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Someone Is Learning How to Take Down the Internet (lawfareblog.com)
441 points by skennedy on Sept 13, 2016 | hide | past | web | favorite | 140 comments



Since there are lots of hobbies that sometimes overlap with community service I'd love to see a club that focuses on being prepared to reestablish intra-community communication in case the Internet goes down. Yes, it'd be great if everyone was self hosting, using distributed services and involved in a mesh network now, but without motivation it won't happen. So this club could focus on developing the resources that a few individuals in a community could use to set these things up after the network is already down. They could have offline caches of Wikipedia and Openstreetmaps, copies of firmware, apps and instructions for attaching consumer routers and other Wi-Fi devices to a mesh network, systems for registering people with a locally functioning email address, etc. User friendly portals could be made that provide the basic instructions for people who stumble on a mesh network access point with their otherwise disconnected smartphones.

All of the tech exists in some form or another, but if it were well packaged, it's not hard to see there being a sufficient distribution of members to get people connected easily.


The amateur radio community already has the technical know-how and disaster readiness to do most of that, and I'd be willing to bet there's enough overlap between them and the meshnet crowd to take care of the rest.


KG6YHQ here. It's doable, but if the wired net becomes unusable and you have to rely wholly on the RF spectrum, bandwidth would be stupendously tiny. Forget about sending anything else but, basically, text-based messages.

Perhaps in an event like that a decision would be made to temporarily open up the spectrum, but even then there are only so many of us, only so many transceivers out there.

I feel the HAM net would be more useful after a natural catastrophe, where the infrastructure would be destroyed physically. Which is exactly what a lot of us are preparing for.


"Perhaps in an event like that a decision would be made to temporarily open up the spectrum"

Or, depending on who shut it down, you may have to deal with jamming.


Wouldn't SDRs be a lot more useful for creating higher-bandwidth wireless networks in the sort of disaster where the FCC opens up other frequency ranges?

The amateur radio regulation regime and common ham radios work well for small numbers of small messages sent around in a well-regulated way, without the government initiating a frequency band jubilee. But beyond that, HAM radios are limited, even if they're modded, and the cheap SDRs are even cheaper than baofeng handhelds, so where does that leave amateur radio in a real frequency free-for-all? I think what would matter is, as mentioned above, availability of SDRs, and secondly, parties of people tracking down transmitters that are messing up the ad-hoc sdr wireless nets.


Sure, but everything has to be ready, prepared and exercised before anything happens. Whatever plan you may conceive, you have to do plenty of test runs in advance. After it happens, it's chaos, it's too late to start new initiatives.

And there are caveats anyway.

For local connections, some kind of WiFi mesh might still be the best option.

For long distance, I don't think you can currently use anything but proper HAM equipment, and fairly large power at that. For a reliable connection, especially at good bandwidth, you need lots of power and a good antenna. But if you blow standards out of the water, and start pumping out huge bandwidths at huge powers, you run again into a tragedy of commons - you're taking up large chunks of spectrum over entire continents.

There is no free lunch.


As a fellow ham, I have to say: guys, guys... it's ham, not HAM. Other than that I totally agree with you.

The (VHF and UHF) ham bands will send data a few tens of kilometers with good messaging bandwidth. Here in Seattle there's a Monday-night digital net through a repeater on the Columbia tower where folks send text messages and some (slow) photos on 444.55 MHz. Typical speeds are like 9600 baud.

As you mention, when you go down to the HF bands like 20m you can transmit and receive around the world, but there's far less bandwidth. The tragedy of the commons is right on.

I've operated PSK31 (which runs at 31 baud) worldwide on 20m and it's pretty much a chatroom. You can get a lot said with that, but you certainly won't be browsing the web.

It would be cool to play around with connecting 2.4 GHz local wifi meshnets with ham repeaters at ranges of say 50 km. Then you'd have nice fast local communication with reasonable long distance. .


There's also the issue of the dubious legality of using encryption over eg HAMNET. Modern internet without encryption simply isn't modern internet.


The legality of encryption on ham isn't dubious, it's explicitly not allowed.

I don't know if there's any legal precedent or official policy regarding digital signatures; I would guess that they're probably okay because they don't obscure the meaning of the communication and anyone can verify them against the sender's public key (assuming that the public keys are published somewhere).

Communication with no privacy but with cryptographically secure signatures might be acceptable for emergency situations. It's unfortunate that ham rules are sufficiently restrictive that most of the tools we use on a day-to-day basis wouldn't be legal to use without substantial modification. But then again, we wouldn't want people trying to log into Facebook/Youtube/Reddit etc.. when the network runs at like 1200 baud (if it's packet radio on the 2 meter or 70 cm bands) or maybe in the low mbps (if it's over some kind of 802.11 b/g/whatever mesh network operating under part 97 rules).

Fortunately, while part 15 rules are pretty restrictive about power, they're less strict about antenna gain, so it's at least theoretically possible to make multi-mile connections without having to operate under ham rules. Building a large network out of point-to-point links with directional antennas, though, would be pretty difficult and laborious even in a non-disaster situation, so realistically I think the best local disaster communications option at the moment is to just use APRS and analog voice over 2 meters and accept that 1980's technology that sort of works is better than a modern internet experience that requires a lot of infrastructure that isn't working or available.


My understanding is that it's a little bit more grey than that. Modification of signals with an intent to obscure the content of the transmission is explicitly forbidden. But obfuscation for other reasons is not expressly forbidden. So there's a question of "is this incidentally encrypted, or intentionally encrypted", which is (again, from my understanding, which is very limited) why I'm calling it dubious and not simply "forbidden".


