No surprise, no indignation

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26 March 2014 | 0

We recently carried the reports that the US National Security Agency (NSA) was accused of hacking into the systems of telecoms and networking giant Huawei, with the intention of planting ‘back doors’ in its equipment software.

This accusation comes in the context of both Huawei and ZTE being out of favour for contracts in the US, and various other countries, for purportedly having back doors in its equipment to allow its own state security services access.

Unsurprisingly, Huawei responded with its global cyber security officer, John Suffolk saying that if the reports are true, the company “condemns such activities” that “invaded and infiltrated” its internal corporate network and communications.

I must admit that I would have been a little more taken aback had I not only recently attended an event where recognised expert in the field of Chinese cybersecurity capabilities Bill Hagestad openly accused the Chinese state of supporting citizen hacking, despite being unable to control it, and naming Huawei in particular among Chinese companies that were proving difficult to deal with when it comes to intellectual property.

Now, I can’t say whether Huawei equipment has back doors, or whether it has ever misappropriated another company’s intellectual property, but I can say that I am unsurprised that the NSA would use an offensive capability to seek to compromise a perceived threat.

The upshot of this is clear: any government worth its salt has an offensive cyberespionage capability and is using it now, in any way it sees fit. That means internally, externally and probably against its own allies, as we have seen with the US and various European states, including Germany, and more.

The release of conversations between US diplomats talking about the Ukraine crisis, and now the further revelations from talks between Ukrainian leaders show that Russia is in the game deep too, and probably, along with China, employs a fair number of citizen operatives that can be employed and yet plausibly denied when the heat intensifies.

This brings me back to a previous point that suggest we should assume, as businesses, that we are being monitored, people know what is being said within our organisations and unless encrypted to a fairly high level, our communications can be intercepted and read.

“On the one hand, there is a need for awareness so that law enforcement office can do its job and ensure that data necessary for informed decision making is accessible, but on the other hand, there is a need to protect privacy and prevent snooping, whether malicious or just misguided”

And as I write, there is a storm growing for the An Garda Síochána regarding the recording of telephone calls within stations going back what could be decades.

All of this reveals not only a poor awareness of the technologies involved, but also of the responsibilities involved in terms of data protection, privacy and even the rule of law.

How many other companies are out there that perhaps monitor employee, or even customer, activity without knowing whether it is explicitly legal or not.

As with the recent report on Gardaí accessing the PULSE system to get information on celebrities and persons of note, there seems to be a lack of awareness of responsibility.

On the one hand, there is a need for awareness so that law enforcement office can do its job and ensure that data necessary for informed decision making is accessible, but on the other hand, there is a need to protect privacy and prevent snooping, whether malicious or just misguided.

All of these revelations, of state hacking, corporate collusion, law enforcement data breaches and general lack of respect for privacy demonstrates that the technology is not really the issue — people are the issue.

Without proper education and awareness, from the shop owner with a camera where it should not be to a corporation passing on information it should not, or a government monitoring private citizens without due cause or process, these situations will persist and the victims every time will be ordinary people who find they are at a distinct disadvantage.

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