US needs a global al­liance against Rus­sia’s cy­ber­at­tacks

Woonsocket Call - - OPINION - By JAMES STAVRIDIS

Bloomberg Opin­ion

While Rus­sian hack­ing has been a per­sis­tent threat for sev­eral years now, the past few days shed new light on the vast scale of Moscow’s cy­ber­crimes di­rected against the U.S., NATO and non­govern­men­tal or­ga­ni­za­tions around the world.

At the top of the list was the reve­la­tion of an at­tempted at­tack on the Or­ga­ni­za­tion for the Pro­hi­bi­tion of Chem­i­cal Weapons, which has led the ef­fort to in­ves­ti­gate the use of banned mu­ni­tions by Bashar As­sad, the Syr­ian dic­ta­tor sup­ported by the Krem­lin. The plot was foiled by Dutch and Bri­tish in­tel­li­gence agen­cies, and re­sulted in the ar­rest of four men said to be mem­bers of the Rus­sian mil­i­tary’s mas­sive spy agency, the GRU.

Sim­i­larly, the U.S. Jus­tice Depart­ment in­dicted seven Rus­sian in­tel­li­gence op­er­a­tives for hack­ing in­ter­na­tional dop­ing as­so­ci­a­tions, which gained the par­tic­u­lar ire of Pres­i­dent Vladimir Putin for get­ting Rus­sian ath­letes banned from the 2016 and 2018 Olympics. And last Thurs­day Sec­re­tary of De­fense James Mat­tis pledged more U.S. sup­port for NATO’s ef­forts to counter Rus­sian hack­ing, a re­sponse to al­leged Rus­sian at­tacks on the al­liance and its troops in re­cent years.

To un­der­stand the Rus­sian cy­ber-ap­pa­ra­tus, it is nec­es­sary to ap­pre­ci­ate the de­gree to which it is the ul­ti­mate pri­vate-pub­lic co­op­er­a­tion net­work. Not only is there Rus­sian of­fen­sive ac­tiv­ity by the Krem­lin via tra­di­tional mil­i­tary and civil struc­tures such as the GRU, ac­cord­ing to West­ern in­tel­li­gence ser­vices the Krem­lin uses a loosely or­ga­nized net­work of cy­ber-crim­i­nals to do it dirty work for it. Think of this as the mod­ern is­suance of “let­ters of mar­que” that coun­tries is­sued cen­turies ago to al­low civil­ian naval “pri­va­teers” (aka pi­rates) to prey on their en­e­mies. Bri­tain’s Sir Fran­cis Drake was a dra­matic ex­am­ple of this strat­egy.

Putin, who deeply ap­pre­ci­ates all man­ners of so-called asym­met­ri­cal war­fare, has long sought to dis­rupt West­ern pow­ers, un­der­mine the NATO al­liance, sow di­vi­sion be­tween the U.S. and its Euro­pean al­lies, and ad­vance Rus­sian in­ter­ests glob­ally.

It is also a way for Putin to ap­peal to his sup­port base in Rus­sia, where his pop­u­lar­ity is un­char­ac­ter­is­ti­cally drop­ping.

And while Amer­i­cans are of course aware of the Krem­lin’s ef­forts to un­der­mine U.S. democ­racy in the 2016 pres­i­den­tial elec­tion, Rus­sia has done much the same across Europe as part of a larger com­pre­hen­sive strat­egy.

So, what can the U.S. and its al­lies do in re­sponse? Four key tasks: re­veal, re­spond, re­build and retaliate.

We must be­gin by re­veal­ing the ex­tent of the dam­age caused not only by Rus­sian state ac­tiv­ity, but by those pri­vate prox­ies as well. This means an ac­tive, pub­lic cam- paign that outs Rus­sian ac­tiv­ity and keeps it in the news. The highly pub­li­cized Jus­tice Depart­ment press con­fer­ence an­nounc­ing the in­dict­ments of Rus­sian op­er­a­tives is a good ex­am­ple of this. While there is jus­ti­fi­able hes­i­ta­tion con­cern­ing clas­si­fied in­for­ma­tion and re­veal­ing too much of what we know and see pub­licly, there is still room for more ag­gres­sive ef­fort to bring sun­shine on Rus­sian ac­tiv­i­ties. And not just by the U.S.: In­ter­pol and other in­ter­na­tional law-en­force­ment or­ga­ni­za­tions can be very help­ful.

In ad­di­tion to sim­ply re­veal­ing the ex­tent of Rus­sian ac­tiv­ity, we need to re­spond force­fully and in con­cert with our al­lies. This must in­clude pub­licly de­mand­ing Rus­sian be­hav­ior stop through state­ments by in­ter­na­tional or­ga­ni­za­tions from NATO to the United Na­tions to the non­govern­men­tal groups that have been at­tacked. The West needs to ar­tic­u­late that there will be sig­nif­i­cant con­se­quences if the be­hav­ior con­tin­ues, demon­strate its abil­ity to con­duct of­fen­sive cy­ber-ac­tions in re­sponse, and make the point that our re­sponses may go be­yond the cy­ber-sphere – eco­nomic sanc­tions, ex­pelling diplo­mats and the like.

Third, we need to re­build our de­fen­sive struc­tures. This means Congress, the mil­i­tary and the in­tel­li­gence agen­cies de­vot­ing more re­sources to do­mes­tic cy­ber-de­fenses; cre­at­ing a ded­i­cated Cy­ber Force (more nec­es­sary at this mo­ment than the Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion’s new Space Force); work­ing more closely with our al­lies, part­ners and friends to co­or­di­nate our de­fen­sive tech­niques; and of­fer­ing U.S. cy­ber ex­per­tise to close al­lies out­side Europe such as Ja­pan and the Gulf states that face Rus­sian hack­ing threats.

Fi­nally, the U.S. and its al­lies may need to retaliate in a cre­ative way. While the temp­ta­tion may be to re­spond in kind, through cy­ber­at­tacks on the Rus­sian gov­ern­ment, the smarter course maybe to broaden the level of ac­tion. In re­tal­i­a­tion for the at­tack on the anti-dop­ing or­ga­ni­za­tion, for ex­am­ple, more bans on Rus­sian sports teams are in or­der. In re­sponse to anti-NATO ef­forts, we should work with the Euro­pean Union to in­crease eco­nomic sanc­tions. Af­ter the at­tack on the chem­i­cal weapons or­ga­ni­za­tions, we could retaliate by re­veal­ing in depth and de­tail the level of cor­rup­tion of of­fi­cials at the high­est level of the Rus­sian gov­ern­ment, to in­clude depth of their knowl­edge of Syr­ian chem­i­cal pro­grams.

There is an old Rus­sian maxim at­trib­uted to Lenin: “Probe with bay­o­nets: If you en­counter mush, pro­ceed; if you en­counter steel, with­draw.” In­ter­est­ingly, it was Pres­i­dent Richard Nixon who pop­u­lar­ized that ex­pres­sion in the West, and he was some­one who un­der­stood Rus­sia very well. The U.S. and its al­lies will need a more steely ap­proach in deal­ing with the new wave of Rus­sian cy­ber­at­tacks.

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