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Iranian Hackers Probe US Infrastructure Targets

timothy posted about a year and a half ago | from the casing-the-joint dept.

Security 203

Taco Cowboy points out reports in The Register and The Jerusalem Post (along with a paywalled article at the WSJ) that say "[Iranian hackers are] responsible for a wave of computer attacks on U.S. corporations, with targets including oil, gas and electricity companies. Unlike the cyber incursions from China, the goal of the Iranian attacks is sabotage rather than espionage. The cyber attacks are seen as attempts to gain control of critical processing systems. The attacks on oil, gas and power firms have so far concentrated on accruing information on how their systems work – a likely first step in a co-ordinated campaign that would eventually result in attacks aimed at disrupting or destroying such infrastructure."

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WAR DRUMS A-Beatin' (-1, Flamebait)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#43842157)

Beat those drums of war! We're UNDER ATTACK from Iran! War War WAR! More money for Lockheed-Martin, more money for Boeing, more money for your congressman's buddies, austerity measures for you.

-- Ethanol-fueled

Re:WAR DRUMS A-Beatin' (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#43842311)

Something happens in another country: I bet the USA did this.
Something happens in the USA: I bet the USA did this.

Re:WAR DRUMS A-Beatin' (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#43842459)

moral of the story: usa does alot.

Re:WAR DRUMS A-Beatin' (2, Insightful)

Jeremiah Cornelius (137) | about a year and a half ago | (#43842795)

"We need to start this war with Iran. No one believes they have a bomb, and we've been saying they're 2 years away, since 1997. I know! Tell Cybercommand to "probe" US infrastructure, hopping from all the compromised router firmware, behind Iran's BGP space.

Give the story to Jerusalem Post - from "official sources". Don't worry about "leak prosecutions". We'll reserve those for the nosy bastards who try and discover that this is how we operate."

Re:WAR DRUMS A-Beatin' (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#43843205)

Maybe Iranians hacked themselves too, to get sympathy. Works both ways.

Re:WAR DRUMS A-Beatin' (-1, Flamebait)

Guinness Beaumont (2901413) | about a year and a half ago | (#43843363)

I love the not-so-subtle anti-Jewish slant to this post. Bravo. It's a masterpiece of paranoid "world order" flavor in just a few sentences.

Re:WAR DRUMS A-Beatin' (1)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#43843595)

Where in the world did you get the "anti-jewish slant" from, exactly?! The GP mentions Jerusalem Post which is an Israeli reference, but nothing about Jews. You realize people can dislike Israel and their actions without disliking all Jews or the Jewish religion. You also realize that Israel continues to be one of the most negatively viewed countries in the world according to a BBC World Service poll [bbc.co.uk] , so you can cry all you want but when so many people dislike a country over so many years, something's wrong with that country and not the people.

Re:WAR DRUMS A-Beatin' (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#43842819)

It's spelled allot, you fucing moron.

I'm bored... (0, Flamebait)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#43842179)

Can we nuke iran yet?

Come on... it'll be fun.. So much more to 'rebuild'. And the anti-nuke whiners would have something new to talk about for awhile.

Plus... free suntans!

Fox News vs. the Cult of Obama (-1)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#43842181)

Accordingly, Obama and his supporters refuse to be judged on normal criteria, such as the president's actual record in office. Though he is quick to claim credit on the rare occasion--such as the bin Laden raid--when things go right, President Obama typically adopts a prophetic distance from the office he holds that insulates him from criticism and allows him to attack the very Washington he leads, the very political games he plays.

The heresy of Fox News is not just that it criticizes the Obama administration or that it provides a platform for conservative opinion, but that it rejects the attempt to place Obama beyond politics and accountability. It refuses, in other words, to endorse the idea that Obama inhabits a unique category, beyond the obvious (and, for most governing purposes, meaningless) historic fact that he is the nation's first black president.

Re:Fox News vs. the Cult of Obama (0, Troll)

fredrated (639554) | about a year and a half ago | (#43842279)

The problem with Fox is that they are liars and obfuscators and people that use them for a source of anything are ignorant.

Re:Fox News vs. the Cult of Obama (-1)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#43842333)

Making an assertion does not equal winning an argument.

