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NATO's cyber-brains gaze at the future of war
by Staff Writers
Tallinn (AFP) April 24, 2010

McAfee says rogue anti-virus slipped past quality check
San Francisco (AFP) April 23, 2010 - Web computer security firm McAfee blamed fresh changes to a quality control system for the release of a flawed anti-virus update that sabotaged computers worldwide. "The problem arose during the testing process for this DAT file," McAfee executive vice president of worldwide technical support and customer service Barry McPherson said in an online message late Thursday. "We recently made a change to our QA (quality assurance) environment that resulted in a faulty DAT making its way out of our test environment and onto customer systems. The computer software security file sent out as an update Wednesday confused a valid Windows file with a virus, sending machines around the globe into endless reboot cycles.

"To prevent this from happening again, we are implementing additional QA protocols for any releases that directly impact critical system files," McPherson said. "On behalf of McAfee, I'm very sorry for how you may have been impacted by the faulty DAT file update." Universities, hospitals and businesses across the United States were among those reporting problems after the update misidentified a valid Windows system file as malicious code and disrupted computers. The problem hit corporate users of Microsoft's Windows XP Service Pack 3 operating system, according to McAfee, which released another update later in the day to fix the problem and urged customers to download it. The Internet Storm Center, an initiative of the SANS Technology Institute which monitors problems on the Web, said "the affected systems will enter a reboot loop and lose all network access."

The center said it received reports of "networks with thousands of down machines and organizations who had to shut down for business until this is fixed." The McAfee software slip "pretty much took Intel down today," said analyst Rob Enderle of Enderle Group in Silicon Valley. Enderle told of being at the computer chip titan's headquarters in Northern California for an afternoon of meetings when laptop computers began crashing around him. "McAfee team members have been working around the clock to fix the problem and work with impacted customers," McPherson said. "We estimate that the majority of the affected systems are back up and running at this time and more systems are coming back online quickly." McAfee early Thursday released a "SuperDAT Remediation Tool" that could be used to fix the anti-virus problem.

McAfee initially estimated that the incident has impacted less than one half of one percent of its consumer base and business accounts globally. Santa Clara, California-based McAfee is one of the world's leading providers of anti-virus software and computer security systems. "I'm a tech and it's been really busy today; been running around like crazy," a person using the screen name 'fatgeek' said in a thank you note at a McAfee online community page. "I've made quite a lot of cash since you didn't test your DAT file." Ironically, hackers were taking advantage of the computer security firm's gaff to trick people into visiting websites promising information or fixes but actually delivering malicious software that infects machines.

Behind the walls of a high-security lab, the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation's top cyber-minds are trying to predict the evolution of conflict in an Internet-dependent world.

While they play down disaster-movie scenarios of total meltdown, experts warn cyber-attacks will be part and parcel of future fighting.

Tallinn is home to a cutting-edge unit known in NATO-speak as the Cooperative Cyber Defence Centre of Excellence. The city is the capital of Estonia, whose flourishing hi-tech industry has earned it the label "E-Stonia".

"Definitely from the cyber-space perspective, I think we've gone further than we imagined in science fiction," said Ilmar Tamm, the Estonian colonel at its helm.

Its base is a 1905 building where military communications experts have toiled away since the days of carrier pigeons and the telegraph.

The centre's dozens of experts second-guess potential adversaries, gazing into what they dub the "fifth battlespace", after land, sea, air and space.

"The whole myriad and complex area makes it a very difficult problem to solve, and at the same time it keeps a very convenient grey area for the bad guys," explained Tamm.

"Many states have realised that this is really something that can be used as a weapon... That we should not ignore. It will have a future impact," he said.

"I'm not so naive that I'd say conventional warfare will go away. But we should expect it to be more combined," he added.

Bitter experience taught Estonia -- one of the world's most wired places and a NATO member since 2004 -- all about cyber-conflict.

The minnow country of 1.3 million people suffered blistering attacks in 2007 which took down business and government web-based services for days.

"It clearly heralded the beginning of a new era," its Defence Minister Jaak Aaviksoo told AFP.

"It had all the characteristics of cyber-crime growing into a national security threat. It was a qualitative change, and that clicked in very many heads," he added.

The assault came as Estonian authorities controversially shifted a Soviet-era war memorial from central Tallinn to a military cemetery.

The monument, erected when Moscow took over after World War II, following independence in 1991 became a flashpoint for disputes about the past with Estonia's ethnic-Russian minority.

Tallinn was rocked by riots as the memorial was moved. Estonia blamed Russia for stoking the strife, and also claimed the cyber-offensive had been traced to official servers in Moscow.

Russia, whose relations with Estonia are rocky, denied involvement.

For Aaviksoo, cyber-attacks may "present a stand-alone security threat or a combined security threat".

An example of the latter, he noted, came during Russia's 2008 war with ex-Soviet Georgia, as hackers hit Georgian websites while Moscow's troops moved in.

"Cyber-security, cyber-defence and cyber-offence are here to stay. This is a fact of life," Aaviksoo said.

In a report this month, Canadian researchers said a China-based network had stolen Indian military secrets, hacked the Dalai Lama's office and hit computers around the world.

A University of Toronto team traced the attacks to servers in Chengdu, China, but could not identify the culprits. Chengdu is home to Chinese military communications intelligence units.

"Some reports have, from time to time, been heard of insinuating or criticising the Chinese government... I have no idea what evidence they have or what motives lie behind," Chinese Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Jiang Yu said.

Proving a formal state role in cyber-attacks is close to impossible, because of their fluid nature.

"We're seeing opportunism in terms of citizens bandwagoning on these big events. The role of the state in this is all rather mysterious," said Rex Hughes of the Chatham House think-tank in London.

"I'm sceptical that we'll see an actual cyber-war, where countries will exclusively attack one another over the Internet," he said.

"It remains to be seen if the great cyber Pearl Harbor or 9/11 comes," he added.


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US Needs New National Strategy In Era Of Cyberaggression
Cincinnati OH (SPX) Apr 21, 2010
Deterrence won't work as a posture for protecting the United States from those who use cyberaggression to damage the country. So says a new paper from UC, which suggests that to remain safe in cyberspace, the U.S. must be more prepared to go on the offensive. The nominee to head the Pentagon's new CyberCommand testified in front of Congress late last week that employing Cold War strategies ... read more

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