Today the Wall Street Journal announced that it uncovered a new government program ominously dubbed “Perfect Citizen”. The project will bring NSA monitoring equipment to corporate computer networks that the government deems to be “critical infrastructure” with the stated goal of detecting cyber-attacks. Sources familiar with “Perfect Citizen” told the Wall Street Journal that “[the NSA] wouldn’t persistently monitor the whole system”, which is troubling since that statement indicates that the system can be persistently monitored. Since the NSA had no qualms about illegally tapping every phone in America, how can they be trusted not to abuse the “Perfect Citizen” system? In my mind, trusting the NSA with this power is akin to leaving a junkie locked in a room with their drug of choice and telling them not to touch it. For now at least, companies will have to opt-in to allowing the NSA to install sensors onto their networks. However, with the recent Chinese attack on Google held up as an example, what company would choose not to participate in program to “protect national security”, especially if there was any chance of it being leaked that they declined to participate in something called “Perfect Citizen” (ever notice that the more onerous the program or law the more patriotic sounding the name – PATRIOT Act anyone?).
This of course brings me to the obvious poster child for “Perfect Citizen”, Google. At the beginning of this year it came to light that a number of systems belonging to Google, as well as systems of several other large corporations were penetrated by hackers. According to Google (and later persons within the US government as high ranking as Secretary of State Clinton) the attacks originated from China. From the onset the attack was represented to the public as a state sponsored cyber-attack. In fact, the phrase “act of war” was bandied about in some circles. As Google’s investigation progressed (aided by the NSA), however, little supporting evidence was presented despite strong accusations against the Chinese Government. For the world at large the die had been cast, China had attacked US computers. Admittedly, even I accepted Google’s story as fact. At least until this morning when the Wall Street Journal released the details of “Perfect Citizen”. I started thinking, why would China risk such a widespread attack that was certain to be uncovered and could possibly be considered an act of war. Especially in the case of Google where (according to what we were told) the attacks targeted uncovering dissidents, whose identities are almost certainly not worth going to war to uncover.
On July 8, 2010
By John D