You like to eat shit, it's true because I say so.

You see, I can do it to.

Now go shine your weenie.

Re:Fox News vs. the Cult of Obama (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#43842395)

You used wrong "too"....argument invalidated. move along.

Re:Fox News vs. the Cult of Obama (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#43842439)

Ohh whining about typos, such genius.

Fail.

Re: Fox News vs. the Cult of Obama (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#43842671)

Too stupid to spell, too stupid to matter.

Re:Fox News vs. the Cult of Obama (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#43842413)

is that what Fox news told you to do? Better get to it, they're watching you.

Re:Fox News vs. the Cult of Obama (1)

DFurno2003 (739807) | about a year and a half ago | (#43842673)

In your opinion.

Re:Fox News vs. the Cult of Obama (1)

ganjadude (952775) | about a year and a half ago | (#43842851)

I suppose you have the same views toward their polar opposite MSNBC correct? Because CNN seems to be the only network who at least pretends to be reporters these days

Re:Fox News vs. the Cult of Obama (1)

Synerg1y (2169962) | about a year and a half ago | (#43843115)

Ah CNN, the stuff rich white men like to read over a glass of scotch and laugh.

Re:Fox News vs. the Cult of Obama (1)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#43843221)

All of the networks are equal parts horse shit propaganda.

Re:Fox News vs. the Cult of Obama (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#43842951)

Hmm. I've always found them to be pretty balanced. You might have them confused with MSNBC. You know the folks who edit video and audio clips to incite racial hatred? Also the folks who tend to fall over themselves praising Obama throwing all objectivity to the wind.

Re:Fox News vs. the Cult of Obama (1)

ganjadude (952775) | about a year and a half ago | (#43842989)

to be fair fox has also been shown to edit clips.

Re:Fox News vs. the Cult of Obama (0)

Wookact (2804191) | about a year and a half ago | (#43843535)

You've found them to be pretty balanced?

Try foxnewslies.net

Now don't get me wrong they all lie, fox news is head and shoulders above the rest in that department though.

Re:Fox News vs. the Cult of Obama (-1)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#43843191)

You are correct. Anyone who watches Fox News is a fucking imbecile

blowback (5, Interesting)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#43842183)

Maybe launching destructive malware at Iranian infrastructure wasn't such a good idea.

Re:blowback - Book Recommendation (1)

David_Hart (1184661) | about a year and a half ago | (#43842747)

Maybe launching destructive malware at Iranian infrastructure wasn't such a good idea.

I just read a decent fiction eBook about disaster caused by cyber warfare called CyberStorm. It was a bit dark at points and has its flaws, but was overall a good read.

Re:blowback (2)

DNS-and-BIND (461968) | about a year and a half ago | (#43842955)

Maybe a functional theocracy with an end-of-the-world complex developing nuclear weapons wasn't such a good idea.

Re:blowback (2)

Rob Riggs (6418) | about a year and a half ago | (#43842999)

Maybe a functional theocracy with an end-of-the-world complex developing nuclear weapons wasn't such a good idea.

They have an end-of-the-world complex? Citation please? I'm only familiar with the doomsday preppers here in the U.S. Something similar going on in Iran?

Re:blowback (2)

lxs (131946) | about a year and a half ago | (#43843133)

Note the past tense. I think GP was talking about the US.

Re:blowback (1)

DNS-and-BIND (461968) | about a year and a half ago | (#43843405)

http://www.alarabiya.net/articles/2008/05/07/49515.html

http://www.boulevard-exterieur.com/article.php?rubrique=1&ssCat=&id=2368&PHPSESSID=846dd80b96699a235f52dbf35a11f837

Note that this is a real-live world leader who said this. What would the reaction be if Obama said the same? That the return of the Messiah is imminent and will bring about the End of the World?

And for comedy:

http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/iran-blog/2013/mar/07/ahmadinejad-chavez-resurrected-too-far

Again, a genuine world leader saying this sort of thing. Yeah, I'm totally comfortable with this sort of nation having nuclear weapons! derp derp BUT BU$HITLER!!@#!@#$#$%@$!

Re:blowback (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#43843029)

Maybe overthrowing their democratically elected oil-nationalizing government and installing/propping-up a dictator for decades wasn't such a good idea.

