‘Cyber arms race would be detriment to humanity’

The international community should come together to tackle cyberattacks rather than turning on each other, which only aids the perpetrators and may even lead to a new kind of arms race, author and historian Gerald Horne says.

A major cyberattack that started Friday has affected tens of thousands of computers in around 100 countries. The ransomware malware, known as ‘WannaCry,’ blocks and encrypts Windows files and displays a screen demanding a ransom to be paid in Bitcoin crypto currency to restore access.

READ MORE: ‘Militarization of cyberspace going out of control’: IT experts talk WannaCry ransomware hackstorm

The attack also targeted state-run hospitals in the UK, some ministries in Russia, and companies from the US, Spain, and Portugal.

However, Twitter user @malwaretechblog, with the help of Darien Huss from security firm Proofpoint, reportedly “accidently” found a loophole in the WannaCry malware.

RT: It’s arguably the largest cyberattack of recent times. How easy is it to pull off something like this?

Gerald Horne: Unfortunately, it is not very difficult. What I am reminded of when I study this news story is the testimony yesterday in Washington before the Congressional committee featuring the chiefs of the US intelligence agencies, including the Central Intelligence Agency. What struck me was that all-out attack both by these witnesses and by Congresspersons on Kaspersky Lab in Russia, which is a major antivirus firm that is designed to prevent this kind of ransomware attack. It seems to me that that kind of Russophobia helps to prepare the ground for this kind of attack and shows the utter ridiculous nature of what happened in Washington just yesterday. 

RT: Russia is among the affected countries, yet, how quickly do you think the blame will be pinned on Russia?

GH: Given the atmosphere in the US right now, it would not be surprising to me at all if Russia were blamed. I should also say that even though Kaspersky Lab as a major Russian firm is a pioneer and the leader in the manner of combatting ransomware attacks, the Congressional witnesses and their questioners suggested that the US agencies should have no contact with Kaspersky Lab, which seems to me will only be good news for those who perpetuate this kind of attack. I should also mention another story that is related. Recall that just a few years ago the US authorities in seeking to block the Iranian nuclear program unleashed the very strong virus known as Stuxnet. As subsequent investigations have shown, Stuxnet almost destabilized the entire Internet. I think that it will take time for the international community to come together as one rather than turning on each other, as is happening today, which only seems to aid and assist those interested in perpetuating ransomware attacks.

RT: There’s an allegation hackers could have used the previously leaked NSA tools. What do you make of that?

GH: That is possible, because keep in mind as well that the Pentagon… has now poured billions into what it calls Cyber Command. That is to say, it is developing an entire wing that is designed to destabilize the computer networks of other countries as an act of war, quite frankly. And given the fact that these tools have been apparently purloined from the National Security Agency, it is possible that these tools are have been used for ransomware, although it is premature to say so at the moment.

What we have here is something that we have seen many times repeated by the US government – which is spending a lot of time making something destructive. These NSA tools don’t have a positive use. They can only be used for bad purposes. And then it predictably is getting out of hand. We actually saw the same thing when the US government trained many people who later became Al-Qaeda. You had the same thing – training and technology getting out of hand. – Arvin Vohra, vice chair of the Libertarian National Committee

RT: We are living in the world where technology rules our lives. Are cyberattacks becoming new tools of warfare?

GH: It is obviously, and I am afraid that the US is setting a negative example by establishing a Cyber Command in the Pentagon. What is to stop other nations from establishing a Cyber Command? Indeed, nations that may not be able to match the US missile for missile or aircraft carrier for aircraft carrier might think they can match the US computer scientist to computer scientist. And this could lead to a kind of arms race, with regard to this ransomware attack, which would be a detriment to humanity as a whole.

Chris Kitze, a provider of secure and private communications described the attack as “a part of the persecution of the whole world.”

“Malware that has gotten out from the CIA, NSA and the other security agencies is now apparently being used to target against ordinary people,” he told RT.

“There is no question it is a weapon… It is a battlefield. The problem is now – it doesn’t follow the normal borders. It is not like the Russians or Chinese are attacking us… those really don’t matter anymore. Because these tools have now fallen into the hands of the criminal gangs and they are being used as a weapon against ordinary people, governments in different places, against good people in businesses all over the world,” Kitze said.

The statements, views and opinions expressed in this column are solely those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of RT.