NSA cyber spying on China not a surprise, but it's not ho-hum, either (+video)
NSA chief says leaks about US cyber spying on China, and techniques for doing it, will impair intelligence-gathering. Others play that down, saying the more significant hit will be to relations with China and to US global work on behalf of a free and open Internet.
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"I don't know what specific information they were looking for on these machines, only that using technical exploits to gain unauthorized access to civilian machines is a violation of law. It's ethically dubious," Snowden said in the South China Morning Post interview published Friday.Skip to next paragraph
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Snowden also claimed that the NSA has conducted more than 61,000 hacking operations worldwide, according to Wednesday editions of the South China Morning Post. He disclosed the information, he said, to show “the hypocrisy of the US government when it claims that it does not target civilian infrastructure, unlike its adversaries.”
"The primary issue of public importance to Hong Kong and mainland China should be that the NSA is illegally seizing the communications of tens of millions of individuals without any individualized suspicion of wrongdoing," Snowden elaborated in the Morning Post interview that appeared Friday online. "They simply steal everything so they can search for any topics of interest."
Such revelations come on the heels of talks earlier this month between President Obama and China's President Xi Jinping that focused in part on US concerns about Chinese cyberespionage directed at US businesses. A new US-China cyber working group is expected to urge China to curb its cyberespionage against American businesses and US critical infrastructure. But the US delegation may now find its job much tougher, cyber policy experts say.
“Current leaks are certainly untimely from a US political perspective,” says Mr. Logan. “It certainly puts a big dent in the US position in these new US-China talks on cyberespionage."
Others, however, suggest that US cyberspy tradecraft will sustain a hit at least as severe as that to diplomatic relations.
“The [diplomatic] damage is pretty limited, as most countries assumed we were doing this and many of them do it themselves,” writes James Lewis, a cybersecurity expert at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington. “The damage to [intelligence] collection may take years to rebuild; the damage to the US international position is limited, since no one was surprised.”
The technical details that Snowden divulged concerning the router hacks mean the US ability to conduct cyberespionage using that particular tactic could be lost, or least crimped.
"Great harm has already been done by opening this up," Gen. Keith Alexander, chief of the NSA and head of US Cyber Command, told members of the Senate Appropriations Committee Thursday. "There is no doubt in my mind that we will lose capabilities as a result of this."
Some cyberespionage experts, however, say the NSA's bag of tricks is deep – so the damage to cyberintelligence-gathering may be overstated.
“Look, the NSA has a lot of cyber capability globally, so while this single revelation gives the agency a bruise, no doubt, it doesn’t damage the agency that greatly,” says John Bumgarner, a cyberweapons expert and former intelligence officer who has done work for the NSA. “During the 1970s, the NSA had damaging leaks, but they still kept growing. The NSA has been harvesting information like this for a long time, and will for a long time into the future.”
Logan concurs. “The NSA employs several thousand pretty skilled hackers,” he says. “So I don’t think these disclosures really change that much for them –or for China. The only one that’s wiser after all this is the public at large.”