Could the spectrum be opened up "unoficially"? i.e. Is there a "switch"the govt would need to throw or is it more that you cannot use the spectrum for fear of prosecution, so with no govt you could just decide to use the available spectrum?


Forget about sending anything else but, basically, text-based messages.

What's the downside?


No one wants to go back to the age of ascii porn.


A good friend of mine has been into ham radio since he was a young guy, and this is definitely true. In fact a lot of people in that community play a role in plans for a disaster that would knock out other communications, integrated with some local, and state governments. I'm not sure about the federal level, but I'd guess it's integrated there too.

And there are a lot of them, and at this point if you're into ham radio, it's for the love and you tend to be pretty proficient.


The amateur radio community can't use encryption and, for the most part, is happy about this restriction.

A zero-privacy internet might be better than nothing, but I'm not 100% sure of that.


but its only relevant in the disaster-recovery situation anyhow; should be quite decent for that use. And otherwise, you have regular Internet access, and its hardly realistic a small hacker community can do anything to replace it.


combined with a project like this:

http://icrobotics.co.uk/wiki/index.php/Turning_the_Raspberry...

and you've basically got the web ;p

at least a one way communication network form


This guy in Spain created his own internet infrastructure: https://backchannel.com/forget-comcast-heres-the-diy-approac... It's been running successfully for years and has grown quite a bit.


There should be a term for "overprepping for disaster because it's so exciting to think about".


"Preppers" ?



The man lived through a tsunami in the area, that was hardly a matter of exciting thoughts, but a desperate desire to prevent a predictable tragedy. By contrast people prepping for the end of days in whatever form, often nuclear, strike me as mad.

If there's a nuclear war, I want to be in the hypocenter of the first detonation, because we're not climbing out of that hole as a species in any meaningful way. I suppose that reality is why so many have turned to fantasies of a worldwide EMP of some exotic type which is at least survivable in their imagination.

Me? I've read my history, if civilization comes tumbling down, my plan is to eat a gun. Meanwhile I'll live my life without terror, and plan only for disasters that can reasonably be managed without dedicating my limited lifespan to it.


Agreed, if civilization does come tumbling down. However, as far as I could read, for it to survive a nuclear exchange is quite possible, even probable.

Blasts themselves seem relatively harmless, beyond the hundereds of millions they just outright kill that is, radiation we're just characteristically paranoid about, but can actually deal with at least in many remaining areas, and the main issue at debate is whether a nuclear winter of substantial duration would be formed or not. Which depends on the scope of the fires, so flammability of urban environments and the like. We can't pretend to know a real answer, but its certainly possible.

And then there's the issue of whether the south hemisphere could avoid that fate even in such a case, due to weather patterns, provided there's no detonations there (as there are no weapons there).

Now that doesn't seem substantially different from any large-scale warfare civilization easily survived previously, like world war II; urban devastation and millions of dead. Hardly a civilization-ending event.


It depends on if we're talking about Pakistan and India dusting each other, or the US and Russia pulling the trigger. In the former case it's as uncertain as you said, but in the latter to be honest, we're done. Huge areas will be utterly toxic, and there will be infrastructure or meaningful leadership to let anyone know where those are.

So I grant you that something a bit less hopeful and dramatic than 'Mad Max' is more than possible, but only as part of a long slide into the end of our species.

While "Humans" would almost certainly survive (for a while), the odds of any given human (i.e. you or me) surviving are pretty poor. At best you'd be looking at generations of struggle and misery, and then what? Our way of life came to pass by a number of factors including the ready availability of coal. That's... not coming back either. Resources that don't' require extreme mining are generally depleted already, from fossil fuels to various metals.

The various steps that brought us up from mud huts don't necessarily work for another round.


hah, mostly very good points

IDK, for one I'm not even sure a major exchange is as deadly as here supposed (much depends on who else joins the party I guess); sure lots of land on some continents at least is badly irradiated, but a majority is not quite as bad, and most of radiation degrades quickly, some simple measures help, and besides not everyone needs to survive every year After Launch anyhow, and non-extreme radiation doses kill only statistically. Much depends on - as you say, on how much of state command structure is able to survive and organize the remains, and that could easily vary from state to state on the planet.

I lived through a minor war in my youth, with the frontline maybe 2km at its closest approach and regular shelling for IDK couple of years. It was a remarkably well-ordered affair, considering. Fact half the GDP evaporated and rest was put under direct government command for war and other logistical purposes didn't really constitute a panic collapse of societal order or anything like that, and return to some kind of (low budget) normality quite quick. Kinda remarkable in retrospect, in how badly we react to small upsets, like a high-single digit GDP loss in a recession, yet tolerate such major disasters...

If the number of people directly killed is on the order of a few hundered million, thats not a substantial part of the humankind, so it may not be too different -- to people living in places too boring to have been hit by a nuke and not too close downwind from something interesting, ofc.

Guess it becomes worse if all the players hit all the other players, and no further advances in reducing nuclear inventories are made before it hits etc.

But again, yeah, a societal collapse is certainly a kill-myself kind of event for me too, because as you say - we're never gonna rebuild if we fall to that point. I'm just more sanguine about nukes being lobbed about not necessarily causing this I guess.


Serious question: what if you're enslaved by aliens before you can gun?


Then... I'd be enslaved in your hypothetical, and by definition would have no choices I could make.


engineering?


I recently discovered a startup called Endless that appears to be working on the content/caching side of this problem. They're for-profit but seem to have good intentions between releasing their OS as open source and creating affordable hardware targeted at emerging markets.

https://endlessm.com/


I'm definitely interested in such an idea. I might have to check around the MPLS area to see who's doing any sort of DIY electronics and other such meetups here.


