Thursday, January 25, 2018

Reuters Story: "Tech Firms let Russia probe software widely used by U.S. Government"

Cyber Warfare: No rifles, bombs, hand grenades, or tanks — 
à la mode: Wireless keyboards

WASHINGTON & MOSCOW (Reuters) – Major global technology providers SAP (SAPG), Symantec (SYMC), and McAfee (MCAF) have allowed Russian authorities to hunt for vulnerabilities in software deeply embedded across the U.S. government, a Reuters investigation has found. 

Pretty startling headlines to this story (my emphasis is added and key parts are boxed off) – very disturbing to say the least:

Tech Firms let Russia probe software widely used
by U.S. Government

IMPACT STATEMENT: The practice potentially jeopardizes the security of computer networks in at least a dozen federal agencies, U.S. lawmakers and security experts said. It involves more companies and a broader swath of the government than previously reported.

In order to sell in the Russian market, the tech companies let a Russian defense agency scour the inner workings, or source code, of some of their products. Russian authorities say the reviews are necessary to detect flaws that could be exploited by hackers. 

(I note: So, business deals is the name of the game, um, I see, I see - so, just make a fast buck as it were).

But those same products protect some of the most sensitive areas of the U.S government, including the Pentagon, NASA, the State Department, the FBI, and the IC (Intelligence Community), against hacking by sophisticated cyber adversaries like Russia. 

Reuters revealed in October that Hewlett Packard Enterprise (HPEN) software known as ArcSight, used to help secure the Pentagon’s computers, had been reviewed by a Russian military contractor with close ties to Russia’s security services.

Now, a Reuter’s review of hundreds of U.S. federal procurement documents and Russian regulatory records shows that the potential risks to the U.S. government from Russian source code reviews are more widespread. 

Beyond the Pentagon, ArcSight is used in at least seven other agencies, including the DNI (Director of National Intelligence office) and the State Department's intelligence unit.

The Pentagon said in a previously unreported letter to Democratic Senator Jeanne Shaheen that source code reviews by Russia and China “may aid such countries in discovering vulnerabilities in those products.”

Reuters has not found any instances where a source code review played a role in a cyberattack, and some security experts say hackers are more likely to find other ways to infiltrate network systems.

But the Pentagon is not alone in expressing concern. Private sector cyber experts, former U.S. security officials and some U.S. tech companies told Reuters that allowing Russia to review the source code may expose unknown vulnerabilities that could be used to undermine U.S. network defenses. 

Many of the Russian reviews have occurred since 2014, when U.S.-Russia relations plunged to new lows following Moscow’s annexation of Crimea. Western nations have accused Russia of sharply escalating its use of cyber-attacks during that time, an allegation Moscow denies.

Most U.S. government agencies declined to comment when asked whether they were aware technology installed within their networks had been inspected by Russian military contractors.

Tech companies wanting to access Russia’s large market are often required to seek certification for their products from Russian agencies, including the FSB security service and Russia’s Federal Service for Technical and Export Control (FSTEC), a defense agency tasked with countering cyber espionage. FSTEC declined to comment and the FSB did not respond to requests for comment.

SAP HANA, a database system, underwent a source code review in order to obtain certification in 2016, according to Russian regulatory records. The software stores and analyzes information for the State Department, Internal Revenue Service, NASA and the Army. 

SAP spokeswoman said any source code reviews were conducted in a secure, company-supervised facility where recording devices or even pencils “Are strictly forbidden, and all governments and governmental organizations are treated the same with no exceptions,” the spokeswoman said.

While some companies have since stopped allowing Russia to review source code in their products, the same products often remain embedded in the U.S. government, which can take decades to upgrade technology

Security concerns caused Symantec to halt all government source code reviews in 2016, the company’s chief executive told Reuters in October. But Symantec Endpoint Protection antivirus software, which was reviewed by Russia in 2012, remains in use by the Pentagon, the FBI, and the Social Security Administration, among other agencies, according to federal contracting records reviewed by Reuters.

Summary Extracted from the Story: The cyber firm’s Security Information and Event Management (SIEM) software was reviewed in 2015 by a Moscow-based government contractor, Echelon, on behalf of FSTEC, according to Russian regulatory documents. 

McAfee confirmed this. The Treasury Department and Defense Security Service, a Pentagon agency tasked with guarding the military’s classified information, continue to rely on the product to protect their networks, contracting records show.

McAfee declined to comment, citing customer confidentiality agreements, but it has previously said the Russian reviews are conducted at company-owned premises in the United States.

On its website, Echelon describes itself as an official laboratory of the FSB, FSTEC, and Russia’s defense ministry. Alexey Markov, the president of Echelon, which also inspected the source code for ArcSight, said U.S. companies often initially expressed concerns about the certification process. “Did they have any? Absolutely!!” Markov wrote in an email and: “The less the person making the decision understands about programming, the more paranoia they have. However, in the process of clarifying the details of performing the certification procedure, the dangers and risks are smoothed out.” 

Markov said his team always informs tech companies before handing over any discovered vulnerabilities to Russian authorities, allowing the firms to fix the detected flaw. The source code reviews of products “significantly improves their safety,” he said.

Chris Inglis, the former deputy director of the NSA (United States premier electronic spy agency), disagrees, saying: “When you’re sitting at the table with card sharks, you can’t trust anyone. I wouldn’t show anybody the code.”

I say, amen to that, Mr. Inglis, amen – now what? Punt… hardly that well, it ~~~ seems out of step.

As I said at the top this is a very disturbing story – very much so.

Cyber warfare could actually be more dangerous than gun fire in the long term with only one giant controlling the globe as it were. 

Short of all out nuclear war (that would end it for all mankind), cyber warfare would end it for most countries by simply sending them most back to the stone-age in caves and wearing goat skin clothing. 

Ponder that image.

Stay tuned.

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