Sunday, December 18, 2011

The Spy Who Hacked Me

James Bond was more of a jock than a nerd, and he probably wouldn’t have known how to use a computer, says Danny Bradbury. How things have changed…

It was perhaps the first time that evidence had publicly emerged linking the Chinese with specific cyberwarfare and espionage practices. A Chinese documentary, The Internet Storm Is Coming, recently became available online. Buried in the program around 11 minutes in was B-roll footage of a tool enabling users to attack selected websites via a distributed denial-of-service technique. The clip, later pulled by the Chinese government, gave even more credence to the idea that the state was deliberately involved in cyberwarfare and espionage.
We’ve come a long way from Cold War espionage, when microdots, miniature cameras, and drop zones defined the shady world of spying. Today, misappropriating information from your enemies is more often than not an online affair. But the origins of cyber espionage stretch back to the Cold War.
Markus Hess, a German citizen employed by the KGB, was convicted of hacking his way into US government systems to find information about the Strategic Defense Initiative and other nuclear programs. Hess used the ARPANET, a precursor to the modern internet, but was captured after Clifford Stoll, a systems administrator at the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, was asked to investigate a small accounting error in the usage billing for the laboratory’s computer system. Stoll wrote up the resulting investigation, involving a complex honeypot operation designed to trap Hess and reveal his identity, in a book called The Cuckoo’s Egg.

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