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This month, Cyjax CISO, Ian Thornton-Trump, and Tristan de Souza (Editor and Head of Communications), discuss the Suez Canal and the issues of global supply chain management; continued SolarWinds debacle; nation-state attacks against cyber infrastructure; and international threat groups.
Issues in the Suez
As with most people around the world, the stranding of the Ever Given in the Suez Canal caught Ian and Tristan’s interest. The blocking of one of the world’s busiest shipping routes for almost an entire week hammered home the vulnerability of the global supply chain and the ease with which it can be disrupted. The cybersecurity parallels were apparent, too, with Ian pointing out that it illustrated how important it is to have a plan. The Ever Given was hundreds of miles from the nearest solution, leading to an extended wait for assistance, and hundreds of ships backing up in both directions. Was that the plan? It is hard to imagine it was.
SolarWinds blow and blow
This month saw yet another revelation in the continuing fallout from the SolarWinds hack. It now appears that the email account belonging to the former head of the US Department of Homeland Security’s was compromised. Other members of the department – which is responsible for safeguarding the US’s cybersecurity, among other things – were also accessed. This is espionage at another level: it may have set back intelligence operations by many months, or even years. Crucially, it appears the options for retaliation available to the US are few and far between. Jake Sullivan, President Biden’s National Security Advisor, has stated that the US plans to hit Russia in a way that will be apparent to the Putin administration, but not to the general public. Ian states we are at a “critical juncture” in cyber-diplomacy, and that we may well be in need of regulation of big firms.
America’s cyber conundrum
Talking of regulation, next on the agenda is the use of American infrastructure by foreign adversaries to perpetrate attacks against US targets. Cybercrime, now, according to Ian, is simply too damaging to business to be ignored. ISPs and other providers must give greater visibility and more scrutiny of who subscribes to and uses their services. The gathering of personal information is one way to do this, says Ian, but really it needs global cooperation. Even if the US were to enforce greater transparency, there is a possibility that ‘cyber tax havens’ will pop up that allow threat actors to operate as if they were in the US – or any other target country – whilst evading the scrutiny that comes from having infrastructure actually on the ground. While this is a risk, it would nonetheless be a step in the right direction.
How to rein in China?
Lastly, Ian and Tristan attempt to tackle the apparently intractable problem of China. The rules-based international business order is being undermined by a country that is clearly happy to cater to despots the world over (though this charge could equally be levelled at the UK in some areas of the economy). Retaliation from a cyber perspective is almost out of the question. Following the Microsoft Exchange Server debacle earlier this year, it is widely acknowledged that the Chinese threat groups involved left backdoors in every compromised server. Attacking Beijing in this way might result in swift reprisals. However, Tristan suggests we may be living in an era of Mutually Assured Cyber Destruction, whereby each side is so aware of the capabilities of the other, that both remain in an uneasy peace. As such, how can China be reined in? It seems this is too intractable a question for one podcast, with Ian acknowledging it may also be too big for today’s politicians.