Cyberspace, North Korea and Sony

North Korea is only part of the story about cyberthreats

Colin Robertson The Globe and Mail Tuesday, Dec. 23 2014

What should have been another mindlessly entertaining, forgettable holiday flick is now cyberfuel for a much bigger story.

That the Seth Rogan comedy, The Interview, with its Kim Jong-un assassination sub-plot would unleash the hacking of Sony Pictures; that the studio would cancel the picture; that the FBI would name North Korea as the perpetrator; and that U.S. President Barack Obama would vow to “respond proportionately”; has moved it from Hollywood farce to national security crisis.

The first takeaway is the continuing menace posed by North Korea’s Kim dynasty.

Now into its third generation, this rogue regime is characterized by murder, mayhem and ongoing abuse of human rights. In addition to its cyberarsenal, it possesses nuclear arms. An erratic missile capacity means that it threatens Canada (making the case as to why we need ballistic missile defence).

Defining a “proportional response” to “cybervandalism” will be a challenge for the Obama administration. The hermit kingdom is isolated from global financial and commercial markets and there is already a slew of UN sanctions on it.

The Chinese – providing most of North Korea’s food and energy – are best placed to exercise leverage but they are complicit, in league with Russia, Syria, Iran and North Korea in mutual development of their cybercapacities. Earlier this year, the U.S. Justice Department indicted members of the People’s Liberation Army for corporate cybertheft. These activities included hacking into a Canadian company responsible for protecting North American pipelines and grid systems.

Like dandelions, cyberthreats continue to spread.

Intel Security’s McAfee Labs detect five new threats per second in mobile malware. Malware attacks surged 76 per cent in 2014. McAfee’s 2015 forecast estimates more attacks on mobile devices and the Internet of Things.

McAfee warns of long-term “stealthier information gatherers.” New players will look for new ways to disrupt and steal money. They warn that criminals are beginning to act more like state actors watching and waiting to gather intelligence.

Meanwhile there is continuing debate around technology, threat and privacy.

The revelations from U.S. whistleblower Edward Snowden around data harvesting, including the private conversations of German Chancellor Angela Merkel, have highlighted privacy concerns about security agencies’ overreach.

In a world of meta-data mining, we all leave a trail of behavioural patterns whenever we go on the Internet.

President Obama rightly described Sony’s decision to pull The Interview as a “mistake.” Bowing to intimidation, Mr. Obama said, is “not who we are.” For enduring satire, Sony executives should watch Charlie Chaplain’s The Great Dictator (1940), parodying Adolf Hitler.

But privacy is different from intimidation. Sony executives’ e-mails are salacious reading but should the media have publicized them? Adam Sorkin, creator of The West Wing, argues that the hackers – “demented and criminal” – do it for a cause, but the press do it “for a nickel.”

Business needs to protect itself and its customers. Credit-card information and intellectual property are main targets but the Canadian Security Intelligence Service warns state-sponsored attackers seek information to give their companies a “competitive edge” over Canadian firms

By design, the Internet is open, dynamic, transparent, interoperable and adaptable to continuous technological improvement. It accesses and ensures the rapid, seamless flow of data and information. Security and identity protection were secondary objectives and this, observed former U.S. deputy defence secretary Bill Lynn, gives attackers a “built-in advantage.”

Apple and Google have recently added encryption features onto their operating systems to make our phones and computers less susceptible to hacking.

They are programmed in such a way as to protect these same companies from decryption, even under court order, to the concern of the FBI and national security agencies.

Next year, the U.S. Congress will debate sun-setting key provisions of the Patriot Act allowing bulk data collection by the National Security Agency. We cherish our privacy but what if there is good reason to believe a terrorist group is planning another attack?

Cybertheft, cyberesponage and cybervandalism are going to get worse. The bad guys: terrorists, criminals and rogue states.

Governments and businesses need to act in tandem. Detecting, tracing and identifying sources requires constant vigilance. Deterrence depends on continuous innovation and collaboration between and amongst business and governments.

The standards of international law in time of war are laid out in the Geneva and Hague conventions addressing, for example, a ban on chemical and biological warfare. Groups like the Global Commission on Internet Governance are helping prepare the ground for international norms on cyberbehaviour .

