Cyber Espionage

The Plane Truth

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The plain (plane?) truth is that commercuial airlines face a growing risk of cyber attacks. It is a frightening prospect. Airline safety has never been better from an aeronautics perspective. Yet more pilots are switching to iPads to access airport information including runway approaches. No more need for heavy paper flight maps. Cockpits are digital. Air to ground links open up vulnerabilities which could allow nefarious actors to place an aircraft at the wrong height, even if the display tells otherwise.

Think of how politicians or high value targets could be assassinated this way. Hackers could dump the fuel, while sending normal consumption data to the pilots. The black box would record all the conflicting data. Who needs to take a bomb onboard? It could be made to look like an accident. The cockpit voice recorder could be switched off by remote leaving the investigators precious little to go on. The Israeli National Cyber Directive views this as a growing risk.

After a week of visiting Israel’s best cyber companies, many staffed with former members and leaders of the elite military cyber unit 8200, solutions will be found but the game is growing riskier by the day. The lack of adequate protection is evident. The live hacks (from low level amateurs to state sponsored) we were witness to show just how naked so many businesses and government agencies are. The access points to hack are also exposed by the fact less than 1% of people have security on the hand held devices they make so many decisions from.

What happens in 60 seconds on the internet?

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Director General of Israel’s National Cyber Directorate Yigal Unna posted a snapshot of what we are doing around the world in 60 seconds on the internet. There is a certain sadness to know that more people are swiping on Tinder than posting to Facebook or tweeting. Is it because technology is allowing us to become more transactional? There are more people absorbed by YouTube than searching on Google.

In any event there is a clear understanding that with so many online in any given minute, hackers and nefarious actors are working hard to breach defences. The more worrying aspect is less than 1% of people have cyber protection installed on their smartphones where most spend time accessing the data. So as we allow ourselves an invisible shield of emotional vulnerability protection on social media many of us are fish in a barrel unknowingly awaiting to be shot.

We want your business!

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Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu ran through the nation’s commitment to cyber noting the country has 200x the next country in per capita revenue in the area. They are 20% of global cyber revenue. Very scary outlook for the capabilities that cyber can do if in the wrong hands. In closing though the Prime Minister said four words:

We want your business!

It would be nice to see the Aussie PM shout as loudly for investment at home.

The dogs of Cyber War

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At a cyber park in Israel, even dogs are seen as incubators of innovation. He roams the office and is seen as a valuable colleague. You can’t help but smile when you see him.

Oi vey Australia! Time to develop innovation

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While the Australian school system seems obsessed dealing with LGBT awareness, gender fluidity and social causes, a day in the most up to date Israeli cyber park in the Negev Desert shows just how seriously the small nation deals with the real world and preparing future generations for it.

It should come as no surprise that Israel lives under constant threat. The Jewish State is happy to leave LBGT 20yr celebrations to rainbow flags on the beachfront in Tel Aviv. When it comes to education it is all about working kids hard to be competitive, hungry and innovative. Primary school students learn computer coding and mathematics. They don’t hold cross dressing presentations or participate in Family Day as a replacement for Mothers Day to show inclusiveness for minorities. Survival matters.

Those same primary schoolers learn even more skills when they hit high school. The government monitors 13yo kids for their cyber acumen to screen the best possible assets for the future. By 16yo the weeding out process is all but done.

The notorious IDF cyber unit 8200 is relocating to this cyber centre in Negev where over a dozen buildings are being erected to gather the finest innovators in the world. It’s a $50bn investment. Even the Israeli Defence Force standard cyber units will relocate there. As Israelis have compulsory military service from 18 years of age, the best and brightest get automatically assigned to these cyber teams.

The universities are collaborating with corporates and government. They work on real solutions that matter rather than shoot for research on questions nobody is asking. Companies like Intel are setting up R&D centres in Israel because the talent is there.

Australia may have a Department if Innovation & Science which has a billion dollar budget. The Israeli tech infrastructure organizers in places like the Negev encourage start ups. They award grants thru competitive processes based purely on merit. Instead of cutting grant cheques to all for participating in the Aussie “everyone wins a prize” mentality, the idea is that only the “best” idea out of 500 wins. The rest are forced to make more compelling arguments and work to secure alternative funding. That weeds out waste. If Australia just divvies out with fairness in mind, resources are misallocated and it is more likely the capital allocators are clueless.

