Category Archives: Crime & Homeland Security

White House Authorizes “Offensive Operations” As Part of New Cyber Security Strategy

The WH and the Pentagon have a plan to step up offensive cyber operations to deter foreign adversaries.

The Trump administration has authorized the use of “offensive cyber operations” as part of a new national cyber strategy that aims at deterring attacks on the U.S. most critical networks, preventing interferences on future elections (in order to avoid a 2016 DNC hack) and face a wide array of intrusions, ranging from criminal activity to cyber espionage.

According to national security adviser John Bolton, the new policy will ease the rules on the use of cyber weapons to protect the nation and includes a new classified presidential directive that replaced one from the Obama administration.

According to the Washington Post, “In general, the president’s directive — called National Security Presidential Memorandum 13, or NSPM 13 — frees the military to engage, without a lengthy approval process, in actions that fall below the “use of force” or a level that would cause death, destruction or significant economic impacts, said individuals familiar with the policy who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss nonpublic information.”

Most analysts believe the strategy does not differ too much from the Obama administration’s cybersecurity national action plan (CNAP) issued in 2016; the problem, according to some former officials “was not the policy, but the inability fo agencies to deliver a forceful response.”

Obama’s CNAP included a series of near-term initiatives to enhance cybersecurity capabilities within the Federal Government and across the country, that included partnering with leading technology firms and financial companies (“Cyber Security Alliance”), investment of over 19B USD in President’s FY 2018 budget (a 35% increase from FY16), research and development around commonly used “utilities” such as open source software, protocols and standards.
Earlier this week, the DoD released a cyber strategy document that points towards China and Russia as the United States’ top adversaries and focuses on deterrence: among the ingredients for succeeding in tomorrow’s cyberspace, the Pentagon report lists Innovation, Agility, Automation and Data Analysis as well as COTS (Commercial-Off-The-Shelf) capabilities. “The Department will counter cyber campaigns threatening U.S. military advantage by defending forward to intercept and halt cyber threats and by strengthening the cybersecurity of systems and networks that support DoD missions. This includes working with the private sector and our foreign allies and partners to contest cyber activity that could threaten Joint Force missions and to counter the exfiltration of sensitive DoD information.” Key to defending US interests in the cyberspace will be the resilience of U.S. critical infrastructure: the Pentagon plans to counter attacks on critical networks and systems mainly by improving public-private information-sharing mechanisms.

Furthermore, the 2018 DoD strategy calls for cultivating talents, expanding crowd-sourced vulnerability identification and shorter hardware and software procurement times in order to keep pace with the rapid advance of technology.

This is what this author wrote last year commenting the impact of new technologies and digital transformation on the military:

“The impact of “pervasive technologies” on today’s society is often referred to as “Digital Transformation,” part of the so-called “Revolution 4.0,” where fusion of technologies is blurring the lines between the physical, digital, and biological spheres.

For instance, when it deals with the militaries, today’s joint operations on the battlefield require reliable information gathered through a wide variety of sensors aboard drones, spyplanes or provided by troops operating in the field around the world to decision makers oceans apart.

[…] while a large mix of digital technologies is making the world fully connected to improve collaboration, learning, information sharing and decision-making, companies around the world continue to invest in research and development and seek new technologies that can give them an advantage on their market. More or less what their old and new “enemies” are doing, at the same speed, or faster.

Moreover, a growing reliance on technology implies new advanced adversaries to face: in fact, the so-called Revolution 4.0 has already completely changed the geopolitical landscape requiring Defense and National Security to evolve and include the Cyber domain because even smaller economies, organizations or individuals (backed by some intelligence service or not) can pose a significant threat to larger nations today.

Attackers have been trying to intrude Government and Private Sector’s firms’ networks, often with real cyber weapons, for years. “Software-based” weapons systems, IoT capabilities, Big Data, Cloud Computing and digitization will simply expand the attack surface they can target, making them even more aggressive and dangerous than ever before, also as a consequence of the speed of the 5G connectivity that will be the driver for more services as well as more powerful attacks. Therefore, a Cybersecurity strategy covering the whole technological domain will be the key to address new and existing risks and threats before these can give the enemy an edge both in the cyberspace and in the battlefield. And such strategy will not have to cover “defensive” cyber operations only but also “offensive” ones.”

Top image credit: Norse

We Visited Sunspot National Solar Observatory in New Mexico on Saturday. This Is Our Report.

We got close as 20 meters away from the main telescope and took some close-up shots of the surrounding buildings.