There are educational projects that focus on providing the benefits of the internet to communities that have poor or no connectivity, like: http://internet-in-a-box.org/

While internet failure mitigation isn't an explicit goal of such projects, their resources might make a good starting point.


things along those lines are already happening in oakland and a number of other cities across the country.

https://sudoroom.org/wiki/Mesh


Seconded. Definitely look into meshnets. There's one in Red Hook (brooklyn) that's been up and running for a long time.


Although Schneier is probably correct in this instance, one of the most exasperating features of his computer security writing is an utter lack of citations or evidence to back up his claims. (His writing about cryptography should require no citations because he is an actual crypto expert.)

After the significant inaccuracies and frequent unsubstantiated speculation in Schneier on Security, I don't think credible security researchers can take his analysis at face value. Additionally, the halo effect of his actual expertise, cryptography, convinces people who aren't security experts that his opinions and speculations are correct. Worse, he rarely frames his speculation as such; he states conjecture as fact. This is counterproductive and leads to confusion among journalists and eventually the general public.

To the imminent downvoters, I'm not offended; I expect it with an unpopular opinion. I'd prefer you engage with a reply in addition to the downvote so we can have a discourse. I think it's important that I add my dissent to the conversation.


Sometimes it feels as if computer engineers have a unique inability to deal with ambiguous information.

Yes, I agree the article is vague, and I'd like to learn more. But this is typical for this kind of backchannel intel. From some sources, through some channels, for some kinds of info - this is all you get. This is business as usual.

Take it in for what it's worth. It's a signal from a sea of noise, nothing more. Maybe it's actionable, but perhaps it's not. Just learn to deal with ambiguity; the world at large is quite different from the rigid boolean-logic computer systems you're interacting with on a daily basis.


> Just learn to deal with ambiguity; the world at large is quite different from the rigid boolean-logic computer systems you're interacting with on a daily basis.

You're shitting me, right?

Computer engineers are the last people who think in rigid, boolean-logic ways. It's the general population that does that. If you do any serious thinking in any STEM field, you quickly learn that the world is probabilistic in nature, and ambiguity is what you eat for breakfast. What the technical fields do to manage with it is learn to quantify the exact nature of ambiguity. When you do that, by means of probability theory, you learn that ambiguity doesn't mean "anything goes", there are rules it follows.

Like, backchannel intel may be vague, and this also implies it's likely to not be true (unless you can pull out additional evidence in its favour, like e.g. good track record of the person delivering this backchannel intel; that point is discussed in parallel threads). In a sea of noise, the "signal" you see is most likely a coincidence. Not comprehending this (aka. "seeing patterns everywhere") is one of the biggest sources of irrationality in people.


Well, as far as ambiguity goes, a CS or CE's job is to fit that round peg into our square hole, with mathematics and neural networking as our hammers.


Taken out of context, your statement is true. In context, your relativist position isn't applicable. In this case, this is a renowned cryptologist making some assertions. My complaint was that this article is good, but given the author's track record, I want more evidence. I don't think that's unreasonable.


> the world at large is quite different from the rigid boolean-logic computer systems you're interacting with on a daily basis.

This rhetoric is patronizing and doesn't contribute to the conversation.


> Sometimes it feels as if computer engineers have a unique inability to deal with ambiguous information.

This is a limitation of computers, not the engineers. The engineers are happy to deal with ambiguous information as long as you don't mind ambiguous results.


> Take it in for what it's worth. It's a signal from a sea of noise, nothing more.

His post is the very definition of "taking it for what it's worth".


Schneier cited the Verisign DDoS trends report and provided a link to it.

He also cites anonymous sources. These sources agreed with each other and with the public report from Verisign. He explained why he was keeping those sources anonymous.

That is just good journalism.


I agree with everything you said.

My comment was juxtaposing it with the accuracy of Schneier's blog and his public statements on computer security.


I don't think he can give citations or evidence. He gets told some stuff in confidence. He can violate the confidence, and not be told stuff in the future. Or he can say nothing. Or he can tell us as much as he feels he can, even though that's annoyingly vague and unspecific. As far as I can see, those are his only options.

On this topic, he chose the third option, because he felt that people needed to know, even though he couldn't give specifics. It sounds like you wanted him to pick the first option. If he did, though, it would be the last time he would be able to do so, because his information would dry up.

That's the pragmatic argument. There are also some of us who feel, when you tell someone that you aren't going to blab what they told you in confidence, that you should keep your word...


I think you are mischaracterizing my statement. At no point did I suggest he should violate journalistic integrity by belying his sources' confidence.

I do say that it's inappropriate to expect implicit trust after all his previous integrity failures (conjecture as fact, etc). I want to believe this article. I do believe it. But I also can't rely on it, as his track record shows that given the topic of computer security, he will even present unfounded speculation to Congress as fact if given the opportunity.


Can you please do as you say, and provide specific citations and examples of his conjectures framed as fact?


Schneier is undoubtably a world-class expert in cryptanalysis and cryptography, but he has decided to leave that field and become a tech journalist and pundit.

That's a pity, but I guess it makes sense for him if he wants to exert influence.

Unfortunately too many laypeople take everything he's writing as gospel. Remember when he clearly misunderstood the "xkcd scheme", was called out by pretty much everyone and couldn't even admit that and post a correction? You can be sure that lots and lots of people will dismiss everything looking like it (Diceware!), simply because Schneier erroneously piled heaps of ridicule on it.


His writing about cryptography certainly should include citations.


It might sound blasphemous but I (as a non-expert in crypto) would be satisfied if either you or Bruce didn't cite their writing about crypto.

