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Senate Looks for Answers During First Public Hearing on SolarWinds Cyber Attack

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Screenshot of FireEye CEO Kevin Mandia from the hearing

WASHINGTON, February 24, 2021 – In the first public hearing on the topic since the SolarWinds cyberattack in December, industry leaders testified Tuesday before the Senate Intelligence Select Committee that there are still unanswered questions about the attack.

Those questions include who did it, how they did it, and what they wanted.

Although the attack colloquially assigns SolarWinds as the victim, many companies were affected, and it was the cybersecurity firm FireEye that first announced they had been infiltrated.

The hack, which occurred between March and June 2020 and targeted several companies and federal agencies, has been widely attributed to Russian intelligence. FireEye’s CEO Kevin Mandia and Microsoft President Brad Smith, both whom testified at the hearing, said the adversary was likely the Russians, but did not want to give an irrefutable affirmation.

“We all pretty much know who it is,” said Mandia.

Although there is not yet definitive proof, we are confident from the evidence that this was the Russian intelligence agency, said Smith.

As Broadband Breakfast reported Tuesday, SolarWinds’ CEO Sudhakar Ramakrishna said that the attack was very sophisticated and required extensive expertise, as it occurred in the software update supply chain environment.

The other witnesses agreed. Mandia explained that FireEye found the implanted code from thousands of hours of examining detailed assembly code that requires specialized knowledge to understand.

Although we’ve seen many cyberattacks in the past, the scale of this attack was new, said Smith. The level of expertise we saw here required at least a thousand very skilled, capable engineers, he said.

Mandia said that this attack has been in the works for a long time. “This has been a multi-decade campaign for them. They just so happen to—in 2020—create a backdoor SolarWinds implant,” he said.

“They did a dry run in October of 2019, where they put innocuous code into the SolarWinds build just to make sure the results of their intrusion made it into the SolarWinds production platform environment,” he said.

SolarWinds still does not yet know how the attacker penetrated the company’s supply chain environment, but has narrowed it down to a few possibilities, said Ramakrishna. He did not elaborate on details, emphasizing that the investigation was still under way.

The witnesses said that what the hackers wanted and everything they took is still a mystery. At this point, we still don’t know everything the attacker did—only the attacker does, said Smith.

Various senators asked what needs to be done now that the world knows about the attack. The witnesses said they need better partnerships between the public and private sectors, especially a confidential way to report cyberattacks to the government.

They also said that nations need to agree on “ground rules” for engaging in cyberwarfare. During war, we agree not to bomb ambulances or hospitals, and in the digital space there needs to be equivalent off-limit targets, said Smith. These should include software updates, because the entire world and every type of infrastructure, both digital and physical, relies on them, he said.

The House Oversight and Homeland Security Committees are scheduled to hold a similar hearing Friday.

Reporter Tim White studied communication and political science at the University of Utah, and previously worked on Capitol Hill for a member of Congress. A native of Salt Lake City, he escapes to the Pacific Northwest as often as he can. He is passionate about politics, Star Wars, and breakfast cereal.

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Cybersecurity

CES 2023: Consumers Need to Understand Personal Cybersecurity, Says White House Cyber Official

Consumers must better understand how to weigh risks and protect themselves in the digital world, said Camille Stewart Gloster.

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Photo of John Mitchell, Tobin Richardson, Amit Elazari, and Camille Stewart Gloster (left to right)

LAS VEGAS, January 7, 2023 – In addition to building a more robust cybersecurity workforce, policymakers should consider consumer education, said Camille Stewart Gloster, deputy national cyber director for technology and ecosystem for the White House, speaking Saturday at the Consumer Electronics Show.

CES 2023 has featured numerous discussions of cybersecurity in sectors ranging from transportation to Internet of Things home devices. On Thursday, an official from the Department of Homeland Security argued that manufactures should design and pre-configure devices to be secure, thus reducing the security burden on consumers.