Re:blowback (0)

DNS-and-BIND (461968) | about a year and a half ago | (#43843327)

I don't know if anyone noticed, but the Iranians had a revolution in 1979. A revolution supported by the US government. You remember when Carter abandoned the Shah? And a revolutionary Islamic government took over? And massacred Iranian liberals JUST LIKE YOU? Or do we have selective memory now?

Re:blowback (2)

tukang (1209392) | about a year and a half ago | (#43843499)

Can you provide any citation that the 1979 revolution was supported by the US gov't because from what I've read the US gov't supported the Shah from the beginning to end - that is from overthrowing the democratically elected government and reinstating the Shah to providing CIA assistance to SAVAK in order to suppress dissidents all the way to providing asylum to the Shah when it all fell apart.

I don't think it's a stretch to say that by overthrowing a democratic government instated by moderates and helping suppress dissidents via a secret police that regularly resorted to torture, the US played a role in radicalizing the Shah's opposition and helped form the theocracy that's in power today.

Re:blowback (3, Informative)

TubeSteak (669689) | about a year and a half ago | (#43842979)

Google's Cache works 99% of the time:
http://webcache.googleusercontent.com/search?q=cache:http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10001424127887323336104578501601108021968.html [googleusercontent.com]

Iran Hacks Energy Firms, U.S. Says
Oil-and-Gas, Power Companies' Control Systems Believed to Be Infiltrated; Fear of Sabotage Potential
By SIOBHAN GORMAN and DANNY YADRON

WASHINGTON--Iranian-backed hackers have escalated a campaign of cyberassaults against U.S. corporations by launching infiltration and surveillance missions against the computer networks running energy companies, according to current and former U.S. officials.

In the latest operations, the Iranian hackers were able to gain access to control-system software that could allow them to manipulate oil or gas pipelines. They proceeded "far enough to worry people," one former official said.

The developments show that while Chinese hackers pose widespread intellectual-property-theft and espionage concerns, the Iranian assaults have emerged as far more worrisome because of their apparent hostile intent and potential for damage or sabotage.

U.S. officials consider this set of Iranian infiltrations to be more alarming than another continuing campaign, also believed to be backed by Tehran, that disrupts bank websites by "denial of service" strikes. Unlike those, the more recent campaigns actually have broken into computer systems to gain information on the controls running company operations and, through reconnaissance, acquired the means to disrupt or destroy them in the future, the U.S. officials said.

In response, U.S. officials warn that Iran is edging closer to provoking U.S. retaliation.

"This is representative of stepped-up cyber activity by the Iranian regime. The more they do this, the more our concerns grow," a U.S. official said. "What they have done so far has certainly been noticed, and they should be cautious."

The U.S. has previously launched its own cyberattacks against Iran. The Stuxnet worm, developed and launched by the U.S. and Israel, sabotaged an Iranian nuclear facility.

The latest campaign, which the U.S. believes has direct backing from the Iranian government, has focused on the control systems that run oil and gas companies and, more recently, power companies, current and former officials said. Control systems run the operations of critical infrastructure, regulating the flow of oil and gas or electricity, turning systems on and off, and controlling key functions.

In theory, manipulating the software could be used to delete important data or turn off key safety features such as the automatic lubrication of a generator, experts said.

Current and former U.S. officials wouldn't name the energy companies involved in the attacks. or say how many there were. But among the targets were oil and gas companies along the Canadian border, where many firms have operations, two former officials said.

The officials also wouldn't detail the precise nature of the evidence of Iranian involvement. But the U.S. has "technical evidence" directly linking the hacking of energy companies to Iran, one former U.S. official said.

Iranian officials deny any involvement in hacking. "Although Iran has been repeatedly the target of state-sponsored cyberattacks, attempting to target Iran's civilian nuclear facilities, power grids, oil terminals and other industrial sectors, Iran has not ever retaliated against those illegal cyberattacks," said Iran's spokesman at the United Nations, Alireza Miryousefi. "In the lack of international legal instruments to address cyberwarfare, Iran has been at the forefront of calling for creating such instruments. We categorically reject these baseless allegations used only to divert attentions."

