With ‘hunt forward’ ops, democracies strike back

Across the ever-expanding galaxy of the internet, it’s interesting how relationships grow and take shape according to their purpose.

In the way ransomware gangs can function as an extension of an authoritarian state, attacking economic targets of democracies at will, democratic cyber forces have found their way to leverage the network effect for defensive purposes: they’re called “hunt forward” operations.

(credit svgsilh cc)

Rather than wait around for infrastructure to be attacked, as has been the custom, US cyber forces partner with the cyber defence forces of friendly nations and look for trouble. You could claim it is akin to a search and destroy operation, but with some key differences. It’s search and destroy waged from the friendly ridges of allies. And, like everything online, it’s Janus-faced. Not only does it re-enforce the defensive muscle of allies like Lithuania, or that larger country much further to the south, Ukraine, but the spoils of the operation support the broader cause of cyber security.

As this cybercom release makes clear:

“…cyber operators sit side-by-side with the partner and hunt on the networks of the host nation’s choosing, looking for bad cyber activity and vulnerabilities. These insights are shared with the host nation and then brought back to share with public and private sector networks– bolstering homeland defense before those adversary tactics, techniques, and procedures may be used against the US.”

The information passes easily from cyber defender to partner cyber defender, then right back to the private sector who are in the position to take some of the most effective and lasting action.

US Cybercom commander General Paul Nakasone, who has been key to pushing this strategy, said hunt forward operations are “so powerful… because of the fact that we see our adversaries and we expose their tools”.

“If you’re an adversary, and you’ve just spent a lot of money on a tool, and you’re hoping to utilise it readily in a number of different intrusions, suddenly it’s outed and it’s now been signatured across a broad range of networks, and suddenly you’ve lost your ability to do that.”

Now that I’ve introduced the term, here is a link to the song ‘Search and Destroy’ by the Stooges.

Manifesto of Congress for Cultural Freedom

Drafted by Arthur Koestler, who delivered it in Berlin in 1950.

1. We hold it to be self-evident that intellectual freedom is one of the inalienable rights of man.

2. Such freedom is defined first and foremost by his right to hold and express his own opinions, and particularly opinions which differ from those of his rulers. Deprived of the right to say “no,” man becomes a slave.

3. Freedom and peace are inseparable. In any country, under any regime, the overwhelming majority of ordinary people fear and oppose war. The danger of war becomes acute when governments, by suppressing democratic representative institutions, deny to the majority the means of imposing its will to peace.

Peace can be maintained only if each government submits to the control and inspection of its acts by the people whom it governs, and agrees to submit all questions immediately involving the risk of war to a representative international authority, by whose decisions it will abide.

4. We hold that the main reason for the present insecurity of the world is the policy of governments which, while paying lip-service to peace, refuse to accept this double control. Historical experience proves that wars can be prepared and waged under any slogan, including that of peace. Campaigns for peace which are not backed by acts that will guarantee its maintenance are like counterfeit currency circulated for dishonest purposes. Intellectual sanity and physical security can only return to the world if such practices are abandoned.

5. Freedom is based on the toleration of divergent opinions. The principle of toleration does not logically permit the practice of intolerance.

6. No political philosophy or economic theory can claim the sole right to represent freedom in the abstract. We hold that the value of such theories is to be judged by the range of concrete freedom which they accord the individual in practice.

We likewise hold that no race, nation, class or religion can claim the sole right to represent the idea of freedom, nor the right to deny freedom to other groups or creeds in the name of any ultimate ideal or lofty aim whatsoever. We hold that the historical contribution of any society is to be judged by the extent and quality of the freedom which its members actually enjoy.

7. In times of emergency, restrictions on the freedom of the individual are imposed in the real or assumed interest of the community. We hold it to be essential that such restrictions be confined to a minimum of clearly specified actions; that they be understood to be temporary and limited expedients in the nature of a sacrifice; and that the measures restricting freedom be themselves subject to free criticism and democratic control. Only thus can we have a reasonable assurance that emergency measures restricting individual freedom will not degenerate into a permanent tyranny.

