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Cybersecurity Expert Refutes McCain's Idea of Cyberattack Against Russia

© AP Photo / Ralph FresoIn this May 30, 2016, photo, Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz, speaks during a Phoenix Memorial Day Ceremony at the National Memorial Cemetery of Arizona in Phoenix.
In this May 30, 2016, photo, Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz, speaks during a Phoenix Memorial Day Ceremony at the National Memorial Cemetery of Arizona in Phoenix. - Sputnik International
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US Senator John McCain has called in his new book on US to consider a cyberattack against Russia to retaliate for Moscow’s alleged meddling in US elections. According to McCain, President Putin damaged Hillary Clinton’s campaign and encouraged US government dysfunction and "sees evidence of his success every day in our polarization and gridlock."

Sputnik talked about Senator John McCain’s calls to retaliate against Russia with Kevin Curran, professor of Cyber Security School of Computing, Engineering and Intelligent Systems, Department of Computing, Engineering and the Built Environment at Ulster University.

Sputnik: Very strong words by Senator John McCain in your view how justified is the senators claims that Russia has encouraged US government's dysfunction by using cyber weapons, is it even possible? This has been going on for a good 15 months now and there's still been no proof but they're still banning the drum now, Senator McCain‘s been renowned for his comments globally with regard to certain areas and jurisdictions encouraging conflict, what’s your take on all this?

Kevin Curran: It really is warmongering talk asking the US to conduct an offensive cyberattack on Russia, but I would caution him against that because I doubt if he’s that technical, and congressional war differs really from cyberwar because cyberwar is down to tools which will allow countries, for instance, to be able to conduct sabotage on systems whether they're nuclear systems or power grids or key infrastructure within companies, it can also be used for espionage and it can also be used for denial-of-service, which is simply where you stop certain sites from working by sending too many packets to them, but the problem with using cyber warfare tools, which is really hacking tools, is that, though you might gain whatever you want to do if it works for you against a certain country that you're attacking, but the fact is that that would be analyzed, what happened, what’s the weakness, and the country which was attacked would be able to lead a reverse engineer, and see what the code did, and how it worked and, inevitably, the code used, and we've seen this with previous cyberattacks where a certain code has been used, a certain very, very clever code, well written, no doubt nation-state sponsored, and again that gets re-purposed, so what your tune is by spending money as a country on these offensive tools which enable you to do these nefarious activities, but it always leaks, the code will always leak, and it’s not so much even a worry that the other countries gets it, because the other country, yes, it’ll probably retaliate and respond in kind, but the fact is that the hackers will get this, and we the public, the citizens of the Internet, we suffer, because these tools are usually exceptional, that they cover their tracks, they can get into so many systems, they have modules within them that they know when they're within, what we call these vaults which are used by security companies to analyze them, that they turn off, they're wonderful tools, but the fact is they will leak into the people that we do not want, and we then, the citizens of the world our systems, our business systems become weaker as a result, so I would caution any country against developing tools really and the release of them, just to expect that these will come back to haunt them.

Sputnik: For a Senator in the United States government to actually go on record and encourage this kind of dysfunction it’s already emanating in the US this dysfunction and all this polarization and geopolitical environment that we are currently set in is nothing more then outrageous, is it? Have you got any non-computing point of view with regard to this statement, this cannot be sanctioned by the US government, surely?

Kevin Curran: From a non-computer point of you I didn’t know the like aggression, I just don’t believe that it is ever helpful by leaders especially, I think we should always be looking to close the gaps, we have more in common then we don’t have and I think it’s never helpful, and I would also caution against it. Russia has been blamed for a lot of attacks by the United Sates, and the United States are blamed, and then North Korea gets the blame, and China, of course, there’s certain enemies that the United States have and they’ll show up time and time again. And whether they’re true or not, but attribution, when it comes to online activity and hacking and things is very, very difficult, because if a country wants to attack another country, and do something whether it’s fake news or whether it is just espionage or something else, the people behind us, the people who develop these tools and conduct these offensive campaigns know how to hide the trails of originality, of the code itself, they know how to put in things which will possibly link it to another country, and to falsely lead the attribution with another country, so, therefore, it’s very, very difficult, unless you’re absolutely sure, to be able to attribute an attack to one nation or another because all you’re dealing with is lines of code and maybe if you look for the sources and origins of these attacks come in from a geographical point of view they're also bounced around the world by servers and proxies, and again, the people who conduct these attacks will never launch it from their own building as such, from their own network, they'll always use these proxies to make it look like it came from somewhere else, so again, we just have to be careful when the comes to attribution of attacks because a lot of things are being done in the code, and in the way they're conducted to hide the origin of the attacks.

Sputnik: So you’re saying then that it’s virtually impossible to carry out an undetected cyberattack?

Kevin Curran: There’s companies, organizations in countries, systems which penetrate right now and they don’t know about it, there is clever malware which is just hiding in plain sight, so the most successful hacks are the ones we haven’t discovered, we discover them years later, so there are hacks out there, there are vulnerabilities that exist where people are actually expropriating material from companies, again, you can also conduct attacks where you’ve hidden where your origin is and who you are, but, of course, attacks and carried out mostly and eventually with a lot of trolling, and a lot more supporting evidence so you can have a reasonable assumption where it came from and who conducted it, but not all attacks can definitely, immediately be attributed to one source definitively.

The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the speaker and do not necessarily reflect those of Sputnik.

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