So far, the infiltrations don't appear to have involved theft of data or disruption of operations. But officials worry the reconnaissance undertaken to date will provide hackers the information they need to do damage in the future. Computer infiltration experts often identify so-called backdoors in computer systems that permit repeated entries.

While there is no evidence that systems have been tampered with, some U.S. officials have likened the types of infiltrations seen in the U.S. to those at oil company Saudi Aramco that eventually enabled attacks that destroyed 30,000 computers in August 2012.

It isn't clear whether the hackers are the same individuals responsible for Saudi Aramco or those involved in the relentless set of attacks that have bombarded bank websites, temporarily knocking them offline.

The U.S. Department of Homeland Security earlier this month warned of an escalation in threats against computerized control systems, but it didn't cite Iran as the origin of the threat.

In recent months, however, U.S. officials have grown increasingly alarmed by the growth of what defense officials describe as a continuing series of cyberattacks backed by the Iranian government, including its elite Quds Force. The threat has grown quickly; as recently as 18 months ago, top intelligence officials were largely dismissive of Iranian hacking capabilities.

Underscoring the Obama administration's growing concern, the White House held a high-level meeting late last month on how to handle the Iranian cybersecurity threat. No decisions were made at that meeting to take action, however, and officials will reconvene in coming weeks to reassess, a U.S. official said.

"It's reached a really critical level," said James Lewis, a cybersecurity specialist at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, who frequently advises the White House and Capitol Hill. "We don't have much we can do in response, short of kinetic warfare."

The Obama administration sees the energy-company infiltrations as a signal that Iran hasn't responded to deterrence, a former official said.

In October, then-Defense Secretary Leon Panetta issued a veiled threat to Iran, which he did not name in his speech, by warning the Saudi Aramco hack represented a dangerous escalation in cyberwarfare. Since then, the Iranian attacks have only ramped up.

Unlike Chinese hacking, the Iranian infiltrations and cyberattacks appear intended to disrupt and possibly damage computer systems. "The differentiator is the intent. Stealing versus disrupting raises different concerns," the U.S. official said. "That's why they're getting a fair amount of attention."

The recent growth of Chinese infiltrations primarily has been aimed at stealing military and trade secrets, not doing damage.

"The Chinese believe in stability, and they operate on a 50-year plan," said Tom Kellerman, vice president of Trend Micro, a cybersecurity research firm. "Iran has been successfully ostracized from global economics. It is in their best interest to pursue destructive cyberattacks to not only empower themselves but to signal to the Western world they are capable in cyberspace."

Cybersecurity specialists say the electric-power industry remains under-prepared to fend off attacks, particularly ones backed by a foreign government.

"If you were worried about cyberattacks against electric utilities five years ago, you're still worried today," said Jacob Olcott, a former cybersecurity aide on Capitol Hill now at GoodHarbor Consulting. "Some within the electric sector have become more savvy about security in recent years. Many are not."

Lawmakers on Capitol Hill are stepping up pressure to bolster cybersecurity in the electric-power sector. Reps. Edward Markey (D., Mass.) and Henry Waxman (D., Calif.) issued a report this week citing security gaps in the computer networks running the electric grid.

Based on a survey of 150 power companies, the report found that "more than a dozen utilities reported 'daily,' 'constant' or 'frequent' attempted cyberattacks," and one said it was the target of about 10,000 attempted cyberattacks each month. The report found that many electric utilities were adopting only mandatory cybersecurity standards and not implementing voluntary added precautions.

--Adam Entous contributed to this article.

Re:blowback (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#43843025)

Recent papers suggest this is exactly the case. The force failures of their enrichment processing made them look harder at what they were doing and how. They are now further ahead than they would have been, according to the experts, had the West left them alone.

Don't forget kids, Iran is a Western level society, Iraq it ain't!

It wasn't just Obushma, though (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#43843519)

Maybe launching destructive malware at Iranian infrastructure wasn't such a good idea.

I know several people who've been hacking on Iran for almost a decade. Supposedly one guy owned Ahmadinejad's personal site for months, and used it as a base to attack Iranian political and infrastructure sites.

Basically, if you want to do criminal hacking from inside the USA, you target Iran, because you won't be punished by local law enforcement.

