In an on-camera interview with James Bamford for an upcoming episode of PBS’ NOVA, Edward Snowden warned that the US Department of Defense and National Security Agency have over-emphasized the development of offensive network capabilities, placing the US’ own systems at greater risk. With other countries now developing offensive capabilities that approach those of the NSA and the US Cyber Command, Snowden believes the US has much more at stake.
The raw transcript of the NOVA interview showed Snowden in full control, to the point of giving direction on questions and even suggesting how to organize the report and its visual elements. Snowden frequently steered questions away from areas that might have revealed more about NSA operations, or he went into areas such as White House policy that he considered “land mines.” But the whistleblower eloquently discussed the hazards of cyber warfare and the precariousness of the approach that the NSA and Cyber Command had taken in terms of seeking to find and exploit holes in the software of adversaries. In fact, he says the same vulnerabilities are in systems in the US. “The same router that’s deployed in the United States is deployed in China,” Snowden explained. “The same software package that controls the dam floodgates in the United States is the same as in Russia. The same hospital software is there in Syria and the United States.”
Video from the NOVA interview. Some of the interview, which took place last June in Russia, possibly foreshadowed the cyber attack on Sony Pictures. Snowden said that the capabilities for cyber attacks such as the “Shamoon” malware attack in 2012 and other “wiper” attacks similar to what happened to Sony Pictures were “sort of a Fisher Price, baby’s first hack kind of a cyber campaign,” capable of disruption but not really of creating long-term damage. But he said more sophisticated organizations, including nation-state actors, are “increasingly pursuing the capability to launch destructive cyber attacks as opposed to the disruptive kinds that you normally see online…and this is a pivot that is going to be very difficult for us to navigate.”
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