Experts have long argued about the relative worth of keeping the enemy where they can see him in cyberspace, against more aggressive policies of denying him operational space whenever possible. By keeping online jihadists corralled, agencies can generate intelligence from their activities, to be operationalised as required. Rather this than chasing jihadists around the internet, goes the argument, especially if they just set up again within one or two days of taking a particular site offline. The ethics of governments creating specific honeypot sites are far more debatable, and might fall foul of statutory limitations on entrapment were they to be carried out domestically. In the foreign context, a 2008 department of defence report obtained during a recent Freedom of Information Act lawsuit states that a US Air Force honeypot operation “targeting non-US persons” was not only a “potential questionable activity”, but possibly unlawful. One wonders how similar reasoning might apply to the present case, if it turns out to be true.
We do know one thing, however: by the end of 2008, al-Hesbah and most of the other major forums had gone offline in somewhat mysterious circumstances. At the time, experts suggested that the demise of al-Hesbah was very likely the work of US intelligence agencies, and illegal to boot. The current revelations may help explain these events.
A top FBI official warned today that many cyber-adversaries of the U.S. have the ability to access virtually any computer system, posing a risk that’s so great it could “challenge our country’s very existence.”
Steven Chabinsky, deputy assistant director of the FBI’s cyber division, delivered a strong and urgent warning about the threat of cyberattacks during a presentation Tuesday at the FOSE government IT trade show here.
“The cyber threat can be an existential threat — meaning it can challenge our country’s very existence, or significantly alter our nation’s potential,” Chabinsky said. “How we rise to the cybersecurity challenge will determine whether our nation’s best days are ahead of us or behind us.
Chabinsky said that terrorism is the FBI’s top cyber priority, followed by its investigation of foreign countries “that seek every day to steal our state secrets and private sector intellectual property, sometimes for the purpose of undermining the stability of our government by weakening our economic or military supremacy.”