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Perimeter

1/29/2009
06:32 PM
Rob Enderle
Rob Enderle
Commentary
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Are We In A Tech 'War' With Russia?

I was reading the withering comments Vladimir Putin made to Michael Dell in response to Dell's offer to help Russia. Though Putin is Russia's prime minister, he clearly is also the guy who is running the country. Reading between the lines, I think it is likely he is driving a technology w

I was reading the withering comments Vladimir Putin made to Michael Dell in response to Dell's offer to help Russia. Though Putin is Russia's prime minister, he clearly is also the guy who is running the country. Reading between the lines, I think it is likely he is driving a technology war with the U.S. -- and that has some rather scary implications.I've already seen what appears to be a massive ramp-up of Eastern European botnets and attacks designed to do massive amounts of identity theft. The running assumption is that these are criminals who are simply too difficult for Russia to catch. But given that Russia treats the tools these folks use as legitimate products that are developed, protected, and carry enforceable warranties, I'm wondering whether the folks doing the attacking aren't also government-backed.

Russian hackers are considered a global menace as it is, and if they are overtly or covertly government-backed, this could be construed as equivalent to a tech war. The FBI has just started warning that Cybergeddon is coming, it is unprepared for the result, and it likely will come out of Eastern Europe.

The Dell Trigger Here's a look at what happened: At the recent World Economic Conference, Putin made a presentation that clearly had an anti-West (actually, more anti-U.S.) tone. Dell, who after praising Russia for its technical and scientific prowess, asked him the first question: "How can we help you?" Putin interpreted Dell's remarks to mean that Dell was calling Russia weak. He went on a rant suggesting that Dell was removing Western technology from Russian infrastructure, and then concluded with what sounded like a personal attack on Dell. This attack consisted of belittling Dell's business, and stating that Russian software was superior and hardware didn't matter. The way Putin said it implied that Dell was running the equivalent of a lemonade stand. Clearly, Dell was being used as a proxy for the West, and specifically the U.S. Russia's rhetoric was short of a declaration of electronic war. What makes this especially odd is it came after a change in the U.S. administration from one that was very critical of Russia and militaristic to one that is much more conciliatory and diplomatic.

Meanwhile, Russian hackers took Kyrgyzstan offline after a 10-day massive cyberassault, effectively eliminating 80 percent of the country's online capacity. This has the feel of a weapons test. And it comes one year after a similar test on another country Russia was upset with -- Georgia. Could the U.S. be next?

I think we need to consider the very real possibility that we may already be engaged in a silent cyberwar and are simply awaiting for the electronic equivalent of Pearl Harbor. If so, this may be a test for the Obama administration.

-- Rob Enderle is president and founder of Enderle Group. Special to Dark Reading.

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