I suspect the same holds true for Chinese teenagers - if they hack the USA, they get their jollies with less chance of getting arrested or shot.

My favorite part of the story of Obama releasing malware to attack Iran is the part when Mossad stole the control keys. LAFF RIOT!

Standard disclaimer (3, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#43842207)

Iranian IPs are responsible for a wave of port scanning on US IP ranges.

Internet facing? (1)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#43842219)

The big question is why "critical" infrastructure is tied directly to the internet? Air gaps are (almost) hacker proof.

Re:Internet facing? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#43842415)

because the IT departments of these critical infrastructure are retarded.

Re:Internet facing? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#43842751)

* AIR GAP * AIR GAP * AIR GAP * AIR GAP * AIR GAP * AIR GAP *
* AIR GAP * AIR GAP * AIR GAP * AIR GAP * AIR GAP * AIR GAP *
but no, we have to spend a bazillion dollars to study the network infrastructure and create committees to come up with new policies and protocols. maybe new hardware from cisco could help. also the huge push for "smart meters" make air gaps unpossible. hmmm

Re:Internet facing? (5, Interesting)

ShanghaiBill (739463) | about a year and a half ago | (#43842857)

The big question is why "critical" infrastructure is tied directly to the internet?

Why not? "Critical" does not mean "vulnerable". IAAESE*. It is not that hard to create a system that is not "hackable" in a dangerous way. You just need to design in multiple levels of safety:

1. Top level GUI
2. Control system running in a separate process, that sanity checks any input from the GUI.
3. A firmware monitor running on a hardened 8-bit processor (8051, AVR, etc.), that runs a watchdog timer and scans the system to ensure all parameters are within safe limits.
4. Mechanical interlocks, governors, brakes, fuses, etc.

I have read plenty of stories about how hackers will drop elevators full of passengers into the basement, and turn traffic lights "all green". But anyone that works on those systems will tell you that it is all baloney. It is physically impossible to do that from software. That kind of sabotage would need at least a crowbar and a soldering iron.

I think that what is really going on is the industry is promoting these scare stories in the hope of getting government pork dollars to "fix the problem".

* I Am An Embedded System Engineer.

Re:Internet facing? (2)

ebno-10db (1459097) | about a year and a half ago | (#43843007)

The steps you mention are good ones, but an air gap is still a very good step in that defense in depth approach. Also, several of the steps you mention avoid damage to systems, which is always a good idea (even if just protecting against your own software problems). However, they don't necessarily guard against interruption of service. For things like the electrical grid that can be serious. Bonus points if you can cause a cascade failure.

I have read plenty of stories about how hackers will drop elevators full of passengers into the basement, and turn traffic lights "all green". But anyone that works on those systems will tell you that it is all baloney. It is physically impossible to do that from software.

Yes, the elevator thing is silly as they've all had mechanical safety features since the days of Elisha Otis. If by turning traffic lights all green you mean in both directions, then that's also probably silly. That doesn't mean that all scenarios, including the damage from the interruption of certain services, are silly.

Re:Internet facing? (4, Informative)

ShanghaiBill (739463) | about a year and a half ago | (#43843285)

The steps you mention are good ones, but an air gap is still a very good step in that defense in depth approach.

Maybe in some situations. In others it can make the situation worse. If you disconnect everything, and have to send out a truck to make an adjustment at a substation, then you have a problem when there is a big storm and not enough trucks. For most sensibly designed systems, disconnecting from the network will likely cause more problems than it will prevent.

However, they don't necessarily guard against interruption of service.

I once worked on a control system for a hydroelectric dam. The software could adjust the gates to control the flow of water to adapt to electrical demand, but only within certain limits, which were set depending on expected demand. To go outside those limits, a worker had to manually extract and reinsert a steel rod. It is also common in coal/gas/nuke plants to require manual intervention to shutdown a generator, or even reduce the power into the "brown-out" zone. Since that is something that will almost never need to happen, requiring manual intervention is reasonable. Designing a system to prevent a denial of service is harder than just preventing catastrophic failure, but it is still possible.

Re:Internet facing? (1)

rbanzai (596355) | about a year and a half ago | (#43843323)

Thank you for contributing to the overall naive attitude American industry has for securing critical systems.

