Morgan Wright, chief security officer for the SentinelOne cybersecurity corporation and former senior adviser to the U.S. State Department Antiterrorism Assistance Program, joined SiriusXM host Alex Marlow on Wednesday’s edition of Breitbart News Daily to discuss the cyberattack that crippled the Colonial pipeline and caused fuel shortages across the eastern United States.
Wright said while public information about the cyberattack is murky and the investigation is ongoing, a few key details can be inferred – including links between the hackers, a group calling itself DarkSide, and Russia.
“They’re getting air cover from Vladimir Putin,” he asserted. “We have criminal gangs operating in countries or regions where we have no extradition treaty, no mutual legal assistance treaty, so we get zero help in investigating these things.”
Wright noted that DarkSide’s victims have largely been in the United States or English-speaking countries, with a few in India and Indonesia, while none of them have been from Russia or Eastern Europe. He said some of the espionage tradecraft employed by the group suggested Russian training or guidance.
Wright said the Colonial pipeline attack is a “watershed moment” because it marks one of the first times “a criminal organization has taken the place of an attack on infrastructure.”
“Normally only nation-states can attack infrastructure,” he explained, referencing past conflicts such as World War II, Vietnam, and the Korean War. “We now have criminal organizations that can now have the same effect as a nation-state would against our critical infrastructure. Power, energy, water – you want to bring a nation to its knees, Alex, you go after those three things.”
Wright said cryptocurrency is an important part of these massive ransomware attacks, because without the ability to demand ransoms in untraceable stateless digital currency, “these gangs are out of business.”
“I think there will be a day of reckoning for how countries look at the use of cryptocurrencies, especially Bitcoin,” he predicted.
Wright said “criminals and terrorists have ruined Bitcoin for everybody” by using crypto to monetize their illegal activities, and predicted the new breed of cybercriminals will be very difficult to stop unless their ability to do business anonymously at lightning speed can be disrupted.
Wright said it was also time to stop underestimating the cyber-security threat posed by countries like Russia that can punch well above their apparent economic and technological weight when it comes to electronic espionage. He described cyber-warfare as the “Third Offset” – the third time Russia has caught up to a pronounced Western technological advantage, the first two being nuclear weapons and advanced missile technology during the Cold War.
“We’re losing the advantage. We no longer have superiority in cyberspace,” he warned. “There’s parity with China, with Russia, with North Korea, believe it or not.”
Wright said artificial intelligence technology could greatly improve U.S. cybersecurity – but even there, America has lost its edge to China.
“You’ve got Microsoft and Google, who actually have labs opened up in China, and everything that happens in China – it’s called civil-military fusion – goes right to the Chinese Communist Party, the People’s Liberation Army,” he said.
“Patriotism has lost out, basically, to globalism,” he lamented. “We’ve got to start understanding, if you’re an American company, if you made your money by being in America, it’s time for payback.”
Wright further warned that China has taken the lead in quantum communications, which are effectively unbreakable, and may soon have an insurmountable lead in quantum computing, which could neutralize all other forms of encryption.
“All of our encryption, all of the stuff that we use to protect our banking transactions, our classified stuff, can be broken in a matter of seconds,” he said. “Privacy, as we know it, no longer exists. We will not have the ability to be private once these kinds of technologies get out there.”
“We’re going to have to come up with our own ways of protecting ourselves against that,” he urged. “China’s already creating their own version of the Internet with this quantum satellite communications.”
Wright pointed out that China blunted America’s technological edge by stealing its technology, in fields ranging from cybersecurity to stealth fighters.
“They are the Number One thief of intellectual property in the world,” he said. “Anywhere between $600 billion to $800 billion in intellectual property per year is stolen by them. They do very little R&D. They steal their R&D – which means they don’t have to go through the same time it takes to do R&D for us to get to where we are, and they don’t have to spend the same kind of money, so they use that money on their Belt and Road Initiative.”
Wright said China’s most “insidious” gambits are products and services like TikTok, a social media platform that doubles as a massive system of surveillance and political influence.
“They are big about influence operations,” he noted. “They will spend five, ten years setting up things like the Confucius Institutes and other things, in order to change the narrative about China. They will give a lot of money to universities so they can change the narrative, what people think, about China.”
“If people love this country, if all these politicians on either side of it say ‘we love America,’ then get a plan that we can all get behind for the next 20 years, so that we can maintain parity, we can protect our intellectual property, we can protect our superiority,” he argued.
“At the end of the day, we still are the good guys,” he reflected. “We fight with one hand behind our back. Make no doubt about it: China, Russia, they don’t have the same morals that we have.”
Wright advised individual Americans to take precautions such as establishing secure passwords, refraining from connecting too many insecure devices to their home networks, and remaining vigilant against phone and email scams.
“If we do it at a personal level, those habits will carry over into our business life as well, and we’ll be more secure from a business standpoint,” he said.
Wright said the Colonial pipeline attack is the latest in a long string of cybersecurity “wake-up calls” that have been tragically ignored. He said some of the other wake-up calls were clearly Russian or Chinese cyber-warfare operations, and a growing number of attacks look like exploratory operations against energy and information infrastructure that could be setting up heavier attacks to come, perhaps during a future broad-spectrum conflict with those hostile state actors.
“This is intelligence collection about our energy grid, our power grid – where are we at, what are we doing with it, where are our vulnerabilities, where are our holes?” he said. “I don’t have to attack a hundred refineries. I just have to find one place like Colonial. If I can attack that, I can shut everything down.”
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