Governments don't understand cyber warfare. We need hackers

The security analyst Rodrigo Bijou talks about modern conflict that is being waged online between non-state groups, activists and private corporations, and the digital landscape that is proving to be fertile ground for the recruitment and radicalization of terrorists.

Rodrigo Bijou

Bijou also urges governments to end mass surveillance programs and shutdown all “backdoors”.

The talk

Some important point from video

We all know the horrible events that unfolded in Paris this year with the Charlie Hebdo terrorist attacks. What an individual hacker or a small group of anonymous individuals did was enter those social media conversations that so many of us took part in. #JeSuisCharlie. On Facebook, on Twitter, on Google, all sorts of places where millions of people, myself included, were talking about the events and saw images like this, the emotional, poignant image of a baby with “Je suis Charlie” on its wrist. And this turned into a weapon. What the hackers did was weaponize this image, where unsuspecting victims, like all of us in those conversations, saw this image, downloaded it but it was embedded with malware. And so when you downloaded this image, it hacked your system. It took six days to deploy a global malware campaign. The divide between physical and digital domains today ceases to exist, where we have offline attacks like those in Paris appropriated for online hacks.

So in another case, Anonymous vs. Los Zetas. In early September 2011 in Mexico, Los Zetas, one of the most powerful drug cartels, hung two bloggers with a sign that said, “This is what will happen to all Internet busybodies.” A week later, they beheaded a young girl. They severed her head, put it on top of her computer with a similar note. And taking the digital counteroffensive because governments couldn’t even understand what was going on or act, Anonymous, a group we might not associate as the most positive force in the world, took action, not in cyber attacks, but threatening information to be free. On social media, they said, “We will release information that ties prosecutors and governors to corrupt drug deals with the cartel.” And escalating that conflict, Los Zetas said, “We will kill 10 people for every bit of information you release.” And so it ended there because it would become too gruesome to continue. But what was powerful about this was that anonymous individuals, not federal policia, not military, not politicians, could strike fear deep into the heart of one of the most powerful, violent organizations in the world. And so we live in an era that lacks the clarity of the past in conflict, in who we’re fighting, in the motivations behind attacks, in the tools and techniques used, and how quickly they evolve. And the question still remains: what can individuals, organizations and governments do?

And so I would say that it’s not what governments can do, it’s that they can’t. Governments today need to give up power and control in order to help make us more secure. Giving up mass surveillance and hacking and instead fixing those backdoors means that, yeah, they can’t spy on us, but neither can the Chinese or that hacker in Estonia a generation from now. And government support for technologies like Tor and Bitcoin mean giving up control, but it means that developers, translators, anybody with an Internet connection, in countries like Cuba, Iran and China, can sell their skills, their products, in the global marketplace, but more importantly sell their ideas, show us what’s happening in their own countries.

About the author

From Rodrigo’s WebSite:

I’m a security researcher currently traveling the world. My work focuses on the cross-section of intelligence, data science, and information security. I semi-regularly rant on this blog and have written pieces for the Harvard Law Review, IHS Jane’s Intelligence Review, and other stodgy outlets. In the past, I’ve worked at Palantir, embarked on a Thomas J. Watson Fellowship, been named an IAPP Global Privacy Scholar, and boxed in Thailand.

Published: March 23 2016