Snowden says US ignores defensive cyber-security

Stan Ward

Stan Ward

January 14, 2015

Not content to rest on his whistleblowing laurels, Edward Snowden has for the time being shifted his attention to scolding the US for putting too much emphasis on cyber-security offense at the expense of defensive safeguards. At least thats the latest to come out of an interview with the exiled leaker soon to be beamed on PBS television’s Nova program.

In an on-camera interview for the show, Edward Snowden warned that the US Defense Department and NSA are overemphasizing the development of offensive network capabilities, placing the US systems at greater risk. The defensive measures are necessary, Snowden contends because other countries are in the process of developing more sophisticated offensive capabilities.

This turnabout by Snowden – going from privacy communications crusader to commentator on cyber matters – may seem cheeky at first glance. One is not sure that he is suited to make such comments unless his enforced asylum in Russia is taking him out of the limelight and making him seem marginalized. But in doing so he broke some new ground, veering away from NSA overreach to venture into areas such as White House policies he termed dangerous “landmines”. It seems that in seeking to exploit weaknesses in the software of adversaries, the NSA and Cyber Command are ignoring their own glaring vulnerabilities, according to Snowden.

Some of the interview, which took place last June in Russia, possibly foreshadowed the much publicized cyber-attack of Sony Pictures, but he characterized that attack as a rudimentary “sort of a Fisher Price”, baby’s first kind of hack cyber campaign, not the colossal disruption when actors become involved. In those instances, infrastructure such as electricity grids, dams and hospitals are-expected targets.

“I don’t want to hype the threat,” said Snowden. “nobody’s going to press a key on their keyboard and bring down the government….or wipe a nation off the face of the earth.” Still, he chastised US agencies for trying to collect too much data on their enemies while ignoring defensive strategies. He doesn’t offer evidence that convinces anyone that he is aware that they are not in fact engaged in such defensive development.

Snowden opines that the most valuable piece of infrastructure at risk is the Internet itself. Since it is used daily and counted on by millions of citizens and commercial and infrastructure entities such as power plants, “entire parts of the United States could be cut off… and we could go dark in terms of our economy and our business for minutes, hours, days.”

The interview took place just days after Admiral Michael S. Rogers, the new NSA director, downplayed the damage done by Snowden’s leaks. Later, Rogers elevated his status to someone who was “morally arrogant”, but was still dismissive of him, as was President Obama. Is this interview and Snowden’s using verbiage such “us” and “ours” when referring to the US telling in any way? Is he trying to manage public opinion in the US to create a more hospitable climate in the event of a trial for his offenses? It remains to be seen. What is certain is that Edward Snowden is doing all in his power to remain relevant in these dangerous times for cyber-security. Sure sounds like it.

As always, Stan’s views do not reflect those of the rest of the BestVPN staff.

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