US has automatic cyberattack software, says Snowden

Science fiction has a way of creeping into reality — or vice versa.

Take, for example, the idea that computers will become so intelligent they will automatically launch weapons at the first sign of attack. You can find it in the plot of Dr. Strangelove and in an episode or two of the original Star Trek TV series.

According to Computerworld U.S., NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden says in a new article in Wired magazine that his ex-employer has a software program called MonsterMind that could automatically block a cyberattack from entering U.S. networks, then retaliate against the attackers.

“These attacks can be spoofed,” he told Wired. “You could have someone sitting in China, for example, making it appear that one of these attacks is originating in Russia. And then we end up shooting back at a Russian hospital. What happens next?”

MonsterMind also creates privacy problems, Snowden said, because it would have to access nearly all the communications coming into the U.S. in order to work. “If we’re analyzing all traffic flows, that means we have to be intercepting all traffic flows,” he is quoted as saying. “That means violating the (U.S.) Fourth Amendment, seizing private communications without a warrant, without probable cause or even a suspicion of wrongdoing. For everyone, all the time.”

The report generated some backlash. On, Graham Templeton said it’s Snowden’s “most frivolous” revelation. “Certainly, Snowden has a point that international aggression should not be automated, whether physical or cyber in nature. Still, there is a discreet change in function between revealing an illegal spying programs like Optic Nerve [which vacuums up millions of emails] and something like this which is, in reality, exactly what the NSA is supposed to be doing. As scary as the name “MonsterMind” sounds, cyber missile defense is specifically what we should be supporting, so as to avoid giving the NSA the impression that it literally can’t do anything without being called tyrannical.”

You’d think the boffins at the NSA would have the common sense to figure out that a completely automated attack might not be the wisest thing because there are so many ways to disguise the source of an intrusion. After all, as Snowden says in the same article, it was a unit of the NSA that accidentally brought down the Internet in Syria in 2012 when technicians were merely trying to install an eavesdropping capability.

These ‘oops’ moments do happen.

Howard Solomon
Howard Solomon
Currently a freelance writer, I'm the former editor of and Computing Canada. An IT journalist since 1997, I've written for several of ITWC's sister publications including and Computer Dealer News. Before that I was a staff reporter at the Calgary Herald and the Brampton (Ont.) Daily Times. I can be reached at hsolomon [@]

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