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Germany’s cyber security chief on hacking, Russia and problems hiring experts

German Government Commissioner for Information Technology Klaus Vitt | German Federal Ministry of the Interior

Klaus Vitt discusses his role protecting Germany from cyber attacks.

By 1

3/20/17, 7:54 PM CET

Updated 3/20/17, 8:10 PM CET

This article is also available in: German2

Read more: Hacked information bomb under Germany s election3

BERLIN Meet the man in charge of protecting Europe s largest country against the ever-changing threat of hacking: the German government s IT commissioner, Klaus Vitt. During an interview with POLITICO at the German Interior Ministry, Vitt described the country s current cyber threat level as increasingly critical, announced plans to cooperate with private companies and explained why his analysts believe most professional hacking attacks on Germany come from Russia or China.

In September, Germany elects a new parliament . Could the vote be manipulated by cyber attacks?

We have analyzed all processes during election day . Wherever we found weak spots, we have introduced measures and taken precautions. In Germany, there are no electronic voting machines or automation .

The vote, therefore, is not that big of a target . However, there s never a security of 100 percent.

You re talking about potential attacks on the IT network on election night . Another issue is cyber attacks that could happen in the run-up to the election . People are concerned that stolen material from hacks could be used to compromise candidates . Do they have a reason to be afraid?

The danger is real . This is why our Federal Office for Information Security (BSI) advises parliamentarians and their groups in the parliament how to protect themselves . It starts with using virus protection software on your private computer but certainly doesn t end there.

Have cyber attacks increased during the last couple of years?

Yes, the threat situation is becoming increasingly critical . We still observe many security breaches in software and hardware, as analyzed in the BSI s annual report on the state of IT security . This in itself is critical . At the same time, however, our society, economy and state are increasingly becoming more digitalized, which also makes them more vulnerable . On top of that, attackers are becoming more professional, and they are using more intelligent malware.

In 2015, a broad-scale cyber attack on the Bundestag, the lower house of the German parliament, made headlines . What consequences did the government draw from the incident?

The Bundestag is in charge of its own IT security . However, there have been numerous consultations on how the parliament should make its network more secure, and the government took part in them . These recommendations were put into action very consistently . The network and its security components were completely rebuilt from scratch.

Could foreign intelligence services be involved in attacks like the one in 2015?

We are dealing with very professional attackers, that s why only in rare cases can you identify them indisputably . We analyze serious attacks very thoroughly to find out from where they originate . In order to do that, we take patterns from comparable attacks in the past as a reference . Based on such analogies, one can say with a certain probability where those attacks originate from and those analogies suggest that a majority of attacks comes from Russia or China, at least geographically.

How can Germany protect itself?

Attackers want to produce the largest effect possible . That s why they target their attacks primarily against critical infrastructure.

With Germany s IT security law introduced in 2015, we have created legislation that focuses on such infrastructures . On the one hand, it introduces minimum standards for IT security: how operators need to protect themselves against cyber attacks . There are regular checks to make sure they still follow those standards . On the other hand, they are obliged to inform authorities about any critical IT security incidents . If operators are affected, they need to alert the BSI about it, which in turn can analyze it, assess the threat and inform other operators as fast as possible so that they can protect themselves in time. I would like to apply a similar model to other companies which are not operating critical infrastructure and the public administration.

In November 2016, Germany introduced a cyber security strategy: a plan for the country on how to protect itself and how to best react to cyber attacks. What about attacks that have already happened and data that may have been taken?

A cyber attack can have different goals . One aim can be to extract information . If you have no possibility to prevent this, you need to cut off access to the internet . This was one of the measures taken during the cyber attack on the Bundestag . From this moment on, no more information can be extracted. However, in the aftermath, it s difficult to detect where malware could possibly have had access to and which data has been extracted.

What measures are you taking?

To guarantee an appropriate IT security level, we will consolidate the data centers and the networks of the national government and its institutions. Today, we have around 1,000 rooms with servers: large ones, medium-sized ones, small ones . We will centralize them at three or four highly-protected, locations . The same thing will be done with the networks . This is how we will protect the administration with a high standard of IT security.

