AusCERT 2012: US Army Cyber Command has never seen a cyber attack

Stuxnet was not a cyber attack because Iran never said it was.

The US Government, like most others, is openly building up offensive ‘cyber’ capabilities, but the arms race is on before the world has even seen a real cyber attack, says Robert Clark, operational attorney for the U.S. Army Cyber Command.

“With all due respect to all my friends out here doing this, we’ve never seen a cyber attack because I’m looking at a very specific definition of what a cyber attack is,” Clark on Tuesday told the AusCERT conference in Queensland.

“Stuxnet was not a cyber attack. Estonia, nope. Georgia, nope.”

The cyber attacks on Estonia and Georgia could not be considered real because neither could be tied back to a nation-state.

“If you can’t tie it back to a nation state, you can’t call it a cyber attack because the law of armed conflict applies between states, not individuals,” said Clark.

China remains the poster-child for industrial and national espionage, but Clark noted that while espionage on domestic turf carries tough penalties, espionage is not illegal under international law and was rife. The question of where and when to use ‘cyber’ force, however, is more complicated.

Stuxnet, thought to have been developed by Israel with the aid of the US, was definitely a “game changer”, said Clark, but it too failed to qualify for one reason.

“Iran didn’t call it an attack. They didn’t step up and say, ‘We’ve had a cyber attack’. Why? I don’t know,” said Clark, explaining that a critical criterion for an attack is the target's declaration that the incident is, in fact, ‘an attack’.

“The nation state that gets attacked gets to announce and decide whether they have suffered a ‘use of force’ or an ‘armed attack’.”

In turn that might influence how to define a proportional response.

Still, Stuxnet did satisfy two other conditions of ‘armed conflict’, including physical destruction of a system and, assuming Israel was behind it, a proportional response to an “imminent threat”.

“Under the law of armed conflict, you have to have necessity, proportionality; it’s got to be a non-discriminatory weapon, which means it’s got to be a targeted weapon,” said Clarke.

“[Stuxnet] was very discriminatory because it was looking for that one SCADA system, that Siemens machine, with the Iranian subsystem and the Finnish aspect in there.”

Symantec researchers in 2010 detailed the trigger for Stuxnet was at least 33 frequency converter drives made by Fararo Paya in Iran or by Finnish company Vacon. Because it was unlikely to find Iran’s equipment anywhere but Iran, the finding suggested the malware was designed specifically to target Iran's facility.

“And if it wasn’t there, this thing goes off the box June 24th 2012, or it would just go away or just lay there dormant, doing nothing. So it was a very discriminatory device.”

Was Stuxnet proportional if it was an attack by one state on another?

“I don’t know. Which one is better: dropping a 20,000 pound bomb on the dang thing or knocking it out with a cyber attack? So no deaths, just destruction—very proportional to the threat being faced,” said Clark.

#auscert2012

Follow @CSO_Australia and sign up to the CSO Australia newsletter.

Join the CSO newsletter!

Error: Please check your email address.

More about CERT AustraliaSiemensSymantecUS Army

Show Comments

Featured Whitepapers

Editor's Recommendations

Solution Centres

Stories by Liam Tung

Latest Videos

  • 150x50

    CSO Webinar: The Human Factor - Your people are your biggest security weakness

    ​Speakers: David Lacey, Researcher and former CISO Royal Mail David Turner - Global Risk Management Expert Mark Guntrip - Group Manager, Email Protection, Proofpoint

    Play Video

  • 150x50

    CSO Webinar: Current ransomware defences are failing – but machine learning can drive a more proactive solution

    Speakers • Ty Miller, Director, Threat Intelligence • Mark Gregory, Leader, Network Engineering Research Group, RMIT • Jeff Lanza, Retired FBI Agent (USA) • Andy Solterbeck, VP Asia Pacific, Cylance • David Braue, CSO MC/Moderator What to expect: ​Hear from industry experts on the local and global ransomware threat landscape. Explore a new approach to dealing with ransomware using machine-learning techniques and by thinking about the problem in a fundamentally different way. Apply techniques for gathering insight into ransomware behaviour and find out what elements must go into a truly effective ransomware defence. Get a first-hand look at how ransomware actually works in practice, and how machine-learning techniques can pick up on its activities long before your employees do.

    Play Video

  • 150x50

    CSO Webinar: Get real about metadata to avoid a false sense of security

    Speakers: • Anthony Caruana – CSO MC and moderator • Ian Farquhar, Worldwide Virtual Security Team Lead, Gigamon • John Lindsay, Former CTO, iiNet • Skeeve Stevens, Futurist, Future Sumo • David Vaile - Vice chair of APF, Co-Convenor of the Cyberspace Law And Policy Community, UNSW Law Faculty This webinar covers: - A 101 on metadata - what it is and how to use it - Insight into a typical attack, what happens and what we would find when looking into the metadata - How to collect metadata, use this to detect attacks and get greater insight into how you can use this to protect your organisation - Learn how much raw data and metadata to retain and how long for - Get a reality check on how you're using your metadata and if this is enough to secure your organisation

    Play Video

  • 150x50

    CSO Webinar: How banking trojans work and how you can stop them

    CSO Webinar: How banking trojans work and how you can stop them Featuring: • John Baird, Director of Global Technology Production, Deutsche Bank • Samantha Macleod, GM Cyber Security, ME Bank • Sherrod DeGrippo, Director of Emerging Threats, Proofpoint (USA)

    Play Video

  • 150x50

    IDG Live Webinar:The right collaboration strategy will help your business take flight

    Speakers - Mike Harris, Engineering Services Manager, Jetstar - Christopher Johnson, IT Director APAC, 20th Century Fox - Brent Maxwell, Director of Information Systems, THE ICONIC - IDG MC/Moderator Anthony Caruana

    Play Video

More videos

Blog Posts

Market Place