Yes, appeal to authority and all that, but I don't have time to fully learn a field to find out if a cryptographer is mistaken.

Also, the point I was making is that if he wants to leave work uncited, it should at least be the work he has actual credibility in.


Citations aren't simply about "is this valid?", but about enabling others to audit the basis of the clais -- was the author they saying it based on their more nebulous "general expertise" (speaking ex cathedra), or were they relying on the credibility of other source? If the later, that makes it easier to fix when the same error was propagating through several sources to the point that became common knowledge.

(Interestingly enough, that sounds like a point Schneier would make :-p )

In fact, there's a general problem in belief updating (Bayesian or otherwise) where you may over-credit others' opinions by treating them as independent when they were both actually relaying the same data point. You can only detect this error if you can inspect the source of those opinions.


Ngah. No. You should definitely want references from me, too!


On second thought, I do want references. I thoroughly enjoy watching you and other cryptographers arguing on HN. Especially when the topic of DNSSEC comes up.


That works for you, but on the subject of security, tptacek is on a different level than most of the rest of us. It's perfectly valid for him to say that he wants to see Schneier's references, and for you to say that you will take it on trust from either of them.

> Also, the point I was making is that if he wants to leave work uncited, it should at least be the work he has actual credibility in.

A totally valid point. Way too often, people smuggle credibility from an area where they have expertise (and therefore deserve the credibility) to areas where they don't. In this case, though, the real credibility is Schneier's honesty, not his expertise, since he's passing on (obscured) reports from others.


My point is that his honesty is actually not existent, as it has been tainted by his provably incorrect speculation from 2013-2016.

I think it's absolutely valid for tptacek to demand citations from Schneier!


> My point is that his honesty is actually not existent, as it has been tainted by his provably incorrect speculation from 2013-2016.

What are you referring to here?

And, taking your statement at face value: If he speculated, and was clear that he was speculating, and was wrong, that doesn't destroy his honesty - merely his reputation as a speculator.


Indeed in my original comment I assert that he speculates without appropriately labeling it as such. Hence, why my viewpoint is controversial on HN. Most HNers believe Mr. Schneier is an authority on computer security. I believe he takes his genuine expertise in cryptography and mistakes it for understanding of computer security that he doesn't actually possess.

His shortcomings are especially apparent when applied to APT, memory corruption, and computer network intrusion/defense.


> To the imminent downvoters, I'm not offended; I expect it with an unpopular opinion

This is the modern way to ask for upvotes.

Ask for upvotes straight out? The community saw it one too many times and doesn't anymore.

Mention you expect downvotes and that it's an unpopular opinion? People agreeing with you, which there almost always are anyway, will show you support while making potential downvoters think twice.

I was going to upvote, but never mind.


e.g.

> someone has been probing the defenses of the companies that run critical pieces of the Internet.

...

> China and Russia would be my first guesses.


My $0.02, as a latecomer to this tech industry (really only been in it for 6-8 years)

I don't understand the reverance around Schneier. I first saw him give a talk in 2009, and it was an 'insert town name here' speech about stuff that was blazingly obvious to people who should already know (topic: social engineering and passwords). Yet people were fawning over the talk. It really struck me as a guy who was once great, but is now resting on his laurels - that halo effect you mention.

I get exactly the same feeling from this article. There is nothing in it that we don't already know. What, there are state actors in Russia and China that are effectively at cyberwar with us? Quelle surprise! DDoS attacks are getting more sophisticated? Quelle surprise again! He takes one issue in tech that actually has filtered through to the general public, and makes it sound like he has the inside story. DDoS attacks pick up where they left off last time? Must be the work of an evil genius - no mere mortal could think of that!

I also get that the article is for a general audience, but in that case, the "oo, I can't share details!" bit is just populism. In short, I find his writing on tech to be lots of fluff and little meat.

Perhaps I'd have a different opinion if I grew up with him in his glory days, or if I was more interested in crypto and read his more technical papers, but while I've been on HN, I've never been enlightened by a linked article of his. This is all, of course, personal perception, and he may be a downright top bloke to someone more in the know.


He wrote a book in the 90's that defined crypto for a lot of people. It was the first time that I know of that this info was all collected, curated and available to the "average reasonably technical developer", without reading a ton of academic papers.

In retrospect we've learned a lot since them and no one (including the author) would recommend developers read that book first or even at all. Now we've come to the understanding that folks are much better served by opinionated cryptosystem design ("no sharp edges") and texts like "cryptography engineering" that have a better focus on failure modes.

Anyway, he's not the be all, end all expert but he has been thinking about this stuff for a long time and often has perspectives that are worth thinking about. Some of them, like his views on airline security etc are now so mainstream that you wouldn't realise he was a big part of why they are now widely held.

But mainly it's that he has a lot of pretty high level gov and industry connections that I would at least entertain his conjecture here.


Also ISTR he had a column in DDJ, I first encountered him via an articld there.


So how exactly is one entity, even a state entity, going to take down all 13 root servers, assuming that that is what Schneier is talking about since the man speaks in mysteries? What would it take to do that?

Let's safely assume that these servers, every single one of them, are subject to DDoS attacks all the time and have at least some experience in handling them, and have a backup scenario ready for a serious attack. One of the reasons why the root servers are not centralized is to avoid the kind of disaster that Schneier predicts.

Also what if I maintain a list of IP addresses of the websites I visit most and update that list daily. When the "big attack" strikes, I put that list in /etc/hosts. Would I still be able to do my holiday shopping from Amazon? Would I still be able to read the logs on my VPS by ssh'ing to its IP? How long would such an attack sustain before BGP modifications start blackholing the sources? Long enough to let the average TTL cache expire?