Another measure is expanding our Cyber Defense Center opened in 2011 . The goal is to always have a clear description of what s happening in cyber space . To do that, we will analyze and assess cyber incidents, with all national security agencies exchanging technical information about the incidents with each other . Needless to say, cyber space is not limited to just Germany. And there s another plan we are pursuing: In Germany, we have large international companies with their own cyber security units, who observe cyber attacks, similarly to what our Cyber Defense Center does .

Four DAX companies have joined forces in the so-called German Cybersecurity Organization (DCSO) cooperation . Our idea is to work with them through exchanging technical information . However, we need a contractual basis for that . This is about highly sensitive data.

When in 2015, a Bundestag subcommittee met to discuss the hacking attack, a BSI official told the MPs that only around 15 employees inside his office had the expertise to analyze and deal with such an attack . This doesn t sound like a lot of people?

The BSI is only one unit in our Cyber Defense Center . We have more experts in the Federal Criminal Police, in the Armed Forces, and in both our domestic and the foreign intelligence agencies.

Talking about personnel: Part of the cyber security strategy is hiring more cyber security experts . How easy or difficult is it to find candidates with the necessary expertise?

There is a great demand for IT security experts . The BSI has hired several people recently . It wasn t easy to fill those positions placing an ad in some newspaper wouldn t be enough .

All those positions could be filled; in the meantime, however, we have new open positions.

How attractive a job is, however, is not only defined by its salary but also by how exciting or dynamic its environment is and by its compatibility with having a family.

The interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.

Related stories on these topics:

References

  1. ^ (www.politico.eu)
  2. ^ German (www.politico.eu)
  3. ^ Hacked information bomb under Germany s election (www.politico.eu)

Germany’s cyber security chief on hacking, Russia and problems …

German Government Commissioner for Information Technology Klaus Vitt | German Federal Ministry of the Interior

Klaus Vitt discusses his role protecting Germany from cyber attacks.

By 1

3/20/17, 7:54 PM CET

Updated 3/20/17, 8:10 PM CET

This article is also available in: German2

Read more: Hacked information bomb under Germany s election3

BERLIN Meet the man in charge of protecting Europe s largest country against the ever-changing threat of hacking: the German government s IT commissioner, Klaus Vitt. During an interview with POLITICO at the German Interior Ministry, Vitt described the country s current cyber threat level as increasingly critical, announced plans to cooperate with private companies and explained why his analysts believe most professional hacking attacks on Germany come from Russia or China.

In September, Germany elects a new parliament . Could the vote be manipulated by cyber attacks?

We have analyzed all processes during election day . Wherever we found weak spots, we have introduced measures and taken precautions. In Germany, there are no electronic voting machines or automation .

The vote, therefore, is not that big of a target . However, there s never a security of 100 percent.

You re talking about potential attacks on the IT network on election night . Another issue is cyber attacks that could happen in the run-up to the election . People are concerned that stolen material from hacks could be used to compromise candidates . Do they have a reason to be afraid?

The danger is real . This is why our Federal Office for Information Security (BSI) advises parliamentarians and their groups in the parliament how to protect themselves . It starts with using virus protection software on your private computer but certainly doesn t end there.

Have cyber attacks increased during the last couple of years?

Yes, the threat situation is becoming increasingly critical . We still observe many security breaches in software and hardware, as analyzed in the BSI s annual report on the state of IT security . This in itself is critical . At the same time, however, our society, economy and state are increasingly becoming more digitalized, which also makes them more vulnerable . On top of that, attackers are becoming more professional, and they are using more intelligent malware.

In 2015, a broad-scale cyber attack on the Bundestag, the lower house of the German parliament, made headlines . What consequences did the government draw from the incident?

The Bundestag is in charge of its own IT security . However, there have been numerous consultations on how the parliament should make its network more secure, and the government took part in them . These recommendations were put into action very consistently . The network and its security components were completely rebuilt from scratch.

Could foreign intelligence services be involved in attacks like the one in 2015?

