US cyber chief warns TAU conference: Watch out, your dryer can spy on you

"We believe that the agility Israel has in developing solutions will result in cyber defense we can take back to the US."

June 27, 2017 06:06
2 minute read.
A woman loads laundry into the washing machine at a laundromat in Cambridge, Massachusetts July 2009

A woman loads laundry into the washing machine at a laundromat in Cambridge, Massachusetts July 8, 2009.. (photo credit: REUTERS/BRIAN SNYDER)


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Your clothes dryer can spy on you.

That was the metaphor President Donald Trump’s cybersecurity chief Rob Joyce used to drive home the scope of current security threats at Tel Aviv University’s 7th Annual International Cybersecurity Conference on Monday.

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Explaining the metaphor, Joyce said, “We can’t protect against what we don’t understand... There are cheap and inexpensive computers going into sensitive facilities... They are becoming vulnerabilities” for being hacked by adversaries.

He recounted that, “I have a dryer device that tells me when my clothes are dry so they do not get wrinkled... Is that important? Maybe not, but now I need to patch that vulnerability” against being hacked.

Joyce also expressed dismay that Saudi Arabia is currently under a cyberattack that is deleting both government and private-sector data.

He said that even though state custom grudgingly accepts cyber spying, the world was not responding strongly enough.

Further, he said, “We need to figure out a deterrence model of how to impose costs on other nations so that they cannot achieve their desired outcomes.”

“We have put a lot of work into” figuring out the right responses to achieve that deterrence, but still “sometimes we significantly underestimate how bad something is, and other times we overestimate.”

Next, homeland security and counterterrorism adviser Thomas Bossert said that under Trump “the Israel-US relationship has gotten much deeper,” listing off the US president’s recent visit to Israel and US support for Israeli defense projects, like missile defense, to prove his point.

Although Israel and the US have already signed on to a cyber agreement and have extensive contacts in the field, Bossert announced a new cyber working group.

He said the group would, “work toward developing a different operation construct toward stopping adversaries in networks and identifying ways to hold bad actors responsible. We believe that the agility Israel has in developing solutions will result in cyber defense we can take back to the US.”

Bossert further said, “We must work toward holding nations accountable” for bad cyber behavior, suggesting that the US might form alliances outside the UN framework that it feels is not working. “We need to focus on finding cyber adversaries before they get into our networks.”

Neither of Trump’s advisers mentioned the words “Russia” or “hacking of elections,” despite talking extensively about wanting to deter cyberattacks and despite Russia’s recent hacking of US elections being continually discussed in the media.

Surprisingly, ex-National Security Agency chief Keith Alexander also paid some compliments to Trump saying that, “I recently met with Trump... Despite what you hear in the press... he understands the existential threat” posed by cyberattacks.

Alexander said Trump “is straightforward... He asked, ‘How can we help?’ How can we protect the [energy] grid?’” Also speaking at the conference, the former chief of IDF Unit 8200, also known as Israel’s NSA, said, “2016 is an inflection point. The very foundations of civilization are under attack.” IDF cyber chief Maj.-Gen. Nadav Padan cited the hacking of the US election as a turning point in aggressive moves by hackers crossing lines they would not have dreamed of crossing in the past.

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