8. In totalitarian states restrictions on freedom are no longer intended and publicly understood as sacrifices imposed on the people, but are, on the contrary, represented as triumphs of progress and achievements of a superior civilisation. We hold that both the theory and practice of these regimes run counter to the basic rights of the individual and the fundamental aspirations of mankind as a whole.

9. We hold the danger represented by these regimes to be all the greater since their means of enforcement far surpasses that of all previous tyrannies in the history of mankind. The citizen of the totalitarian state is expected and forced not only to abstain from crime but to conform in all his thoughts and actions to a prescribed pattern. Citizens are persecuted and condemned on such unspecified and all-embracing charges as “enemies of the people” or “socially unreliable elements.”

10. We hold that there can be no stable world so long as mankind, with regard to freedom, remains divided into “haves” and “have-nots.”  The defence of existing freedoms, the reconquest of lost freedoms, and the creation of new freedoms are parts of the same struggle.

11. We hold that the theory and practice of the totalitarian state are the greatest challenge which man has been called on to meet in the course of civilised history.

12. We hold that indifference or neutrality in the face of such a challenge amounts to a betrayal of mankind and to the abdication of the free mind. Our answers to this challenge may decide the fate of man for generations.

13. The defence of intellectual liberty today imposes a positive obligation: to offer new and constructive answers to the problems of our time.

14. We address this manifesto to all men who are determined to regain those liberties which they have lost and to preserve and extend those which they enjoy.

‘Waging the truth in the public domain’: the 36-star memo

The US decision to declassify intel around Ukraine and forewarn the global public may be more consequential than almost any decision platforms have made to limit disinformation since 2016. This is in part because the US decision is net positive for information and narratives. While the platform decisions simply makes room for the next round of conspiracy theory and disinformation content to fill them.

I’ve gone back to piece together as best I can the fragments of sentences from the 2020 letter signed by nine four-star generals, asking the US intelligence community to make this change. 

If democracy can survive this moment, this letter – dubbed the 36-star-memo – could come to be seen as a turning point. It’s to the credit of the generals to be imaginative enough to ask for this. 

From NBC

The US can bolster support from allies only by “waging the truth in the public domain against America’s 21st century challengers…”

“We request this help to better enable the US, and by extension its allies and partners, to win without fighting, to fight now in so-called gray zones, and to supply ammunition in the ongoing war of narratives…

“Unfortunately, we continue to miss opportunities to clarify truth, counter distortions, puncture false narratives, and influence events in time to make a difference…” 

From Politico:

“China and Russia are employing all instruments of comprehensive national power to execute political warfare, manipulate the information environment, violate the sovereignty of nations, co-opt international bodies, weaken the integrity of multilateral institutions, and splinter our alliances and partnerships. Their efforts to reshape the world in their image, proliferate authoritarianism, and advance their ambitions are provocative, dangerous, and destabilizing.”

From MSN:

“The severity and pace of the information challenge…will take active and prolonged engagement…to accelerate a transformation to meet the volume, variety, veracity, and velocity of information ammunition that we require.”

‘Full-scale offensive against Ukraine’s government and critical infrastructure’

Some of the first evidence of the scale of the cyber conflict going on over Ukraine appears in this release from Microsoft. The key lines are:

“Before the Russian invasion, our teams began working around the clock to help organizations in Ukraine, including government agencies, defend against an onslaught of cyberwarfare that has escalated since the invasion began and has continued relentlessly.”

“Since then, we have observed nearly all of Russia’s nation-state actors engaged in the ongoing full-scale offensive against Ukraine’s government and critical infrastructure, and we continue to work closely with government and organizations of all kinds in Ukraine to help them defend against this onslaught. “

Full statement here:

https://blogs.microsoft.com/on-the-issues/2022/04/07/cyberattacks-ukraine-strontium-russia/