We are dealing with very professional attackers, that s why only in rare cases can you identify them indisputably . We analyze serious attacks very thoroughly to find out from where they originate . In order to do that, we take patterns from comparable attacks in the past as a reference . Based on such analogies, one can say with a certain probability where those attacks originate from and those analogies suggest that a majority of attacks comes from Russia or China, at least geographically.

How can Germany protect itself?

Attackers want to produce the largest effect possible . That s why they target their attacks primarily against critical infrastructure.

With Germany s IT security law introduced in 2015, we have created legislation that focuses on such infrastructures . On the one hand, it introduces minimum standards for IT security: how operators need to protect themselves against cyber attacks . There are regular checks to make sure they still follow those standards . On the other hand, they are obliged to inform authorities about any critical IT security incidents . If operators are affected, they need to alert the BSI about it, which in turn can analyze it, assess the threat and inform other operators as fast as possible so that they can protect themselves in time. I would like to apply a similar model to other companies which are not operating critical infrastructure and the public administration.

In November 2016, Germany introduced a cyber security strategy: a plan for the country on how to protect itself and how to best react to cyber attacks. What about attacks that have already happened and data that may have been taken?

A cyber attack can have different goals . One aim can be to extract information . If you have no possibility to prevent this, you need to cut off access to the internet . This was one of the measures taken during the cyber attack on the Bundestag . From this moment on, no more information can be extracted. However, in the aftermath, it s difficult to detect where malware could possibly have had access to and which data has been extracted.

What measures are you taking?

To guarantee an appropriate IT security level, we will consolidate the data centers and the networks of the national government and its institutions. Today, we have around 1,000 rooms with servers: large ones, medium-sized ones, small ones . We will centralize them at three or four highly-protected, locations . The same thing will be done with the networks . This is how we will protect the administration with a high standard of IT security.

Another measure is expanding our Cyber Defense Center opened in 2011 . The goal is to always have a clear description of what s happening in cyber space . To do that, we will analyze and assess cyber incidents, with all national security agencies exchanging technical information about the incidents with each other . Needless to say, cyber space is not limited to just Germany. And there s another plan we are pursuing: In Germany, we have large international companies with their own cyber security units, who observe cyber attacks, similarly to what our Cyber Defense Center does .

Four DAX companies have joined forces in the so-called German Cybersecurity Organization (DCSO) cooperation . Our idea is to work with them through exchanging technical information . However, we need a contractual basis for that . This is about highly sensitive data.

When in 2015, a Bundestag subcommittee met to discuss the hacking attack, a BSI official told the MPs that only around 15 employees inside his office had the expertise to analyze and deal with such an attack . This doesn t sound like a lot of people?

The BSI is only one unit in our Cyber Defense Center . We have more experts in the Federal Criminal Police, in the Armed Forces, and in both our domestic and the foreign intelligence agencies.

Talking about personnel: Part of the cyber security strategy is hiring more cyber security experts . How easy or difficult is it to find candidates with the necessary expertise?

There is a great demand for IT security experts . The BSI has hired several people recently . It wasn t easy to fill those positions placing an ad in some newspaper wouldn t be enough .

All those positions could be filled; in the meantime, however, we have new open positions.

How attractive a job is, however, is not only defined by its salary but also by how exciting or dynamic its environment is and by its compatibility with having a family.

The interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.

Related stories on these topics:

References

  1. ^ (www.politico.eu)
  2. ^ German (www.politico.eu)
  3. ^ Hacked information bomb under Germany s election (www.politico.eu)

Trump’s Homeland Security Pick Falsely Claimed “Narcoterrorism” Has Killed 500000 Americans

For many parts of the world, it is hard to predict which Donald Trump will enter the White House on January 20 . Will it be the Donald Trump who promised to decimate ISIS in 100 days, or the Donald Trump who promised to avoid an Iraq-like quagmire ? Will it be the Donald Trump who campaigned on building up a decrepit U.S .

military, or the Donald Trump who said he would slash military spending1 to balance the budget ? Will it be a Donald Trump who is eager to strong-arm China at the negotiating table, or the Donald Trump who promised to discard the Trans-Pacific trade deal designed to increase American leverage over the region? While Trump continues to regularly contradict his own supposed views on U.S . foreign policy, his approach to the U.S . southern border is clear . He talked a lot about building a wall while running for president . Since winning, he s repeatedly emphasized the seriousness of his promise.