Would an attack on the root servers really take down the internet? Or in case Schneier isn't talking about that, what kind of attack on the decentralized internet is actually able to take it all down? I'm not saying he is wrong, but I have a hard time thinking about how we should prepare and protect our infrastructure if he doesn't want to share the intel he knows instead of some generic warnings.


Just to clarify, there are 13 "logical" root server but each one can be implemented by multiple servers. For example, L is implemented by 157 spread across the globe (see http://l.root-servers.org/ ). Many of the others are similarly redundant and distributed.


Every once in a while I think of creating a little DNS cache that never expires entries, except when it runs out of storage, and run it on a Raspberry Pi, feeding it with DNS queries on my home network (but never using it to send replies to clients, just store queries and results).

But I never do anything about it.


You can use dnstap with unbound or BIND 9.11 to do this kind of data collection really easily.


It doesn't really imply harming the DNS, but rather the actual core infrastructure - network connections.

If they disable/crack/overwhelm the major routers connecting different ISPs (e.g. zero-days or backdoors for router OSes, BGP attacks with cooperation or cracked credentials from some major ISP insiders), then the internet is not going to work for you because your ISP will be simply unable to route your data to where you want.

Are there any good reasons to believe that all major router models don't have backdoors inserted by state actors, either by bribing an insider engineer ten years ago, or even having a manufacturer of some secondary on-board chip (that has direct memory access) insert a hardware backdoor ? We've detected such attempts before, there's all reason to expect that there are some of them active and undetected right now.


Here's one way:

* Find a couple of remote security holes in Windows and Android, maybe iOS and Macs as well (Linux would be good too, as lots of servers run Linux and have big bandwidth).

* Write a self-propagating worm which uses your holes to infect a large chunk of machines currently attached to the internet.

* Set your worm so, after an hour or so it starts hammering the root servers.

That mess would be almost impossible to sort out, particularly if you were clever about the traffic you created do it was hard to filter.

The only reason I can think no-one would do this is it's MAD -- no-one's internet would work, why would Russia or China or the US want to take down everyone's internet?


>why would Russia or China or the US want to take down everyone's internet? //

No-one's "internet" would work except for states that had a backup network. In the event of war such a tool would be useful, imagine the panic, chaos.

Another situation could be a major power trying to destabilise another's economy, fiscal warfare?


https://indico.dns-oarc.net/event/25/session/4/contribution/...

Could be an interesting, peripherally relevant talk...


Just a little heads-up, your account appears to have been shadowbanned.


That post is publicly visible to me. It also seems to be the first post for the account, and is fairly substantive.

Moreover, I don't think it's even possible to reply to posts made from shadowbanned accounts.


Okay then.

I didn't look at the poster's history, I just saw a constructive-looking comment that seemed to be modded to oblivion, and jumped to conclusions.

I had to vouch for the post before HN would let me reply, which seems consistent with how shadowbanned accounts are handled here.


Sounds like someone flagged it for whatever reason and it was flag-killed.


This is both unsurprising, and worrying. Unsurprising because it's the job of any nation's military and espionage arms to consider and form plans to cripple or destroy their potential enemy's infrastructure, information included. Worrying, because as far as I can tell most people remain deeply ignorant and/or unconcerned (present company excluded both from that remark, and realistically the descriptor "most people") about 'cybersecurity' in any form.

That needs to change, and the author is right that while there seems to be little to do now, people should be aware of it.


'the author' (Bruce Schneier) is right a lot.


He suspects China or Russia as the likely culprit. What exactly rules out an American agent? Is it because American economic and social activity rely disproportionately on internet backbones more so than other state actors? If so, that would be especially interesting.


It depends on exactly what services Schneier is talking about here, but an awful lot of the infrastructure of the internet is hosted in countries that the US armed forces have easy physical access to.

Even if a cyber attack were the "plan a" for quickly and untraceably taking those systems out, the US has an easy enough "plan b" that testing "plan a" isn't going to be a major concern. Add that to the fact that the US has a lot more to lose if it gets caught attacking internet infrastructure than China and friends do (even just tests like this) and I would be surprised (honestly not shocked, but definitely surprised) if the USA is behind these shenanigans.

Actually, if the US wanted to test something like this on a service in a friendly country, I would expect the NSA to approach the infrastructure company and say something like, "We're concerned that $enemy_of_free_speech may be planning an attack on your service, and we would like to wargame that scenario with you. What time(s) would an outage have a minimal impact to your bottom line?"


> Add that to the fact that the US has a lot more to lose if it gets caught attacking internet infrastructure than China and friends do (even just tests like this) and I would be surprised (honestly not shocked, but definitely surprised) if the USA is behind these shenanigans.

So can you give me the address of the rock you've been living under for the past 3 years?


No, but maybe you can share some of the evidence you apparently have that the United States is actively trying to sabotage the world's communication infrastructure?

Sure, it throws its weight around when asking various social media platforms to censor certain types of content, and it has a no-holds-barred approach to intercepting data traffic, but it generally draws the line at knocking services entirely offline.


It creates, exploits and maintains vulnerabilities in public infrastructure that anyone else(state nation or similar capacity) can take advantage of.

> it generally draws the line at knocking services entirely offline

Well if you're gonna play the card "I'm reading a different Internet than you are", sure whatever.


Following on what M_Grey says, I'd say beyond a doubt the U.S. military plans to take down any and all Internet infrastructure as needed as a contingency in war.

Remember the U.S. government has plans to effectively destroy the world with nuclear strikes as a contingency in war. Do you think they would hesitate to prepare plans to take down a data network? It's immoral? Unthinkable?