Re:Internet facing? (2)

ShanghaiBill (739463) | about a year and a half ago | (#43843511)

Thank you for contributing to the overall naive attitude American industry has for securing critical systems.

You're welcome. But my experience is that the people that design and operate critical systems are not at all naive. They have a very good appreciation for the risk. Let's look at some numbers:

Number of Americans deprived of power in the last year because of lightning: millions.
Number of Americans deprived of power in the last year because of flooding or storm surges: millions.
Number of Americans deprived of power in the last year because of TERRORISM: zero.

So maybe TERRORISM isn't really as big as a problem as you think. Or maybe industry is already doing a pretty good job of securing their systems. Maybe we should focus our efforts on building robust, fault-tolerant systems that will stand up to any source of problems, rather than focusing just on things like "air gaps" that only prevent the (so far) non-existent problem, while making it harder to deal with real problems like natural disasters.

Re:Internet facing? (2)

mlts (1038732) | about a year and a half ago | (#43843355)

I'm not an embedded system engineer, but I've done a system for low speed monitoring which has worked out well, allowing for information to be obtained, but keeping the private stuff private. It isn't a 100% perfect solution, but for a lot of needs, it functions well.

Create two network segments, one "public" in the sense that it is connected somehow to the Internet, and one "private" in that it has no connections.

Place two machines on each subnet. They are connected by a null-modem cable with the a set of Tx/Rx pins cut, so no traffic can flow back from the public subnet to the private one.

From there, one can use syslog or some other item to cat text data to the serial port on the private network, then on the public side, have something that constantly reads from it to a file.

Yes, this is slow (115200 bits max), but no matter how pwned the system on the receiving, public side winds up, an attack to the private network isn't going to happen without someone onsite to breach the gap.

Of course, there are variants of this that can be considered less secure: Two machines sharing the same iSCSI target that writes logs, and the one on the public network has read-only access while the public one has read-write.

Dear Iran, (-1)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#43842235)

Continued activity may cause the U.S. to plug the analog hole in your systems.

Here is a picture of said plug.
http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/7/78/MOAB_bomb.jpg

Re:Dear Iran, (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#43843001)

How massively phallic and delightful. I'd like to stick that up my stink hole.

So why? (5, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#43842289)

Why is it okay for the US to sponsor cyber attacks, but not the Iranians? If it is an act of war, then did Congress authorize the US act of war?

Re:So why? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#43842437)

AUMF

Re:So why? (1)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#43842479)

Why is it okay for the US to sponsor cyber attacks, but not the Iranians?

For the same reason it was OK for Rome to conquer others but God forbid if someone gave them a taste of their own medicine - see Hannibal and Carthage.

Re:So why? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#43842541)

Why is it okay for Europeans to colonize and steal resources around the world, but not Americans?

Re:So why? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#43843189)

So are you saying the US foreign policy is a lot like Mussolini invading Ethiopia in the '30s or that the US always turns up after the party is over?

Re:So why? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#43843251)

Why not bring up Denmark and Netherlands, since we like to praise northern Europe so much. By the logic that is often proposed on Slashdot (discussion of China vis-a-vis USA, for example) the USA is just following the footsteps of successful predecessors, and criticism would be biased without mentioning what others have done.

Re:So why? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#43842613)

Why is it okay for the US to sponsor cyber attacks, but not the Iranians?

Where did you get this .. "information" .. about what's okay and not okay? Did you make it up, or did the Okay Bureau release a public service announcement which said that?

Re:So why? (-1)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#43842843)

He was pointing out a flaw in the reporting newspaper's logic. Are you dense?

Re:So why? (4, Insightful)

ebno-10db (1459097) | about a year and a half ago | (#43842727)

Why is it okay for the US to sponsor cyber attacks, but not the Iranians?

I'm not going to get all philosophical as that's not my shtick. I'm not even going to say it's "okay" for us to do it and not them (did somebody actually say that?). As an American I'd rather the US be successful in its attacks and the "enemy" not. I don't pretend it's anything more than that.

