Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Breaking: Cyber Attack on US Federal, South Korean Sites (UPDATED)

Via the AP comes this sobering story about an unusually sophisticated and tenacious DDoS attack on several notable web sites:

The Treasury Department, Secret Service, Federal Trade Commission and Transportation Department Web sites were all down at varying points over the holiday weekend and into this week, according to officials inside and outside the government. Some of the sites were still experiencing problems Tuesday evening. Cyber attacks on South Korea government and private sites also may be linked, officials there said.

This is a very worrisome business, and both the timing and the targets lend themselves to some very uncomfortable speculations as to possible sources of the attack. For all the brayings out of Pyongyang about 'fireworks' for the Fourth of July, the North Koreans "only" popped off a few mid-range missiles. Is is possible that the main thrust of their attack was not chemical/kinetic at all? If so, then it was a clever if foolhardy feint on Kim's part. Clever, in that the US deployed missile tracking hardware to the region, poised to interdict anything which threatened Hawaii or any other interests of the US or its allies, and thus would have been successfully misdirected. Foolhardy in that a traceable attack on US Government computer systems would be difficult for even the Obama Administration to treat as anything but a blatant act of war.

This is only speculation at this point, and should be taken with a shaker of salt. The bar should be set very high for making any accusations, since the consequences could not fail to be dire.

UPDATE: Here is a follow-up on the investigation into these incidents. It highlights the difficulties in tracing the ultimate origins of the attacks (not to mention who gave the go-ahead and signed the checks). I'm thinking plausible deniability, here. If the provenance of the plot can be credibly held to be uncertain, then the range of responses remains rather broader than it would be if a clearly demonstrable hostile act, with Li'l Kim as its author, could be unambiguously established.

As much as I would love to see that demented homunculus on the receiving end of a JDAM, I also recognize that a hot war in the region would be Very Bad News. Almost as bad as having such a blatant act of aggression go publicly unanswered.

For those with eyes to see, though, the intentions and capabilities of the Putz from Pyongyang have become rather more clear. If (big "if") this should result in firmer ties with South Korea, and perhaps a less laissez-faire stance from Beijing, then it would be worth it to keep this on a cooler, more covert tip.

If nothing else, I hope it spurs more aggressive attention to cyber-war countermeasures!

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