Liars, Deniers & Bears, oh my

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In the early 80’s a then largely unknown Matthew Broderick did a gig playing a young hacker who graduates from changing grades for himself and his girlfriend (played by Ally Sheedy), to nearly bringing about global thermonuclear war by hacking into a Super Computer at NORAD with his IMSAI 8080 computer and an early modem. War Games was a big hit movie in 1983, was nominated for some awards and it still comes up in lists for the best hacker films. Of course like so many movies you have to dance a little jig with reality here and there. For example, swallow hard and just move past the part where a preeminent professor has left a simple dictionary word – the name of his dead son to boot – lurking in the machine as his backdoor password.  Then again, realistic portrayal of technology in cinema was not really the point of the movie or of this post.

In the end everyone learns something. WOPR the super computer (AKA Joshua) learns the futility of war and that perhaps a nice game of chess is preferable. This binary epiphany comes thanks to the quick thinking and speedy hands of the same hacker that set things in motion, ably guided by the professor who left the easy password lying around (John Wood). The war mongers learn that maybe it is best we don’t let computers do the warring for us. and the viewers learn that hacking is bad. Or do we?

Outside of Hollywood hacking is wrong though, right?  Not so quick.

On June 15 2016   published a post to the blog for Crowdstrike a private cyber security firm of which he is co-founder and the CTO. Dmitri’s post – Bears in the Midst: Intrusion into the Democratic National Committee – provided a detailed  description of two separate exploits that his team found on the systems of the DNC. In that post and in an interview on CNN Dmitri outlines why his company is sure the systems where breached by two separate Russian hacker groups.

Alperovitch calls these groups Cozy Bear and Fancy Bear, they are also known as APT 28 and APT 29.  Both APT 28 and APT 29  are known bad actors operating out of Russia and widely believed to be tied to Russian Cyber Espionage efforts. These two groups are well known in the cyber security business, having been linked to attacks on the Pentagon, German Parliament , various  banks  and others.

Trump and his cadre who deny Russian involvement have said that the Hackers would need to be caught in the act to be identified, First, that is not true and second the folks at Crowdstrike did in fact catch them in the act. Even if they hadn’t  frankly I believe Dmitri above Trump and even above the US intelligence agencies who also say this hack and others where the work of the Russians.

Take a quick walk around the Crowdstrke web site and you  will see that these are serious folks with a simple mission – to stop breaches. Dmitri Alperovitch has multiple awards in his field and numerous patents to his credit. As near as I can tell he has no hatchet in need of grinding other than his reputation and that of his company, both of which seem to be pretty well honed. Trump on the other hand can hardly be seen past the ax he brings to the fight. Still maybe you think Dmitri is making  it all up or that he is just being partisan. Dmitri is also smart enough to know he could be wrong, so he had his work looked at by two other reputable firms Fidelis and Fireeye who confirmed his findings.

The ins and outs of the DNC and DCCC hacks are a matter of record. For those who care to look there is well laid out timeline with lots of god links here and more good information  here , here  as well as at the other end of a good web search.  I don’t need to kick that horse anymore, except to say that is is clear to pretty much everyone except the President-elect who did this and why. Even the FBI has finally moved beyond it’s own electioneering campaign and now agrees.

In a December 16th press conference  President Obama laid out his own timeline in his usual plodding, methodical manner. He also made it clear that he believes Putin is behind the hack and that the Trump team was made aware of the hack during the campaign. Why then does Trump deny knowing? Surely Obama must be lying?  I have little doubt that multiple witnesses could back up what the President is saying.  Add to that the fact that Trump would lie about the color of a teacup on the table before him and I think all but the most partisan among us have an idea who is lying.

Other Republicans reluctantly admit there was a hack but deny it had any effect. People with even a cursory grasp of logic can’t get pass the smell of that pile of farce  Practically anyone calling calling themselves media salivated lecherously as hired digital hitman Julian Assange  put the bounty from the hack  out in well timed dribs and drabs just as he was directed to.The only chance Trump and Putin ever had against Hillary was to do exactly that?

Senator  Marco ‘water boy’  Rubio certainly knew about the hacks during the campaign. He warned his fellow Republicans about using the information from the hack. saying ‘Today it is the Democrats. Tomorrow it could be us.’  He is right. the sophistication of these attacks show us that no one is truly safe.  In fact reports are out the claiming the RNC may also have been hacked, though these seem mostly to be rumors.

The President is right this should not be a partisan issue. Sadly it is. We should all be concerned enough to at least quit denying  clear evidence and explore how to keep it from happening again. Why would Trump and others bristle at this?  Why indeed.

Lately, many Republicans,  have stopped denying that the hack happened and are at least feigning concern.  Where was that concern during the campaign season when the information from those  hacks was daily tabloid style fare for everyone with a press pass? I think it was clear to these  people that the the steady drip drip drip of  talking head propaganda was helping Republican chances of taking over the Whitehouse as well as in down ballot races. Why ever would they stop that?

Ignore for a minute what if any effect the DNC and DCCC hacks might or might not have had. Those with access to the real evidence collected and analyzed by real professionals conclude with high confidence  that foreign hackers breached the security of multiple entities involved in an American election. Shouldn’t that be enough for a full scale investigation?  No?  Well what if there is  evidence that not only was this the work of a foreign government but that the leader of that government may have directed these actions.

It all sounds like something cooked up in Hollywood, maybe something for Angela Bennett or  Lizbeth Salander to help unravel?  Unfortunately though it is all to real and it brings up back to the central question of whether hacking, outside of Novels and screenplays is wrong or maybe instead if it should be rewarded.

In War Games, after Broderick saves the world from the monster his hack unleashed he has hair tousled by Dabney Coleman and kisses the girl. The camera pans out to show the engineers wandering aimlessly about in celebration while the two  youngsters continue to kiss  Roll credits. If there were a third act, maybe it would have shown Broderick’s character behind bars or at least a contrite an buckled down high school student, Then again maybe not.  Anyway, it seems that maybe he has learned his lesson after all and isn’t that enough?

The climactic, nail biting scene in a Hollywood version of our hacked election might show a confident but  still cautious foreign leader (played brillianty though posthumously by Alan Rickman ) actively watching the early vote counts in the American elections while enjoying caviar and Vodka, hoping the Machiavellian machinations which he ordered from his uber-geeks have done the trick and his Manchurian Candidate (Alex Baldwin of course) will soon be the leader of the free world. Of course in Hollywood the whole plot would be exposed, seconds before it was too late, by a socially awkward, ginger haired twenty something hacker  (perhaps played by Rupert Grint?)  and the beautiful Muslim reporter (Shohreh Aghdashloo.)  Because in Hollywood that is how it works.

Our Hollywood blockbuster might end with the Foreign leader, the candidate  and several high level American leaders  being led away in handcuffs while the the geek and the journalist -who initially hated the kid – bang brilliantly to hip hop music (his favorite).Because In Hollywood that is how it works.

In our real life Drama the hack had the desired effect and we are witnessing the third act. In the real world drama there will be no handcuffs. If there are consequences they will be minor and directed only at the inorganic entities who pulled off the hack It was only an election at stake and in an election winning is both the goal and the justification of any means.  When it comes to an election It seems that the good or bad of illegal activity is a relative thing.


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