I'm not criticizing such plans. War is death and destruction, and the U.S. must be prepared.

The U.S., and all nations and citizens, also should do everything to prevent situations where war is the best remaining option. This requires sober, expert foresight in foreign policy and politics, anticipating 2nd-, 3rd-, and n-order effects, not emotional, knee-jerk ideology and amateur foreign policy.


This is exactly true. Military forces make plans for everything, then make more plans, then study the plans, practice them, and revise them. It's actually the single biggest activity of any military, day in, day out. We're not going to change that anytime soon either.

As you say, we need to be active as citizens in ensuring that either such a war never occurs (in which case lets be realistic, a loss of the internet is going to the prelude to mushroom clouds), or that conflict is minimized and if necessary, occurs through proxies. It's ugly, it's not the way we should do things, but it is the way we do things.


Could the NSA do this? Almost certainly.

Could they make it look like China was at fault? Also almost certainly.

Would they? Well, they'd need a good reason. What would a good reason be? To hone their attack skills? Perhaps. (I would expect - though I have no proof - that many of the American pieces of internet-critical infrastructure are more hardened against attacks than many other countries' stuff, because the American stuff gets actual attacks more often. If the NSA can attack our stuff to the point of breaking, it can probably break other countries' stuff.)

Would the NSA do it to hone peoples' defensive capabilities? To show them what a real nation-state attack might look like? Also perhaps. (Or perhaps it could even have both goals.)

Would the NSA be in very deep trouble if they ever got caught at that game? Probably. Deep enough to get them to not do it? I don't know.

TL;DR: The NSA could be doing this. I'm unsure how probable I consider that option.


> What exactly rules out an American agent?

What exactly rules out America? NSA wants to see how an attack might unfold, or wants to see how to actually shut things down in case of insurrection, a coup, or pitchforks. Does some hard probing. Things get bad, and companies call in ... the NSA, who then get to do unfettered battle damage assessment.


It would be profoundly stupid for the American government to take down the internet under normal circumstances, but then against it would be equally stupid for China or Russia to do it (again, under normal circumstances). But developing the capability seems like a good idea of the face of it.

That said, Schneier obviously has more information than he's currently sharing.


Taking down the internet and blaming it on China or Russia.

They are already trying to pin the DNC insider leaks on Russia. Clinton is threatening physical war for "cyber attacks".

Face value is worthless.


Or vice versa? The internet relies disproportionately enough on American backbones/services that an American agency doesn't need to probe because it already has the keys, or at least the power switch?


To think of the culprit of a potential action in terms of nationalism is weak logic, no offense to you or the author, of course, because the digital world transcends any national boundary more readily than virtually any other technology, thanks to its low energy overhead and high data throughput.

This internationalism amplifies the net's vulnerability, and when coupled with (as per the article posted a couple of days ago on the grid's susceptibility to overload and the resulting brown/black outs) the net's dependency on a huge infrastructure meshes quite neatly with those who don't give a shit who suffers as long as it's someone that might be responsible for their woes, so someone desperate enough to eradicate the bulk of digital information would likely be concerned with larger issues like debt, weapons manufacture, or something similarly transnational.


Certainly the internet transcends national boundaries. But ask yourself the question, whose economy is most vulnerable to a disruption to the internet? How much of B2B commerce today relies on the internet? At a time of war, doing damage to the enemy's economy and way of life from thousands of miles away with no risk to people or equipment is a pretty powerful capability.

China in particular has been building their own parallel internet universe. If Google goes down, most of us are going to feel it - but not China.


I was wondering the same thing. My assumption would be that either:

1) The US has nothing to gain by taking down the internet infrastructure via malicious means.

or

2) The US has better access to these systems to take them out directly rather than forcing them down via DDOS attacks.


I think both. This sort of thing would be extremely disruptive to our economy.

I have no doubt, however, that we likely have developed plans around this sort of thing in a defensive or response capacity.


I don't think we should rule out the US, as they conduct defense drills all of the time.

In this case, they don't overtly control the assets under attack, but would still want to know how resilient our networks are "in the real world" -- not always as a "friendly" drill, a la Red Cell.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Red_Cell


Link to the videos next time:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hWCX6IeBH7U

They'll learn a lot more from them. ;)


Better still, link to both, as has happened here. People are often in situations where a wall of text is easier than a video, and vice versa.


Oh yeah, I agree. Correction accepted. I figured they'd like option to see it for themselves. :)


> He suspects China or Russia as the likely culprit. What exactly rules out an American agent?

Well, a mere suspicion does not rule out properly anything. It's like a quantum wave function with a maximum of probability density on China, but non-zero values everywhere.


My guess would be that the American government has less reason to test what would take down some of these services. And not for benevolent reasons, but because they could more easily send in armed agents and simply unplug those services.


We've already shown that we can pretty effective destroy a country's infrastructure from the air as well, not just with explosives and incendiaries, but other clever tricks as well.


Such as...


Such as, for one example that's been used to great effect: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Graphite_bomb


Yes, as you say, the possible motivation is very different.

In a cyberconflict escalation if it would come up to a possibility of disrupting core Internet infrastructure to (temporarily) disable most of Internet, it would be most likely for China or Russia to want this result and for USA/NATO to actually want the opposite.


He certainly is, although too often I wish that wasn't the case. For instance, right now I wish that very much!


