Cybercrime and Molluscs
This week President Biden claimed to be “committed to the cybersecurity of the country” and promised to hold those that threaten our nation's security accountable. He also announced that his administration was hosting a meeting with 30 countries from the NATO and G7 alliance to discuss the problem of cybercrime and come up with a plan to combat it. The statement asserted the group would bring the “full strength” of their capabilities to disrupt the malicious cyber actors.
Israeli defense minister Naftali Bennett describes Iran as an Octopus that spreads its influence across the middle-east through its long tentacles. Mr. Bennett is the original proponent of the “Octopus Doctrine” declaring the only way to successfully beat an octopus is to target its head. “When the tentacles of the octopus strike you, do not fight only against tentacles, but strike the head also”. Life comes from the head, not the tentacles.
Previously the Biden administration outlined a new strategy for combating ransomware and cybercrime as detailed in this Wall Street Journal article. The administration plans to target the financial infrastructure of ransomware gangs hoping to remove the financial incentive of cyber-criminality.
Targeting the financial systems is just striking at one of the tentacles. You may cut it off but seven more exist and as you battle those the injured one will grow back.
It seems the Octopus Doctrine is apropos. If we want to truly combat cybercrime we need to attack the head – the governments that allow safe harbor to the major cybercrime groups. These groups conduct business without fear of interference, or repercussions because they are protected by nation-states. As long as they play by the rules of the host government, of course.
Until we directly strike the enablers, we're just hacking at tentacles.
The Biden administration sponsoring this meeting is a good start, if for nothing less than to start the conversation. To date, the administration has been woefully weak on just about everything that truly matters to the American public. The inclusion of other industrial nations who are equally as victimized by cybercrime will be beneficial in forcing or at least shaming, them into more forceful actions.
The only question that matters is will the Octopus be seated at the table or served in a hot dish on it?