The system is impressive beyond words. Listening to a dozen presenttions ranging across medical, cyber and agricultural fields, one cannot be thoroughly in awe of an early-thirties doctor from the neighboring university who has racked up 20+ patents for his inventions.

Then there is the tale of a 17yo intern who was given an asssignment to hack the vulnerability of a mobile phone manufacturer whose PR department lied through its back teeth to cover up a flaw in the system they boasted was secure. They cited the original hack wasn’t done over a secure VPN. In 3 days the 17yo kid hacked that too. Take about a face plant.

The same group told a large American corporate that it’s video streaming had a bug. Instead of admitting the lapse, the tech giant hunkered down and dug in its heels. They put a bandaid on it and were hacked again. They have managed to make a computer that is next to another but not connected in anyway, even via WiFi to make functions purely based on heat.

The answer is simple though. There are many cultural reasons why this type of education system works in Israel. While Australia has no hope of holding a candle to the Israelis there are huge lessons to be learnt about fostering a culture of individual excellence rather than move down the slippery slope that fails to prepare our kids for the future. It maybe too late.

Japan’s Defense White Paper 2017 – Chinese military jet incursions up 30-fold in 10 years

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Should Japan just close its eyes? The Japanese Air Self Defense Force (JASDF) has had to scramble jets almost 3x a day to intercept Chinese PLAAN aircraft flirting with Japan’s sovereign borders according to the 2017 Defense White Paper. Since 2007, the JSADF has seen an almost 30-fold jump in activity. With respect to the disputed Senkaku Islands, the PLAAN and PLAAF have been operating drones “inside” Japanese sovereign territory. While Japan can take some comfort with the US Forces stationed throughout the country, China’s increasing belligerence in the region is obvious.

With respect to China, the JMoD wrote,

China is believed to be making efforts to strengthen its asymmetrical military capabilities to prevent military activities by other countries in the region, denying access and deployment of foreign militaries to its surrounding areas (“Anti-Access/Area-Denial” [“A2/AD”] capabilities), and recently, pursuing large-scale military reforms designed to build its joint operations structure with actual combat in mind. In addition, China is rapidly expanding and intensifying its activities both in quality and quantity in the maritime and aerial domains in the region, including in the East and South China Seas.

In particular, China has continued to take assertive actions with regard to issues of conflicts of interest in the maritime domain, as exemplified by its attempts to change the status quo by coercion, and has signaled its position to realize its unilateral assertions without making any compromises. As for the seas and airspace around Japan, Chinese government ships have routinely and repeatedly intruded into Japan’s territorial waters, and China has engaged in dangerous activities that could cause unintended consequences, such as its naval vessel’s direction of fire control radar at a Japan Maritime Self-Defense Force (MSDF) destroyer, the flight of fighters abnormally close to SDF aircraft, and its announcement of establishing the “East China Sea Air Defense Identification Zone (ADIZ)” based on its own assertion, thereby infringing the freedom of overflight.

In the South China Sea, China has continued to take unilateral actions that change the status quo and heighten tension, including large-scale and rapid reclamation of multiple features, establishment of outposts there, and their use for military purposes, based on China’s unique assertions which are incompatible with the existing international order, and has made steady efforts to create a fait accompli. In addition, a Chinese fighter is alleged to have flown abnormally close to and conducted an intercept of a U.S. Forces aircraft. These Chinese activities represent serious security concerns of the region encompassing Japan, and of the international community.

For this reason, China is urged to further increase transparency regarding its military and enhance its compliance with international norms. It is a key task to further strengthen mutual understanding and trust by promoting dialogue and exchanges with China, and make further progress on measures to build trust, such as measures to avoid and prevent unintended consequences in the maritime domain.”

Sadly Japan is unlikely to get the answers it wants to hear. So as trivial as submitting to Chinese pressure to change an in flight magazine map might seem to many, the bigger picture is what is happening on the security front. As Churchill once said, “you cannot reason with a tiger when your head is in its mouth!