This is why I worry about the centralization of all communications as we've done over the entirety of human history. Letting the Internet be centralized as it has been might be make economic sense but as for sustaining the world economy through a potentially global conflict it doesn't make any sense to put all our eggs in one basket here. It's like I mentioned on the "napalm girl" post that we've become too complacent with having ease of use trump reliability of communication. This is just one of the larger consequences of our individual and collective choices coming to bite us in the butt. I hope this spurs people to get smarter and put together p2p solutions that can weather such a conflict at least for regional and/or city-wide communications.


The internet is decentralized, for the most part; it was designed to be that way from the start. Whole pieces of the internet can go offline that the rest of it will continue operating as normal, with packets routed around the damage. The TCP and IP protocols were designed for this.

It's not the designers fault that so many people are dumb enough to happily give one company a near-monopoly over certain forms of communication.

It's very simple: stop using Facebook for everything. Use different sites/services, or switch to a decentralized service like Diaspora. Otherwise, stick with Facebook for everything and stop complaining when it bites you in the butt, and suffer the consequences when disaster strikes.


You're confusing the issue by focusing on protocols versus actual physical implementations (data centers, trunk lines, etc). The physical installations for what we call the Internet are centralized. Companies like Level 3 might put some redundancy but at some point the cost of redundancy out weighs its benefits for them and other companies like them. This is especially true of consumer financial services like banking. If an attacker wanted to disrupt the United States they only have to do it to banking to cause a panic. They could easily ignore emergency services, hospitals, and even the government itself (outside of ACH) while doing this. And it would be such a mess that we couldn't resolve it immediately. The happiest outcome is the disruption is only for a few hours but the more likely outcome is possibly days or weeks of disruption where a large part of the banking system would be inoperable. It doesn't matter if you used TCP/IP or switch based communications the outcome is the same: the American economy shaken and possibly worse. So, we can take all day about Facebook and Diaspora but neither of those services do anything important for the average user like your bank which also uses the same centralized infrastructure. There is no Diaspora for banking and not one that's widely used or not using the current banking/financial transfer systems which are centralized.


I totally disagree that we can't do anything. With the existing TCP/IP protocol we can't do anything because it's possible to forge the origin IP address or modify the datagram content on its route to destination. A receiving end has no way to verify the validity of the datagram.

An IP datagram authentication at the lowest level is required so that anyone on the route can detect forgery, error or tempering with the data. This would allow tracking the real sources of DDOS attack, diagnose the cause and fix it.

What's the point of keeping digging deeper trenches ?

This should be a top priority change of the Internet. There was no incentive to move to IPv6. Now there is one to move to a more secure Internet.


> top priority change of the Internet

See you in thirty years.

Also, IP authentication doesn't help you. DDOS traffic often has real IP source addresses on. It tells you that the traffic is several hundred thousand home PCs. Now what?


If you knew for sure that an IP src address involved in a DDoS attack was not spoofed, we could easily design a control protocol that allowed a recipient to contact the origin ISP and enable a block on that particular {src,dst} pair. Unless you know for sure that the src address isn't spoofed though, such a mechanism would itself be abused to deny service. Having the ability to validate a source address would be the enabler for proper defense mechanisms.

We wrote about one way to do this about ten years ago, but no-one was really interested at the time: http://www0.cs.ucl.ac.uk/staff/M.Handley/papers/terminus2007...


> Unless you know for sure that the src address isn't spoofed though, such a mechanism would itself be abused to deny service.

Unfortunately, even if you know that the source address isn't spoofed, such a mechanism would itself be abused to deny service


Trying to cause serious mayhem with spoofed addresses is pointless. Most DDOS comes from bot nets, not from the attacker's personal resources. If you deployed a system that tried to spoof addresses all the needs to happen to eliminate 90% of your attack is for Comcast and co. to implement edge filtering such that traffic inbound from people's computers is dumped if it's not an address that can reasonably come from that origin.

And, since each additional node in the bot net has zero marginal cost, why bother trying to hide the device anyway?


Bots use real address because nothing is done to track them and require the owner or OS provider to fix them. They currently have no incentive to fix the problem.

Collecting the source IP addresses of a DDOS attack is the first thing that could be done. Then progressive pressure should be put to enforce fixing the computers and get rid of the bots. OS with weak security would then feel the pain.

The day this is done, the next step will be to use forged source IP address. What would be the incentive for ISP to pay the price to filter packets ? As long as no one will be able to prove that the packet is forged, they won't do anything.


The Internet is suppose to be decentralized. Yet we have these centralized groups, proving backbone, DNS, certs. Well duh, it's no surprise. Why can't I connect to my neighbor who lives next door without the packet doing a 200 mile trip? The Internet is really only devices that can route packets through at least 2 different gateways. If you only have one route. You are not part of the vision of the Internet.


You can make such a connection and establish a mesh network, most people are just too lazy or technically unsophisticated to pull it off apparently. Centralization is a consequence of that fact that people do not actually want to maintain their own infrastructure, they just want it to work while they get back to the rest of their life.


Can anyone elaborate on what he means when he says that Verisign can 'go down' and take down most of the internet with it? How would a registrar going down affect anything to do with actual hosts?


If Verisign is running the nameservers for .com and .net, it will cause DNS problems across the board. We'd have to rely on DNS caches until new .net and .com nameservers come up. This would impact not only new domain registrations, but DR grade migrations, and DNSSEC.

If coordinated with an attack against the root nameservers so we couldn't change the .com and .net nameservers, DNS would become a real disaster. If combined with some BGP trickery, you could even see domain names being poisoned.

We should be able to be worked around the damage eventually; but so much of the internet relies on so few root servers/hosts/routers.


Would there a use case for decentralizing DNS into blockchain, or for creating an alternative?


