Cyber attacks against the US

Ian Morse

Kevin Mandia ‘92 details US vulnerability and attackers

Photo courtesy of lafayette.edu

madniafromlafedu

 

The United States can be easily infiltrated by international cyber hackers, FireEye, Inc. COO and VUP Kevin Mandia ‘92 said in a lecture last Thursday.

“We’re living in a glass house, but the people we would be hacking into are living in a mud house to some extent,” he said. “The [US] private sector is a sitting duck.”

Fortune magazine called Mandia “the CEO who caught the Chinese spies red-handed” in a January 2013 article. His career began with a degree in computer science from Lafayette and he has since accrued 20 years of experience in the business of cyber defense.

A main point of Mandia’s talk was how the nature of hacks has recently shifted from the government level to the private level. Mandiant, a company Mandia started in the basement of a Thai restaurant in 2004, has been “on the front line” of uncovering these cyber breaches into the private sector over the past few years. These include last year’s intrusions into the New York Times and other intrusions by foreign agents from China and Russia.

“You couldn’t follow that story without seeing the name Mandia,” Economics Professor Mark Crain said during Mandia’s introduction.

When NYT went public about their network intrusions, Mandia said his company decided to publicize their claim that the Chinese military was behind the breach.

“Up until this time, every time the Chinese were accused of compromising the private sector,” Mandia said, “the official response from Beijing was ‘these attacks are not coming from China.’”

Mandia’s company accused the Chinese military directly and they responded with a “tacit admission” to the claims, and accused Mandiant of making claims without proof. But Mandia was prepared for these accusations.

“I felt baited by that message…that we’re doing this without evidence,” Mandia said. Mandiant keeps extensive records of all the groups they responded to, which they used to incriminate specific Chinese military programs.

“Let’s go public [with the information about the Chinese hackers] because we have watched them do this since 1996…Let’s try a diplomatic answer,” Mandia said.

There was a specific Chinese military program that hacked into several hundred private sector networks in order to hide their trails when they subsequently intruded into target companies, according to Mandia.

“I’m not a mind reader, but I’m going to speculate for a second: economic advantage,” Mandia said, citing a reason for the Chinese to commit cyber espionage. Chinese firms compete in the same markets as dominant US companies, and this would increase their ability to compete.

“Industries that are important for keeping the 1.7 billion people fed are the ones that are targeted,” Mandia said.

Mandiant has found that over the course of seven years, the Chinese have compromised 141 companies in 21 industries.

Mandiant was able to investigate and accuse the Chinese military with considerable ease, since some workers published their resumes online and opened Gmail accounts in the US, according to Mandia. Mandiant had no trouble accessing this information.

“The Chinese want to be the best in the world, just like we do,” Mandia said. “I think culturally, they don’t believe they’re doing anything wrong.”

Abby Williams ‘15 summed up much of the room’s sentiments at the information revealed in the talk: “riveting and frightening.”

The same day as the lecture, Lafayette announced that Mandia will receive an honorary doctorate of Public Service at this year’s commencement.