The SolarWinds hack pokes holes in Defend Forward – Observer Research Foundation

My article for the Observer Research Foundation:

In December 2020, the cybersecurity company FireEye discovered a cyber espionage campaign, compromising dozens of government and private organisations in the US.

Orchestrated by subverting the supply-chain of the popular IT administration software-maker SolarWinds, the operation showcased remarkable ingenuity and precise tradecraft at every step of the “kill chain” to skirt around the phenomenal counterintelligence capabilities of the US. They had no plans to outmatch the strategic cyber offensive might of the US, so the spies tactically blended-in with the environment, exploited “transitive trust” of the computers, and used deception to look like routine processes.

Yet, beyond all the technical details, it was the palpable strategic calculus which strikes at the heart of US cyber policy. The SolarWinds hack could potentially upset many of the US’ cyber statecraft initiatives—bolstering national cyber defence in the aftermath of the 2016 electoral interference—which took years to mature.

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