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Wash. Post: U.S. Intelligence Plants Malware on Gov’t Computers Worldwide

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Stuxnet, a computer worm reportedly developed by the United States and Israel that destroyed Iranian nuclear centrifuges in attacks in 2009 and 2010, is often cited as the most dramatic use of a cyberweapon. Experts said no other known cyberattacks carried out by the United States match the physical damage inflicted in that case.

Of the 231 offensive operations conducted in 2011, the budget said, nearly three-quarters were against top-priority targets, which former officials say includes adversaries such as Iran, Russia, China and North Korea and activities such as nuclear proliferation. The document provided few other details about the operations.

U.S. intelligence services are making routine use around the world of government-built malware that differs little in function from the “advanced persistent threats” that U.S. officials attribute to China.

“To the NSA as a whole, the ROC is where the hackers live,” said a former operator from another section who has worked closely with the exploitation teams. “It’s basically the one-stop shop for any kind of active operation that’s not defensive.”

Once the hackers find a hole in an adversary’s defense, “[t]argeted systems are compromised electronically, typically providing access to system functions as well as data. System logs and processes are modified to cloak the intrusion, facilitate future access, and accomplish other operational goals,” according to a 570-page budget blueprint for what the government calls its Consolidated Cryptologic Program, which includes the NSA.

Teams from the FBI, the CIA and U.S. Cyber Command work alongside the ROC, with overlapping missions and legal authorities. So do the operators from the NSA’s National Threat Operations Center, whose mission is focused primarily on cyber­defense. That was Snowden’s job as a Booz Allen Hamilton contractor, and it required him to learn the NSA’s best hacking techniques.

According to one key document, the ROC teams give Cyber Command “specific target related technical and operational material (identification/recognition), tools and techniques that allow the employment of U.S. national and tactical specific computer network attack mechanisms.”

Most GENIE operations aim for “exploitation” of foreign systems, a term defined in the intelligence budget summary as “surreptitious virtual or physical access to create and sustain a presence inside targeted systems or facilities.” The document adds: “System logs and processes are modified to cloak the intrusion, facilitate future access, and accomplish other operational goals.”

The NSA designs most of its own implants, but it devoted $25.1 million this year to “additional covert purchases of software vulnerabilities” from private malware vendors, a growing gray-market industry based largely in Europe.

The budget documents cast U.S. attacks as integral to cyber­defense — describing them in some cases as “active defense.”

“If you’re neutralizing someone’s nuclear command and control, that’s a huge attack,” said one former defense official. The greater the physical effect, officials said, the less likely it is that an intrusion can remain hidden.

China and Russia are regarded as the most formidable cyber­threats, and it is not always easy to tell who works for whom. China’s offensive operations are centered in the Technical Reconnaissance Bureau of the People’s Liberation Army, but U.S. intelligence has come to believe that those state-employed hackers by day return to work at night for personal profit, stealing valuable U.S. defense industry secrets and selling them.

Iran is a distant third in capability but is thought to be more strongly motivated to retaliate for Stuxnet with an operation that would not only steal information but erase it and attempt to damage U.S. hardware.

The “most challenging targets” to penetrate are the same in cyber-operations as for all other forms of data collection described in the intelligence budget: Iran, North Korea, China and Russia. GENIE and ROC operators place special focus on locating suspected terrorists “in Afghanistan, Pakistan, Yemen, Iraq, Somalia, and other extremist safe havens,” according to one list of priorities.

The growth of Tailored Access Operations at the NSA has been accompanied by a major expansion of the CIA’s Information Operations Center, or IOC.

http://www.washingtonpost.com/world/national-security/us-spy-agencies-mounted-231-offensive-cyber-operations-in-2011-documents-show/2013/08/30/d090a6ae-119e-11e3-b4cb-fd7ce041d814_story.html

Written by voiceoftruthusa

August 31, 2013 at 8:37 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

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