For their own protection, consumers must better understand how to weigh risks and protect themselves in the digital world, Stewart Gloster said Saturday. “The sooner that people understand that their physical security and digital security are inextricably linked the better,” she argued. According to the panel’s moderator, Consumer Technology Association senior manager for government affairs John Mitchell, 82 percent of data breaches in 2021 involved “the human element, stolen credentials, phishing, misuse.”

Stewart Gloster’s team is working on a national cyber-workforce and education strategy, she said, which will address the federal cyber workforce, the national cyber workforce, cyber education, and “digital safety awareness.”

Stewart Gloster said workforce initiatives should promote the participation of “people of a diverse set of backgrounds who are highly skilled and multidisciplinary who can take a look at the problem space, who can apply their lived experiences, apply the things they’ve observed, apply their academic backgrounds to a challenging and ever evolving landscape.”

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Cybersecurity

CES 2023: Cybersecurity for IoT Devices Should be Market-Driven

NIST’s cybersecurity guidelines for IoT prescribe desired outcomes, rather than specific and ‘brittle’ standards.

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Michael Bergman (left) and Katerina Megas

LAS VEGAS, January 6, 2023 – Cybersecurity protocols for Internet of Things devices should be industry-driven, Katerina Megas, program manager of the Cybersecurity for Internet of Things Program at the National Institute of Standards and Technology, said Friday at the Consumer Electronics Show 2023.

The popularization of IoT devices gives cyber-criminals increasing opportunities to breach networks, many say. Network-connected household devices – e.g., lightbulbs and home security devices – can be entry-points if security protocols are lacking. On CES panel on Thursday, a cybersecurity official at the Department of Homeland Security argued that manufacturers should design and preset devices to be safe, shifting much of the burden from the consumer.

“For a long-term, sustainable solution, the best approach really is for demand to be market driven,” she said, adding that NIST is “happy” to support the market when called on. To preserve flexibility, NIST’s cybersecurity guidelines for IoT manufacturers in general prescribed desired outcomes, rather than specific and “brittle” standards, Megas said.

“How you achieve those [outcomes] will vary depending on the maturity of your organization, the architecture of your product, perhaps preferences that you might have for you own internal processes,” she explained.

Megas said manufacturers, who well know their devices’ technical capabilities, often lack an understanding of how consumers actually use their devices. Megas said she has examined how to “help a manufacturer who has no insights into the final contextual use of this product, how can we help them…understand, ‘Here are the risks associated with my device.’”

At an American Enterprise Institute panel held in November, Megas endorsed an “ecosystem approach” to cybersecurity, arguing that network security is also indispensable.

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Cybersecurity

CES 2023: Railroad Industry Needs Cybersecurity Update

Shawn Smith advocated heavily tailored, industry-specific approaches that can address to the unique needs of the rail industry.

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Photo of Shawn Smith, vice president of business development of Cylus

LAS VEGAS, January 5, 2023 – To keep pace with today’s technological innovations and cyberthreats, the railway industry must retool its cybersecurity defenses, said Shawn Smith, vice president of business development of rail cybersecurity company Cylus.

The railway industry is working to patch old vulnerabilities as well as the new ones that have been create by developing technologies, Smith told Broadband Breakfast at the Consumer Electronics Show on Thursday. The need for enhanced cybersecurity has been a recurring theme at the conference, as have the implications of the ever increasing number of devices and technologies now relying on connectivity.

“We’re really fast-tracking an operator’s ability to keep pace with the change in the digital environment that they’re operating in (and) the interconnectivity that they’re seeing,” Smith said, adding that his team works to provide “visibility, threat detection, and response capability to keep pace with the change in their organizations.”

Smith said that many of the large rail players have developed responses for some cybersecurity risks, but lack the automation and planning tools necessary to maximize their effectiveness. He advocated heavily tailored, industry-specific approaches that can address to the unique needs of the industry.

Governments and industry players worldwide have of late been on high alert for cyberthreats, particularly since Russia invaded Ukraine in February 2022. Railways, like other infrastructure, are potential targets for nefarious actors, Smith said.

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