For the first time in twenty years, the Justice Department is finally free to campaign for the encryption access bill it has always wanted. Sens. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), Tom Cotton (R-Ark.), and Marsha Blackburn (R-Tenn.) introduced the Lawful Access To Encrypted Data Act. (Ars Technica, Press Release) As Nick
J.P. Morgan once responded to President Teddy Roosevelt’s charge that he’d violated federal antitrust law by saying, “If we have done anything wrong, send your man to see my man, and we’ll fix it up.” That used to be the gold standard for monopolist arrogance in dealing with government, but Google and Apple have put J.P. Morgan in the shade with their latest instruction to the governments of the world: You can’t use our app to trace COVID-19 infections unless you promise not to use it for quarantine or law enforcement purposes. They are only able to do this because the two companies have more or less 99% of the phone OS market. That’s more control than Morgan had of US railways, and their dominance apparently allows them to say, “If you think we’ve done something wrong, don’t bother to send your man; ours is too busy to meet.” Nate Jones and I discuss the question of Silicon Valley overreach in this episode. (In that vein, I apologize unreservedly to John D. Rockefeller, to whom I mistakenly attributed the quote.) The sad result is that a promising technological adjunct to contact tracing has been delayed and muddled by ideological engineers to the point where it isn’t likely to be deployed and used in a timely way.
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!
Bloomberg Businessweek’s claim that the Chinese buggered Supermicro motherboards leads off our News Roundup. The story is controversial not because it couldn’t happen and not because the Chinese wouldn’t do it but because the story has been denied by practically everyone close to the controversy, including DHS. Bloomberg Businessweek stands by the story. Maybe it’s time for the law, in the form of a libel action, to ride to the rescue.
In this news-only episode, Nick Weaver and I muse over the outing of a GRU colonel for the nerve agent killings in the United Kingdom. I ask the question that is surely being debated inside MI6 today: Now that he’s been identified, should British intelligence make it their business to execute Col. Chepiga?