Snowden: NSA Developing Cyber-Defense System Called MonsterMind
redOrbit Staff & Wire Reports – Your Universe Online
It might sound like something out of a science fiction movie, but according to Edward Snowden, it’s all too real: the US National Security Agency (NSA) is developing a cyber-defense system capable of not only automatically neutralizing foreign cyberattacks but also launching retaliatory strikes against those nations.
Snowden, the whistleblower who publically exposed extensive details of global electronic surveillance and data collection at the NSA, revealed the existence of the program known as MonsterMind in an interview with Wired senior staff reporter Kim Zetter on Wednesday. The system would use algorithms to analyze metadata to differentiate between regular network traffic and potentially malicious traffic, and that knowledge would allow the agency to instantly detect and block foreign threats.
Beyond that, Snowden does not know much about the program – after all, as Engadget’s Daniel Cooper pointed out, it has been more than a year since he was forced to flee the US. However, Wired pointed out that the only way the NSA would be able to detect these spikes in anomalous traffic would be to scan the entire Internet – intercepting private communications without a warrant or probable cause, a clear violation of the Fourth Amendment, according to Snowden.
“The government has used excessive secrecy to prevent real debate over the wisdom and legality of many of its most sweeping surveillance programs,” ACLU attorney Alex Abdo told Grant Gross of PC Magazine via email. “This newly described program is just another example of that secrecy. If the government truly is scanning all internet traffic coming into the United States for suspicious content, that would raise significant civil liberties questions.”
Furthermore, Cooper said that MonsterMind would also “be in direct contravention of… the recent oversight report that Judge John Bates carried out about the NSA’s respect of privacy and civil liberties.” He also pondered whether or not using the program to automatically launch an online attack against a foreign country would be “violating the rule that only Congress can make a formal declaration of war.”
Snowden also said that, while he was working as a contractor with the NSA, he was concerned that a program like MonsterMind could result in misdirected counterattacks launched in response to spoofed attacks. “You could have someone sitting in China, for example, making it appear that one of these attacks is originating in Russia,” he told Wired. “And then we end up shooting back at a Russian hospital. What happens next?”
Zetter compared MonsterMind to a digital version of the Star Wars anti-nuclear missile initiative proposed back in the 1980s. While that program would have kept the country safe from nuclear warfare, the new NSA cyber-initiative would ideally help protect the country’s technological infrastructure from malware. For example, it could prevent DDoS attacks against American banks or prevent malware from crippling airline or railway systems, she added.
The NSA declined to comment on Snowden’s allegations and would not confirm or deny the existence of MonsterMind, according to Zetter and Gross. However, in a statement, the agency called on the former NSA contractor to return to the US. “If Mr. Snowden wants to discuss his activities, that conversation should be held with the U.S. Department of Justice,” it said. “He needs to return to the United States to face the charges against him.”
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