Chronic Cyber Insecurity

June 11, 2021

NPR has shared the transcript of an All Things Considered interview with former NSA general counsel Glenn Gerstell in, “USAID Hack: Former NSA Official Calls U.S. Cyber Insecurity a ‘Chronic Disease.’” The exchange is not reassuring. Host Michel Martin begins with the recent news of another breach, announced by Microsoft late last month. Once again the perpetrators appear to be Russian operatives, probably the same ones that were behind the SolarWinds attack. Not that Putin will admit as much when he is confronted, as he will likely be, by President Biden at their upcoming meeting in Geneva. We note this exchange:

“MARTIN: Why do you think these attacks keep happening despite the sanctions that the Biden administration has already imposed, you know, on Russia? And do you think the government’s doing enough to protect itself against these threats and also us, the public?

“GERSTELL: Well, your question is really the key one. And I think the lesson we learn from this is that this in some ways, our cyber insecurity in this regard, is a chronic disease for which we don’t have a single cure. It’s not an illness for which there’s a particular drug that we could take to get rid of it. So unfortunately, however, we’re at the beginning end of this chronic condition. This is going to get worse before it gets better. It will ultimately get better. But in the meantime, we have sophisticated attackers, nation states and criminals who can co-opt legitimate servers and companies and computers and softwares. And this proves, unfortunately, that our current scheme of deterrents simply isn’t working.”

What will work is the multi-billion dollar question. Martin wonders whether there are any plans to regulate crypto currency. Gerstell allows that is a step that might be taken, but it would do little to disrupt either spying or the sowing of chaos generated by these types of attacks. It could, however, curtail the sort of ransomware attack that recently shut down a pipeline on the East Coast and had some fools pumping gasoline into plastic bags and other unwise receptacles. That would be something, we suppose.

Cynthia Murrell, June 11, 2021

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