You think we are playing games, Trump said earlier this month, at a rally in Wisconsin2 .

We re going to build the wall, okay ? Believe me . We re going to build the wall . We have to . We have got to stop the drugs from coming in and the wall is going to be a big, big factor. In the Trumpist view, the lack of a continuous border wall between the U.S . and Mexico facilitates the flow of drugs, undermines U.S .

wages, and provides a potential gateway for terrorists trying to find their way into the United States . The wall is a concrete way to address fears among Trump s base surrounding immigration, an issue that gives concerns over jobs, wages, and terrorist attacks a common focal point along the southern border . This worldview is so compelling as a political vision that it has sometimes caused Trump s national security team to back it up with fabrications . Michael Flynn, Trump s choice for national security adviser, has wrongly claimed3 that there are Arabic letters written on the backs of signs along the Mexico border, intended to guide terrorists into the United States. John Kelly, the retired Marine general who Trump has chosen to lead the Department of Homeland Security, has his own pattern of exaggerating the border threat . Between 2012 and his retirement in early 2016, Kelly served as head of U.S . Southern Command .

In this role, he coordinated all U.S . forces in the Western Hemisphere south of Mexico, including the Caribbean and Guant namo, which is home to the hemisphere s largest overseas U.S . military base . As Obama trimmed the military s budget with the sequester, and prioritized Asia and the Middle East over the relatively peaceful Western Hemisphere, Kelly complained that the budget cuts4 were undermining regional security. In a 2014 interview5, he said that the flow of drugs and instability in Latin America posed an existential threat to the United States . During a March 2015 hearing before the Senate Armed Service Committee, Sen . Mike Lee .

R-Utah, asked him to explain why the southern border posed such a large threat . Kelly responded with these words:

there s 40,000 Americans that die every year from the drugs that move up through my part of the world, and into Bill s Adm . William Gortney, who was then head of Northern Command, and into our homeland 40,000 people a year. You know, since 9/11, there s half a million people have died from narco terrorism, as we call it in down where I live narco terrorism . Five hundred thousand Americans have died . Very few have died from, you know, traditional terrorism, if you will, since 9/11 . It costs our country $200 billion a year to deal with the people that are into drugs but are not, you know, dying .

So I see that as a huge, huge, huge threat. Kelly s first claim drugs kill roughly 40,0006 Americans each year is accurate . It is also true that drugs have killed more than half a million Americans in the 15 years since 9/11. But Kelly s second claim to the Senate committee, that 500,000 Americans have died from narcoterrorism since 9/11, is a significant exaggeration . The real number of Americans who have died of post-9/11 terrorism in all its forms is well under 1,000, according to a 2014 study7 that was supported by the Department of Homeland Security .

And at least one-third of the 40,000 killed by drugs annually do not die, as Kelly claimed, from drugs coming into the U.S . across the southern border, but from overdoses of legally prescribed opioids . Almost all of the profits from those addicts flow not to drug cartels but to pharmaceutical companies . Sales of legal opioids have quadrupled8 since 1999, particularly in those white, rural areas of the country9 where Trump s support is strongest. Kelly s claim of 500,000 deaths doesn t appear to be reflected in any known official numbers . The RAND Corporation, for example, estimated that less than 100 people in total10 died due to terrorism in the U.S . between 9/11 and 2009.

While it is true that drug-related violence poses an existential threat to Mexico and Central America, Kelly was wrong to suggest that is the case in the United States . The number of Americans killed each year in drug-related homicides is around 1,00011, according to the Bureau of Justice Statistics . That is one thousand too many, but it does not add up to the half million post-9/11 U.S . victims of narcoterrorism that Kelly claimed had lost their lives in his testimony before the Senate committee.

Prescription drugs make billions of dollars for Purdue and other pharmaceutical companies, said Kathleen Frydl, historian and author of The Drug Wars in America, by email . It may be preferable for John Kelly to pretend that narcotrafficking, rather than homegrown greed, lies at the heart of the opioid crisis.