I think the problem with the blockchain is that it is relatively immutable, while the internet is anything but. Also, the cost for making a Namecoin change is inexpensive now, but if it were to take over full operations for even one TLD, that would not remain the case.


This is one of the goals of Namecoin, but I'm not sure how successful they've been so far.


For some reasons to use DNS (e.g. service discovery) the latency associated with a blockchain would be prohibitive. Generally, I think it's an excellent application.


Poor wording. Verisign operates .com for the US government. So if Verisign's .com servers were to go down, then .com would go down with them. The author shouldn't have used the word "registrar" which makes people think of the creation of new domain names, à la GANDI (good) or GoDaddy (bad).


What does it mean "operates .com" and ".com would go down"? Does it mean that "google.com" would suddenly stop resolving? If so, how is that possible given the way DNS works? If not, what exactly is the panic about?


Most DNS resolvers come with a 'root zone hints file', which includes a list of the root nameservers and static IPs for each one.

When you look up google.com, these root nameservers are queried for com, and they return the results (name and IP) for the nameservers for .com

These nameservers for com are then queried for google.com, which then return the results for the nameservers for google.com.

Google's nameservers are then queried for google.com, and an IP is returned.

So yes, given how DNS works, all .com and .net domains would stop resolving if the Verisign nameservers for .com and .net were to go down. Most people go through caching nameservers, which would retain the values for google.com, and continue to return them, up until the time to live on those records expired, at which point they too would stop returning any values if the upstream servers hadn't returned before then.


Indeed. The term for the manager of a TLD, as Verisign is for .com and .net, is a 'domain registry', not registrar.


This is (one of) the reason(s) I moved my website to the decentralized web-hosting platform ZeroNet. It is still accessible to regular web users (through the use of proxies) but is ultimately secure against DDOS attacks and the like as there is no single server to attack (it could still be done, but it would take much more effort as you would have to attack each user of ZeroNet individually).

As applicable with all areas of life, association is a security risk. By depending upon any centralized authority (such as a server or domain name registrar) you are open to being censored (either by them or an attacker).

At this point however, decentralized web-hosting solutions still rely upon clearnet centralized port checkers, which is (ofcourse) an issue. The best the community can do is help to raise awareness of decentralized web hosting in the hopes more people will adopt it leading to a higher likelihood that the problems will be solved.


>The NSA, which has more surveillance in the Internet backbone than everyone else combined, probably has a better idea, but unless the U.S. decides to make an international incident over this, we won't see any attribution.

Or unless it's the US itself. Not the most likely possibility I think, but still a possibility.


When my Omnia Turris arrives I will connect it with second WiFi card and enable cjdns on it. We need to start showing it.


Makes me wonder if we'll ever see a "hot" war that starts off as a "cyber" war.


The start of every US war in the ME has featured attacks on communication and infrastructure, starting with hacking in to the telephone exchanges weeks or months before the hot war starts, and culminating with the takedown of critical physical infrastructure, like power, water, etc. as the first thing to go when the shooting starts.


Can you clarify this? I remember seeing some articles about this tactic in maybe 2010, but nothing before then. I recall the Gulf War and OIF/OEF infrastructure damage being primarily from aerial bombing, but it's possible I missed the articles about the hacking element.

I'm not doing the snarky "citations pls" thing; I don't dispute it happened. I just want to know more.


I can't find the article I read at the time. The gist of it was that a sysadmin was bribed to gain access to the telephone exchanges and once the Iraqi government realized they were compromised they ran expedient unburied fiber links to communicate with commanders.



If you see a hot war, under current circumstances it will almost certainly be preceded (if only for a few minutes) by a full-on cyber attack.


It's an interesting arrangement. Launching a cyber war for its own sake might or might not escalate to a hot conflict, but a hot conflict would almost certainly be backed by the cyber version.


So in addition to debating launch on warning, we now have to think about launch on DDoS.


Blaming China or Russia is lazy writing. It could be just about anyone, including a rogue internal agency doing a spoof-attack to precisely cause the blame to go towards the obvious "state actors".

Cyber-warfare is the 'new' war and just like any war, misinformation plays an important role.


> Blaming China or Russia is lazy writing

It's what the author is being told by the people he has spoken too. Maybe a lazy assumption on their part, but it's not lazy writing. And your point is directly addressed in TFA:

"The data I see suggests China, an assessment shared by the people I spoke with. On the other hand, it's possible to disguise the country of origin for these sorts of attacks."

It would be interesting to know the sort of resources needed for this kind of attack/probing. Is it limited to state actors, or could we all play? Is the objective simply to be prepared, or is there a plan afoot?


> Is it limited to state actors, or could we all play?

Per the article, no, we can't all play. We don't have either the bandwidth or the expertise.


> Per the article

Not quite, it says "If the attacker has a bigger fire hose of data than the defender has, the attacker wins" and "the size and scale of these probes—and especially their persistence—points to state actors" which is not quite the same as saying you need to own the bandwidth. For example, DNS amplification can be used "to turn initially small queries into much larger payloads, which are used to bring down the victim’s servers".

https://www.incapsula.com/ddos/attack-glossary/dns-amplifica...

So maybe there are other techniques which might allow for similar leverage. Neither is the article conclusive about "state actors", they are merely "pointed to". As for expertise ... I don't doubt there are people out there who have it or might acquire it. So it's still an interesting question imo.


OK, perhaps I phrased it slightly wrong. I can't play, because I don't have the bandwidth or the expertise. I think that most of us on this board are in that category. (There's expertise here, but most of it isn't on the level of these attacks.)


Since he took the time to explain what a DDOS is, I think he felt the need to say "China or Russia" to help set the scale for people reading who aren't familiar with this kind of stuff.




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