President Obama and Chinese President Xi Jinping are currently edging their ways around one another at a summit in California largely focusing on the quickly metastasizing problem of invasive cyberattacks, but China isn’t the only country that has its sights set on intruding into the many commercial and government computer systems of the United States.
As I mentioned a couple of weeks back, Iranian-based hackers are also taking a turn at digitally forcing their way into, among other things, the U.S. energy grid — and officials reckon that, because of their openly hostile and disruptive intent, the Iranian hackers’ smaller and less sophisticated operation might actually pose a bigger security threat than even China’s hackers.
Now, reports the New York Times, the Obama administration is starting to help other Middle Eastern countries beef up their own defenses against Iran’s growing arsenal of cyber weapons, and is looking to do the same in Asia to help out allies with cyberattacks from North Korea:
The American officials would not say which countries in the Persian Gulf have signed up for help in countering Iran’s computer abilities. But the list, some officials say, includes the nations that have been the most active in tracking Iranian arms shipments, intercepting them in ports and providing intelligence to the United States about Iranian actions. The three most active in that arena are Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain.
In Asia, the countries most worried about being struck by North Korean computer attacks are South Korea and Japan. …
The presidential directive included the declaration that the United States reserved the right to take “anticipatory action” against “imminent threats,” a reference, it seemed, to the kind of crippling infrastructure attacks that Iran appears to be working on against American and allied targets. …
But deterring cyberattacks is a far more complex problem, and American officials concede that this effort, which will include providing computer hardware and software and training to allies, is an experiment. It has been propelled by two high-profile attacks in the past year. One was against Saudi Aramco, Saudi Arabia’s largest, state-run oil producer, and according to American officials it was carried out by Iran. That attack crippled 30,000 computers but did not succeed in halting oil production. The other, an attack on South Korea’s banking and media companies this spring, was later attributed to North Korea. It froze the ability of several banks to operate for days.
The Obama administration has been increasingly tailoring their defensive operations for the brave new world of cyberwarfare that does seem to be fast approaching. Just like the Pentagon might have the military practice naval exercises to keep everyone on the cutting edge of preparedness, joint cyberwar games are going to be increasingly implemented into regular defense operations — although the United States will only be helping allies to develop skills to defend against hostile attacks on their military and critical infrastructure, and will not be sharing any of its offensive cyberweapons.
Iran and North Korea’s hacking prowess is still far beneath the powers of the United States, Israel, China, and others, but they have lately been accelerating their efforts, and they very clearly have belligerence in mind.