BBC reported today on the latest in a series of sustained, high-profile cyber attacks. The alleged attacks against NATO are merely part of the daily grind for nations and large international organizations (IOs). Presidential campaigns, government agencies, and IOs are in a perpetual game of cat and mouse with hackers of many different stripes, from professional thieves to military adversaries to script kiddies. What’s interesting to me is that this feature piece at BBC doesn’t appear to have an incident that makes it newsworthy. I was more interested by the story on Kyrgyzstan’s purported suspension of US access to a military base. The AP story compared aid offers by Russian and American ministries, but I wonder what other sources of influence might have been brought to bear on Kyrgyzstan.
From the BBC story on NATO security…
Nato officials have told the BBC their computers are under constant attack from organisations and individuals bent on trying to hack into their secrets.
The attacks keep coming despite the establishment of a co-ordinated cyber defence policy with a quick-reaction cyber team on permanent standby.
The cyber defence policy was set up after a wave of cyber attacks on Nato member Estonia in 2007, and more recent attacks on Georgia – so what are they defending against and how do they do it…?
UPDATE: Google News has started to carry reports about the potential role of cyber attacks in Kyrgyzstan’s decision. Stories (e.g., Wired) have mostly fingered private Russian efforts, not official government hackers.
The base has also been something of a domestic political issue in Kyrgyzstan. In 2006, an Air Force guard shot and killed a local truck driver outside one of the gates; the Kyrgyz government has complained about emergency fuel dumping by U.S. warplanes.
So is the hidden hand of the Kremlin behind this, as some have suggested? Bakiyev made the announcement right after his government accepted a large aid package from the Kremlin worth around $1.7 billion, along with a write-off of Kyrgyz debt. What’s more, Kyrgyz Internet service providers were recently targeted by a major denial-of-service attack that some suspect was directed by Russian “cyber militias.”
David Trilling and Deirdre Tynan of Eurasianet have an excellent roundup of the situation from Bishkek. They quote Azamat Temirkulov, a political scientist at the American University of Central Asia, who notes a pattern of brinksmanship in U.S.-Kyrgyz negotiations. “He [Bakiyev] said it will happen, but he didn’t say when,” Temirkulov said. “The last time when there was talk [about closing the base], the Kyrgyz government said ’yes, it will happen,’ but never specified when.”
Temirkulov also raises a bigger question: Why would Russia encourage Kyrgyzstan to pull the welcome mat? After all, the Kremlin is not interested in having Afghanistan turn into a base for militant Islam in Central Asia. Said Temirkulov: “I don’t know why Russia would be interested in the closure of this base, because Russia is also interested in [promoting] security in Afghanistan.”