Cybersecurity and Cyberwar


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?

Our interview guests are Dick Clarke and Rob Knake, who have just finished their second joint book on cybersecurity, The Fifth Domain. We talk about what they got right and wrong in their original book. There are surprising flashes of optimism from Clarke and Knake about the state of cybersecurity, and the book itself is an up-to-date survey of the policy environment. Best of all, they have the courage to propose actual policy solutions to problems that many others just admire. I disagree with about half of their proposals, so much light and some heat are shed in the interview, which I end by bringing back the McLaughlin Group tradition of rapid-fire questions and an opinionated “You’re wrong” whenever the moderator disagrees. C’mon, you know the arguments are really why you listen, so enjoy this one!


Continue Reading Episode 269: A McLaughlin Group for cybersecurity

Paul Rosenzweig leads off with This Week in China Tech Fear – an enduring and fecund feature in Washington these days. We cover the Trump Administration’s plan to blacklist up to five Chinese surveillance companies, including Hikvision, for contributing to Uighur human rights violations in the West of China, DHS’s rather

In this episode, Nick Weaver and I discuss new Internet regulations proposed in the UK. He’s mostly okay with its anti-nudge code for kids, but not with requiring proof of age to access adult material. I don’t see the problem; after all, who wouldn’t want to store their passport information with Pornhub?


Continue Reading Episode 260: Sending our passports to Pornhub

I know. That could be any national strategy written in the last 15 years. And that’s the point. In our interview, Dr. Amy Zegart and I discuss the national cyber strategy and what’s wrong with it, along with the culture clash between DOD and Silicon Valley (especially Google), and whether the Mueller report should lead to a similarly thorough investigation into how the Intelligence Community and Justice handled the allegations at the start of the Trump Administration. Plus, Amy answers this burning question: “If a banana republic is a country where losing an election means getting criminally investigated, what do you call a country where winning an election means you get criminally investigated?”


Continue Reading Episode 256: National Bloviation Strategy

Our interview is with two men who overcame careers as lawyers and journalists to become serial entrepreneurs now trying to solve the “fake news” problem. Gordon Crovitz and Steve Brill co-founded NewsGuard to rate news sites on nine journalistic criteria. Using, of all things, real people instead of algorithms. By the end of the interview, I’ve confessed myself a reluctant convert to the effort. This is despite NewsGuard’s treatment of Instapundit, which Gordon Crovitz and I both read regularly but which has not received a green check.


Continue Reading Episode 253: Where angels fear to tread: NewsGuard takes on fake news

We interview Dmitri Alperovitch of CrowdStrike on the company’s 2019 Global Threat Report, which features a ranking of Western cyber adversaries based on how long it takes each of them to turn a modest foothold into code execution on a compromised network. The Russians put up truly frightening numbers – from foothold to execution in less than twenty minutes – but the real surprise is the North Koreans, who clock in at 2:20. The Chinese take the bronze at just over 4 hours. Dmitri also gives props to a newcomer – South Korea – whose skills are substantial.


Continue Reading Episode 252: In the cyber adversary Olympics, it’s Russia for the gold and North Korea (!) for the silver