Cybersecurity and Cyberwar

This episode features an in-depth (and occasionally contentious) interview with Bart Gellman about his new book, Dark Mirror: Edward Snowden and the American Surveillance State, which can be found on his website and on Amazon. I’m tagged in the book as having been sharply critical of Gellman’s Snowden stories, and I live

Peter Singer continues his excursion into what he calls “useful fiction” – thrillers that explore real-world implications of emerging technologies – in Burn-In: A Novel of the Real Robotic Revolution, to be released May 26, 2020. This interview explores a thoroughly researched (and footnoted!) host of new technologies, many already in production or on the horizon, all packed inside a plot-driven novel. The book is a painless way to understand what these technologies make possible and their impact on actual human beings. And the interview ranges widely over the policy implications, plus a few plot spoilers.


Continue Reading Episode 316: Our AI Future – Sexbots, Toilet Drones, and Robocops?

In today’s interview, I spar with Harriet Moynihan over the application of international law to cyberattacks, a topic on which she has written with clarity and in detail. We disagree politely but profoundly. I make the case that international law is distinct from what works in cyberspace and is inconsistent with either clarity or effectiveness in deterring cyberattacks. Harriet argues that international law has been a central principle of the post-1945 international system and one that has helped to keep a kind of peace among nations. It’s a good exchange.


Continue Reading Episode 313: Is the international law of cyberwar a thing?

The Cyberspace Solarium Commission’s report was released into the teeth of the COVID-19 crisis and hasn’t attracted the press it probably deserved. But the commissioners included four sitting Congressmen who plan to push for adoption of its recommendations. And the Commission is going to be producing more material – and probably more press attention – over the coming weeks. In this episode, I interview Sen. Angus King, co-chair of the Commission, and Dr. Samantha Ravich, one of the commissioners.

We focus almost exclusively on what the Commission’s recommendations mean for the private sector. The Commission has proposed a remarkably broad range of cybersecurity measures for business. The Commission recommends a new products liability regime for assemblers of final goods (including software) who don’t promptly patch vulnerabilities. It proposes two new laws requiring notice not only of personal data breaches but also of other significant cyber incidents. It calls for a federal privacy and security law – without preemption. It updates Sarbanes-Oxley to include cybersecurity principles. And lest you think the Commission is in love with liability, it also proposed liability immunities for critical infrastructure owners operating under government supervision during a crisis. We cover all these proposals, plus the Commission’s recommendation of a new role for the Intelligence Community in providing support to critical US companies.


Continue Reading Episode 311: What the Cyberspace Solarium Report Means for the Private Sector

That’s the question I debate with David Kris and Nick Weaver as we explore the ways in which governments are using location data to fight the spread of COVID-19. Phone location data is being used to enforce quarantines and to track contacts with infected people. It’s useful for both, but Nick thinks the second application may not really be ready for a year – too late for this outbreak.

Our interview subject is Jason Healey, who has a long history with Cyber Command and a deep recent oeuvre of academic commentary on cyber conflict. Jay explains Cyber Command’s doctrine of “persistent engagement” and “defending forward” in words that I finally understand. It makes sense in terms of Cyber Command’s aspirations as well as the limitations it labored under in the Obama Administration, but I end up wondering whether it’s going to be different from “deterrence through having the best offense.” Nothing wrong with that, in my view – as long as you have the best offense by a long shot, something that is by no means proven.


Continue Reading Episode 307: Is privacy in pandemics like atheism in foxholes?

If your podcast feed has suddenly become a steady diet of more or less the same COVID-19 stories, here’s a chance to listen to cyber experts talk about what they know about – cyberlaw. Our interview is with Elsa Kania, adjunct senior fellow at the Center for a New American Security and one of the most prolific students of China, technology, and national security. We talk about the relative strengths and weaknesses of the artificial intelligence ecosystems in the two countries.


Continue Reading Episode 306: The (almost) COVID-19-free episode

We interview Ben Buchanan about his new book, The Hacker and the State: Cyber Attacks and the New Normal of Geopolitics. This is Ben’s second book and second interview on the podcast about international conflict and cyber weapons. It’s safe to say that America’s strategic posture hasn’t improved. We face more adversaries with more tools and a considerably greater appetite for cyber adventurism. Ben recaps some of the stories that were undercovered in the US press when they occurred. The second large attack on Ukraine’s grid, for example, was little noticed during the US election of 2016, but it appears more ominous after a recent analysis of the tools used, and perhaps most importantly, those available to the GRU but not used. Meanwhile, the US is not making much progress in cyberspace on the basic requirement of a great power, which is making our enemies fear us.


Continue Reading Episode 301: Ratchet to Disaster

In breaking news from 1995, the Washington Post takes advantage of a leaked CIA history paper to retell the remarkable tale of Crypto AG, a purveyor of encryption products to dozens of governments – and allegedly a wholly controlled subsidiary of US and German intelligence. Nick Weaver, Paul Rosenzweig, and I are astonished at the derring-do and unapologetic enthusiasm for intelligence collection. I mean, really: The Pope?

This week’s interview is with Jonathan Reiber, a writer and strategist in Oakland, California, and former Chief Strategy Officer for Cyber Policy and Speechwriter at the Department of Defense, currently senior advisor at Technology for Global Security and visiting scholar at the UC Berkeley Center for Long-Term Cybersecurity. His recent report offers a candid view of strained relations between Silicon Valley and the Pentagon. The interview explores the reasons for that strain, the importance of bridging the gap, and how that can best be done.


Continue Reading Episode 300: Wiretapping the Pope

This episode is a wide-ranging interview with Andy Greenberg, author of Sandworm: A New Era of Cyberwar and the Hunt for the Kremlin’s Most Dangerous Hackers. The book contains plenty of original reporting, served up with journalistic flair. It digs deep into some of the most startling and destructive cyberattacks of recent years, from two dangerous attacks on Ukraine’s power grid, to the multibillion-dollar NotPetya, and then to a sophisticated but largely failed effort to bring down the Seoul Olympics and pin the blame on North Korea. Apart from sophisticated coding and irresponsibly indiscriminate targeting, all these episodes have one thing in common. They are all the work of Russia’s GRU.

Andy persuasively sets out the attribution and then asks what kind of corporate culture supports such adventurism – and whether there is a strategic vision behind the GRU’s attacks. The interview convinced me at least that the GRU is pursuing a strategy of muscular nihilism – “our system doesn’t work, but yours too is based on fragile illusions.” It’s a kind of global cyber intifada, with all the dangers and all the self-defeating tactics of the original intifadas. Don’t disagree until you’ve listened!


Continue Reading Episode 286: Sandworm and the GRU’s global intifada

Our interview is with Alex Joel, former Chief of the Office of Civil Liberties, Privacy, and Transparency at the Office of the Director of National Intelligence. Alex is now at the American University law school’s Tech, Law, and Security Program. We share stories about the difficulties of government startups and how the ODNI carved out a role for itself in the Intelligence Community (hint: It involved good lawyering). We dive pretty deep on recent FISA court opinions and the changes they forced in FBI procedures. In the course of that discussion, I realize that every “reform” of intelligence dreamed up by Congress in the last decade has turned out to be a self-licking compliance trap, and I take back some of my praise for the DNI’s lawyering.


Continue Reading Episode 283: Is intelligence “reform” a self-licking ice cream cone and compliance trap?