I noted earlier that the reporting on the US not imposing cybersanctions on China appears to have credulously served its purpose in creating a narrative that may have helped create the environment for some kind of deal with China.
NYT’s David Sanger did his own version of that story which deserves special focus because it is so full of nonsense — and nonsense that targets Iran, not China.
Sanger starts his tale by quoting something President Obama said at Fort Meade over the weekend out of context. In response to a question about the direction of cybersecurity in the next 5-10 years, Obama spoke generally about both state and non-state actors.
Q Good afternoon, Mr. President. You alluded to in your opening remarks the threat that cyber currently is. And there’s been a lot of talk within the DOD and cyber community of the possibility of a separate branch of the military dedicated to cyber. I was wondering where you see cyber in the next five to ten years.
THE PRESIDENT: Well, it’s a great question. We initiated Cyber Command, anticipating that this is going to be a new theater for potential conflict. And what we’ve seen by both state and non-state actors is the increasing sophistication of hacking, the ability to penetrate systems that we previously thought would be secure. And it is moving fast. So, offense is moving a lot faster than defense.
Part of this has to do with the way the Internet was originally designed. It was not designed with the expectation that there would end up being three or four or five billion people doing commercial transactions, et cetera. It was thought this was just going to be an academic network to share papers and formulas and whatnot. And so the architecture of the Internet makes it very difficult to defend consistently.
We continue to be the best in the world at understanding and working within cyber. But other countries have caught up. The Russians are good. The Chinese are good. The Iranians are good. And you’ve got non-state hackers who are excellent. And unlike traditional conflicts and aggression, oftentimes we don’t have a return address. If somebody hacks into a system and goes after critical infrastructure, for example, or penetrates our financial systems, we can’t necessarily trace it directly to that state or that actor. That makes it more difficult as well. [my emphasis]
Sanger excised all reference to “excellent” non-state hackers, and instead made this a comment about hacking by state actors.
“Offense is moving a lot faster than defense,” Mr. Obama told troops on Friday at Fort Meade, Md., home of the National Security Agency and the United States Cyber Command. “The Russians are good. The Chinese are good. The Iranians are good.” The problem, he said, was that despite improvements in tracking down the sources of attacks, “we can’t necessarily trace it directly to that state,” making it hard to strike back.
Sanger then took this comment very specifically directed at the upcoming Xi visit and China,
And this is something that we’re just at the infancy of. Ultimately, one of the solutions we’re going to have to come up with is to craft agreements among at least state actors about what’s acceptable and what’s not. And so, for example, I’m going to be getting a visit from President Xi of China, a state visit here coming up in a couple of weeks. We’ve made very clear to the Chinese that there are certain practices that they’re engaging in that we know are emanating from China and are not acceptable. And we can choose to make this an area of competition — which I guarantee you we’ll win if we have to — or, alternatively, we can come to an agreement in which we say, this isn’t helping anybody; let’s instead try to have some basic rules of the road in terms of how we operate.
And suggested it was directed at other states more generally.
Then he issued a warning: “There comes a point at which we consider this a core national security threat.” If China and other nations cannot figure out the boundaries of what is acceptable, “we can choose to make this an area of competition, which I guarantee you we’ll win if we have to.”
Sanger then spends six paragraphs talking about how hard a time Obama is having “deterring” cyberattacks even while reporting that China and the US have forged some kind of deal that would establish norms that are different than deterrence but might diminish attacks. He also, rather curiously, talks (again) about “unprecedented” theft of personal information in the OPM hack that we need to deter — even though James Clapper has repeatedly said publicly that we do the same thing (and by some measures, on a much bigger scale).