be wise not to go down that road again either.

    http://www.tomdegan.blogspot.com

    Tom Degan
    TomDegan
  • No excuse for war

    "There are many, many good reasons for us not to attack Syria. This isn't one of them."

    Mr Seltzer, please name one real good reason to invade Syria. Take a step back. Do you really think that invading every country on the face of the Earth is appropriate?

    Drones blowing Al Queda in Yemen while we are bankrolling them in Syria?

    It is unbelievable that we can be so technologically incompetent that we see the SEA as a threat.

    Of course what we really want to do is tie them to Iran the real ongoing target of interest using an endless onslaught of justifications to start a new profitable big war. And starting a war with Iran is really just a way of pulling Russia and China in so that we can really get things going and cover up the trail of corruption that is beginning to be exposed everywhere. Snowden just being one example of many leaks coming forth now and it is only just the beginning of the disclosure they fear.
    Astringent
    • Ready for More?

      Remember when we went into Panama? The public didn’t want to go so they staged the killing of an American soldier and a woman being raped and they public jumped on board.

      Remember when the public wasn’t interested in going into Iraq and a pretty Saudi girl got in front of Congress and we watched her tell stories about Iraqis raiding hospitals and throwing babies off the equipment and onto the ground? Remember when we jumped on board out of compassion?

      Did you know that the pretty Saudi girl was a royal princess who was specifically trained by an advertising agency in America to go in front of Congress and play this role for public consumption? It’s all a matter of public record. Bing or Google it.

      Do you need another hundred such stories? Sorry I don’t have the time. Do the research.
      Astringent
    • Putin: US Chemical Weapons Claims “Utter Nonsense"

      http://rt.com/news/putin-us-syria-evidence-249/
      Astringent
  • GovComm 55syria7b

    You people are so heartless!
    The Syrian people need our help against their heartless dictator!
    Look at how we helped Iraq, .... well then, Bosnia... errrr, how about Lybia? ... ummm look at Egypt! .... wellll errrr ummmm
    NSAagent666