Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Shane Harris's "@War: The Rise of the Military-Internet Complex"

Shane Harris is currently a senior correspondent at The Daily Beast, where he covers national security, intelligence, and cyber security. He is also an ASU Future of War Fellow at New America.

His first book, The Watchers, tells the story of five men who played central roles in the creation of a vast national security apparatus and the rise of surveillance in America. The Watchers won the New York Public Library’s Helen Bernstein Book Award for Excellence in Journalism, and the Economist named it one of the best books of 2010.

Harris applied the “Page 99 Test” to his new book, @War: The Rise of the Military-Internet Complex, and reported the following:
Page 99 captures one of the core arguments of my book: that the U.S. government, and particularly the National Security Agency, should be in the business of protecting the Internet, not trying to weaken it. This page looks at "zero day" vulnerabilities, which are flaws in software or operating systems that have never been discovered by the manufacturer. If a hacker found such a vulnerability he could use it to commandeer or damage a computer system, and potentially physical infrastructures regulated by it. Hackers sell this zero day information to the highest bidder in a shadowy online market, and the NSA is the single largest buyer. The agency hordes zero days in order to build exploits for hacking into commercial technology used around the world, both to spy on America's adversaries and potentially attack their infrastructure.

But the NSA could be disclosing these zero days, so that manufacturers can fix their products, and so people will know not to use vulnerable technology. On page 99, I use the analogy of a neighborhood security guard, which is essentially what the NSA claims it wants to be in cyberspace.
What would happen if the guard hired to watch over a neighborhood discovered an open window but didn’t tell the owner? More to the point, what if he discovered a design flaw in the brand of window that everyone in the neighborhood used that allowed an intruder to open the window from the outside? If the security guard didn’t alert the homeowners, they’d fire him— and probably try to have him arrested.
The NSA should start acting like a security guard. Instead, it's behaving more like a burglar.
Visit Shane Harris's website.

--Marshal Zeringue