Keeping cyberspace open and safe for commerce and personal use is vital but it won’t happen without constant effort.

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North American Energy Ministers meeting

As oil prices continue to slide, what North America really needs is a common energy strategy

Colin Robertson The Globe and Mail Wednesday, Dec. 10 2014, 3:00 AM EST

A North American energy strategy to help kickstart continental competitiveness. It is a tall order for our energy ministers who meet in trilateral discussion next week in Washington.

The Canadian, American and Mexican ministers – Greg Rickford, Ernest Moniz and Pedro Joaquin Coldwell, respectively – meet as followup to the leaders’ summit held last February in Toluca, Mexico. Their assignment: to promote common strategies on renewables, energy efficiency, infrastructure, innovation, and trade.

They chart a course against a turbulent international backdrop.

First, there is the economics of increased supply and diminishing demand. The price of a barrel of oil has dropped by a third to levels not seen since 2009. As energy expert Daniel Yergin observes, the demand for oil by China and emerging economies is “no longer the dominant factor”.

Rather it is the surge in U.S. (now the largest oil producer) and Canadian production that is decisive. But less demand has significant implications for Mexican and Canadian development and lower prices undermine governments’ revenue projections.

Second, there is the shifting energy geopolitical chessboard. Europe would like to wean itself off Russian and Middle East dependence but the logistics of getting oil and gas from North America to Europe are still years away. Nonetheless, the recent fall in oil prices demonstrates that OPEC is divided and no longer calls the shots and that Russia’s influence is falling along with the value of the ruble.

Third, there are the pressures of climate change. The World Meteorological Organization projects 2014 to be the hottest on record. Fourteen of the fifteen warmest years on record have occurred in the 21st century.

With these developments in mind, the energy ministers need to declare their intent to plan and collaboratively implement a North American energy strategy.

We live in an age of austerity and there is no appetite for yet another government body, so the first step should be to identify our existing centres of energy excellence and innovation.

The U.S. Energy Information Administration does a superb job in providing and presenting information in a comprehensible, comprehensive fashion. A stronger alliance with like agencies in Canada and Mexico could produce a “continental energy outlook” that would help guide investment decisions and smart choices on vital energy infrastructure.

Collectively, we need to define our vital infrastructure – pipelines, transmission lines, shipping, rail and trucking– and connectivity, that needs renovation (much of it is aging) to improve reliability and harden it against climate or cyber-assault.

We need a simpler approach to energy regulation.

For advice on the mechanics of energy regulation, the newly created Alberta Energy Regulator (AER) is well on the way to meeting its aspiration of becoming “best in class”. Mexico’s energy regulator, the Comisión Nacional de Hidrocarburos signed an agreement with AER in June to work collaboratively on regulatory best practices in the development of hydrocarbon resources.

We need sharing between companies on best practises in improving the environment..

An obvious model for continental adaptation is Canada’s Oil Sands Innovation Alliance (COSIA). It was established in 2012 as a collaborative consortium of the major companies in environmental stewardship. With investments of almost a billion dollars, COSIA’s 13 members have shared 777 distinct technologies and innovations reducing greenhouse gas emissions, water and land usage, and accelerating reclamation.

We need sustainable approaches to big development especially in terms of social license.

Quebec’s Plan Nord, the creation of Jean Charest, now resurrected by Premier Philippe Couillard, blends private-public partnerships with equity stakes for the aboriginal population. Covering 72 percent of Quebec – the equivalent of France and Texas combined – it will generate jobs and development. The Pew Trust describes Plan Nord as demonstrating global leadership in conservation and climate change and it is an obvious model for Mexico’s large-scale development projects.

In terms of deliverables, the energy ministers should encourage the North American energy industry to draw on best practices and establish common continental fracking standards. Our leaders could table them at the UN Climate Conference in Paris next December.

They also should look for opportunities to collaborate on promising areas of research and development related to renewable and low-carbon energy technologies.

North American leaders titled their February communiqué: ‘Building the Most Competitive and Dynamic Region in the World’. Presumptuous, perhaps, but Mexico’s ambitious reforms, the energy industry’s commitment to innovation, and shifting geopolitics create new opportunities. A North American energy strategy would be a great leap forward in continental economic integration.

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