Editor’s note: as you already know by now, Sunspot National Solar Observatory, New Mexico, has been evacuated along with the small town that supports it on Sept. 6. The facility was evacuated “as a precautionary measure while addressing a security issue” and it remained off-limits since then. No further details were provided while the FBI investigated the issue. You can find many conspiracy theories online: from the need to keep a Solar Flare that will terminate us secret, to the imminent Alien Invasion. However, some interesting coverage can be read at the War Zone here and here. Now the Association of Universities for Research in Astronomy (AURA) organization that runs the observatory has released a statement according to which the facility will return to normal operations today, Sept. 17. Here below is the only piece of information about the reasons for the evacuation included in the statement:

“We recognize that the lack of communications while the facility was vacated was concerning and frustrating for some. However, our desire to provide additional information had to be balanced against the risk that, if spread at the time, the news would alert the suspect and impede the law enforcement investigation. That was a risk we could not take.”

On Sept. 15, journalist and The Aviationist’s contributor Eric Rosenwald visited the observatory. Here’s his first hand account along with video and pictures:

I was in Las Cruces, New Mexico on Saturday, September 15 for a commercial drone photography assignment. I was aware of the Sunspot, New Mexico solar observatory mystery, and, given that it was only 100 miles away from Las Cruces, I decided to see what I could find out after I completed my work. I didn’t expect to see anything spectacular. It had been a week since the initial incident, and I knew that security guards were at the site. Even so, the popularity of the story meant that there was still demand for reliable, unique new images of the facility.

When I arrived at the front gate, I was greeted by three uniformed, armed security officers. They were friendly, but said that they weren’t aware of how or why the facility had been evacuated. I recorded video and took photos near the gate. Several curious onlookers showed up in vehicles, and left while I was filming.

National Solar Observatory

According to a security guard, one of the residents at the facility didn’t fully evacuate. He camped at the edge of the property, next to an unmarked campsite complete with a fire ring 20 meters from the main gate. By the time I got there, he had left the campsite and returned to his home. Apparently, he was frustrated with the evacuation and lack of updates. Sunspot is not simply the location of a telescope. It’s a self-sufficient town complete with its own post office. People have homes in Sunspot.

A Security guard informed me that the nearby Apache Peak Observatory grounds were open to the public, adding that I shouldn’t use my vehicle headlights after 7pm to avoid interfering with telescope operations. After a final chat with the guards, I drove back down the road from Sunspot, and turned onto a separate road that led to the observatory on Apache Peak.

Welcom sign.

Upon arrival, I parked in the guest lot, walked to an outcrop that overlooks the valley that cradles White Sands Missile Range, and spent several minutes taking photos. I was running out of daylight, so I didn’t walk onto the telescope grounds. Instead, I drove down the access road, parked, and hiked cross-country to the perimeter of the solar observatory in Sunspot. I spent several minutes recording video and taking photos of the Dunn telescope and surrounding buildings. It started to rain during the hike, which led to the development of a rainbow near the telescope.

One of the vehicles that could be spotted at the facility belonged to the Sunspot Fire Department NM.

I didn’t see any people, signs of an evacuation, or anything else that seemed unusual or notable. At sunset, I returned to my vehicle. As I traveled down one of the access roads, I passed several bow hunters, free-range cattle and deer.

A close up view of the top of Dunn telescope.

I was satisfied with the images I brought back, but the ongoing mystery left me with a desire to remain, and continue investigating the area. Unfortunately, I had to go back to Tucson.

Here below you can see the video filmed by the Author at the National Solar Observatory on Saturday:

Colorado shooting through the Police radio communications. Scanner captured the moments after the tragedy unfolded.

On Jul. 20, 2012, suspected gunman James Holmes allegedly killed at least 12 people and wounded 59 others during the midnight premier of the new Batman movie “The Dark Knight Rises” in Aurora, a suburb of Denver.

All U.S. media outlets provide a detailed description of the slaughter. You can read the first interesting analysis of the mass shooting on Wired Danger Room, whereas if you want to get some “active shooter scenario” advice from a Navy SEAL to prevent yourself from becoming an easy target at sporting events, concerts, and movies, you’ll find this SOFREP article particularly useful.

But, what happened in those chaotic moments at the local police station?

The following audio (made available through a video uploaded to Youtube) captured the moments after the tragedy unfolded when police officers, trying to remain as calm as possible, try to manage the rescue efforts.

At 1:30 min you’ll hear one of them trying to find out when an injured pregnant woman was transported to.

Unencrypted radio comms broadcast on known frequencies were recorded by local radiohams/monitors using a scanner radio in the same way many aircraft enthusiasts and spotters listen to civil and military plane movements all around the world on both VHF, UHF, HF bands.

Among all the others, the mass shooting claimed the lives of two U.S. military serving at Buckley Air Force Base: a sailor and an airman.

H/T to Allan Stern for the heads-up