When Donald Trump announced that he will run for president of the United States a lot of people didn’t give him much chance. Sure, he was well known, but mostly as a somewhat controversial business magnate, not as a politician. Then, when he won the election on November 8, 2016 and was formally elected by the Electoral College a little under month and a half later, everybody’s jaws dropped.
How could this happen? Well, sociological reasons aside, it turned out that some Russian hackers may or may not be involved (depending who you’re listening to). Whether Putin did play a hand in electing the 45th president of the United States is not so much a point here (others have talked about this far and long), what is the point is that wars are no longer waged by bullets and missiles, but with malware and viruses.
Welcome to cyber warfare.
When Your Own Weapon Turns Against You
Not surprisingly, the US are one of the biggest cyber warfare players, along with Russia, China, the United Kingdom, North Korea and Iran and of course, the CIA and NSA are running the show when it comes to it.
Whether they use it for espionage (the US, for instance, tapped into German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s phone and recorded nearly every cell phone conversation in the Bahamas, Mexico, Afghanistan and several other countries), sabotage via denial-of service attacks (DoS) and distributed denial-of-service attacks (DDoS) or for propaganda (fake news), you can bet that the US government and its agencies are doing it.
The problem is, unlike “conventional” weapons, it is much easier for the enemy (known or unknown) to turn those same cyber weapons against the United States.
If some CIA or NSA hacker found a way to exploit a security flaw in your Windows, Apple, Android or Smart TV, then some Russian Federal Security Service (FSB) or Foreign Intelligence Service (SVR) agent or even some kid in Asia can do the same.
Once it’s out, that cyber weapon is really beyond control and will have no qualms as to who its master or target is.
In wanting to keep things “hush-hush” the US government has done this to itself. In other words, they released a monster into the world and have no means of bringing it back to its cage.
Why? Because the CIA decided to make its weaponized malware and other cyber warfare systems unclassified. But that’s how military generals in the War Room think when they have a secret weapon and don’t want the enemy to hear about it. The same logic doesn’t apply to viruses, malware, zero days, etc. You can’t call “malware injections” as “fires”, because there’s nothing to explode. The purpose of a malware is completely different from a, say, bomb or some other explosive ordnance. CIA wants to gather information, not destroy something with these.
But what if someone gets their hands on the CIA-created hacking code for instance? There are no legal repercussions for pirating hacking tools. By their very “unclassified” and secret nature, these are not subject to the same legal rules as your regular commercial software, program or app like video games.
The Enemy from Within
At least with conventional weapons, the US doesn’t have to worry about someone getting their hands on its nuclear missile (unless their name is Darkseid) and turning it on them that easily, but it sure as hell does have to worry about some NSA or CIA employee getting their hands on a ton of data, information and code for hacking tools.
These government workers are perhaps a bigger threat then some wannabe terrorist, as much as that sounds unlikely. Because they are already in. They don’t need to “infiltrate” or anything like that. They have access to everything.
And sure, some turn into whistleblowers like Edward Snowden or William Binney (another former NSA intelligence official), but not everyone has such noble intentions.
For example, a former contractor for Booz Allen Hamilton, which is one of the biggest CIA and NSA contractors, Harold T. Martin III managed to steal 50,000 gigabytes (GB) of classified data from the CIA and NSA, not the least of which were some source codes for hacking tools. He was indicted by the federal jury on February 8, 2017 on no less than 20 counts of mishandling classified information.
What he was going to do with all of that is anybody’s guess, but it does perfectly illustrate our point. Cyber warfare should not be played by the same rules as conventional warfare. Once a cyber-weapon is released, it’s relatively easy for the enemy, whether that’s another state like Russia, cyber-crime mafia or some kid in China with the right tools and know-how to turn this weapon against its previous owner or spread it as they please.
That’s why we’re glad that from time to time, someone exposes the CIA and what they’re doing, at least when it comes to digital spying like WikiLeaks did by releasing CIA documents called Vault 7.