Kelly s claim of 500,000 U.S . narcoterrorism deaths is more than a one-time slip of the tongue . He said the same thing later last year12 in a discussion at the Center for Strategic and International Studies:

our country is right at 40,000 dead a year, year after year, from another kind of terrorism, narcoterrorism the cocaine and the drugs and the network it travels on, it moves anything . Guns, women, other people, human beings . Uh, potentially terrorists . Potentially, anything . All you have to do is pay the fare . But the network is very, very well developed.

While the rhetorical link that Kelly makes between terrorism and immigration is central to Trump s pitch for sealing the U.S . border, new walls are just one of many ways that Kelly will likely carry out his agenda at the Department of Homeland Security . DHS is a very young, very large, and very powerful federal agency created 11 days after the September 11, 2001, attacks . It is roughly one-tenth the size of the Pentagon in terms of budget ($52 billion vs. $524 billion) and personnel (240,000 vs .

2.3 million), and oversees almost all of the federal government s operations relating to immigration . If confirmed by the Senate, Kelly will be responsible for a wide portfolio of security measures inside of U.S . borders, including responding to natural disasters, stockpiling vaccines, inspecting cargo, scanning luggage and passengers at airports, passing federal intelligence on to state and local police, and managing Secret Service protection for the president and his family.

Trump said he will triple the number of federal officers working to deport immigrants, and immediately deport13 2 million to 3 million people now living on U.S . soil . He has called for the extreme vetting of Muslims trying to enter the U.S., and perhaps banning entirely those seeking entry from certain countries, such as Syria. Kelly will be the first military officer to lead the agency, in a country with longstanding legal prohibitions14 against military involvement in domestic law enforcement . Kelly, like Flynn, another retired military officer, has frequently referred to the possibility that Middle Eastern terrorist networks could link up with human smugglers to move operatives or weapons of mass destruction across U.S . borders, a persistent fear in government circles . It has never been conclusively disproven as a possibility, nor has it ever demonstrably taken place .

Adam Isacson, who covers security for the Washington Office on Latin America, said that Kelly perceives the region in terms of complex networks of criminals looking to do ill within the United States . The potential for cross-border terrorism threat should not be completely discounted, he added . You only have to be right once, he said. The southern border narcoterrorism scenario was also graphically depicted in the 2012 film15 Act of Valor, produced with the help16 of the Navy and active-duty Navy SEALS . Real-life investigations into the drug-terror connection tend to turn up less spectacular results, as recent investigations by Pro Publica17 and The Intercept18 have shown.

Russell Baer, a spokesperson for the Drug Enforcement Administration, said there was no official tally kept of deaths caused by narcoterrorism . There s no specific way to answer that question, he said, by email . Narcoterrorism has more to do with using drug proceeds, or drug money laundering services, to support a terroristic cause throughout the world . We are all victims of narcoterrorism. Trump s transition team did not respond to a request asking them to clarify or explain Kelly s remarks.

Top photo: Marine Corps Gen . John Kelly, former head of U.S . Southern Command, testifies with other military officers at a Senate Armed Services Committee hearing to review the 2014 Defense Authorization Request.

References

  1. ^ slash military spending (www.politico.com)
  2. ^ rally in Wisconsin (wbay.com)
  3. ^ wrongly claimed (www.cnn.com)
  4. ^ complained that the budget cuts (securityassistance.org)
  5. ^ a 2014 interview (www.defenseone.com)
  6. ^ roughly 40,000 (www.whitehouse.gov)
  7. ^ according to a 2014 study (www.start.umd.edu)
  8. ^ have quadrupled (www.cdc.gov)
  9. ^ white, rural areas of the country (www.washingtonpost.com)
  10. ^ people in total (www.rand.org)
  11. ^ around 1,000 (www.bjs.gov)
  12. ^ same thing later last year (www.youtube.com)
  13. ^ immediately deport (www.washingtonpost.com)
  14. ^ longstanding legal prohibitions (www.rand.org)
  15. ^ the 2012 film (en.wikipedia.org)
  16. ^ produced with the help (www.nytimes.com)
  17. ^ Pro Publica (www.propublica.org)
  18. ^ The Intercept (theintercept.com)