That doesn't mean I'm a bang the war drum type about Iran. However I'd rather they not get nuclear weapons. I'm not sure how far the US should go to prevent that (I'd certainly be opposed to a full blown war) but Stuxnet was a clever technique that didn't even hurt anyone. My attitude is "well done". I don't want Iran to be successful in a similar attack on the US. So far it seems they're only gathering intel, but the possibility of targeting our infrastructure is frightening. It's also potentially much more damaging than destroying some centrifuges.

Re:So why? (1)

TubeSteak (669689) | about a year and a half ago | (#43843549)

As an American I'd rather the US be successful in its attacks and the "enemy" not.

As an American I'd rather the US not attack anyone and the "enemy" not attack us either.

The real scandal is that hardening the IT infrastructure around these utilities is easy, it just costs money.
The first step is getting the SCADA industry to pull its head out of its ass and not sell anything that hasn't been aggressively vetted.

The government can create momentum for industry to design and build secure hardware interfaces.
All that's required is a timeline for uptake and a regulatory structure that mandates it.
Once these companies know that there will be a market for their product, they'll design and build it.

Finally, predicate the utilities' operating licenses on using secure command & control hardware + regular audits.
Meaningful consequences can bring about meaningful results.

Re:So why? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#43842729)

So far the international community does not consider these kinds of cyber attacks as an act of war. Which means no declaration is needed. When a large scale coordinated attack designed to actually cause harm to people occurs that will probably change. Right now it is a free for all.

Re:So why? (1)

Synerg1y (2169962) | about a year and a half ago | (#43842767)

Based on the nature of the internet... it could easily be US hackers hacking Iranian systems from which they could "test" US infrastructure and blame Iran in one fell swoop.

The scary thing here is my statement has as much plausible deniability built in as TFA.

Re:So why? (1)

MrLizard (95131) | about a year and a half ago | (#43843151)

For the same reason we arrest Russian/Chinese/Whatever spies in America, but send our own spies to Russia/China/Whatever.

I mean, seriously? How is this even a question? This got ranked "insightful"? Really, Slashdot?

I don't think anyone (well, anyone even half sane) would argue that it's objectively moral for the US to engage in espionage/cyberwarfare against another country, but objectively immoral for them to do it to us. It's equally moral (or immoral), no matter which direction it goes, so you make sure your side has every advantage, and assume (correctly) the other side(s) are doing the same.

"But, golly! Wouldn't it be nice if we all just agreed to not be big ol' meanies to each other?"

It sure would. And each side is eagerly trying to convince the masses on the other side that this is just what everyone wants, and to urge their governments to stop with all the saber rattling and a-feudin' and a-fussin'. However, a few thousand years of human history have taught us that those who beat their swords into plowshares will do the plowing for those who do not.

Strawman much? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#43843291)

Why is it okay for the US to sponsor cyber attacks,

Who said it was?

but not the Iranians?

Who said it wasn't?

If it is an act of war,...

Who said it was?

I, for one, fully expect Country A to pursue avenues of attack against Country B, for any values of A and B where a pact of alliance has not been signed by both parties. And sometimes even when one has. I consider any other attitude to be absurdly naive.

Re:So why? (1)

jader3rd (2222716) | about a year and a half ago | (#43843681)

Why is it okay for the US to sponsor cyber attacks, but not the Iranians? If it is an act of war, then did Congress authorize the US act of war?

The difference is that the US was trying to prevent Iran from getting ahold of weapons/technology that it shouldn't have. Iran is out to destroy existing infrastructure. So the difference is scale. The US says "we'll try to stop X from happening", and Iran says "I'm a bull in a china shop trying to destroy everything".

I know, I know! (5, Funny)

ColdWetDog (752185) | about a year and a half ago | (#43842325)

Iran is annoyed at Adobe's new subscription pricing model [slashdot.org] . They're just looking for some valid serial numbers for Photoshop so they can keep expanding their military prowess [slashdot.org] .

Re:I know, I know! (1)

ebno-10db (1459097) | about a year and a half ago | (#43842781)

I'm nominating you for Secretary of State. It's a brilliant diplomatic strategy. The US and Iran can become allies in a war against Adobe. Then in the spirit of George Washington's advice about international affairs, we can say we're sorry about the shah, they can say they're sorry about the hostages, and we can put the whole mess behind us. Bonus points for destroying Adobe.

Re:I know, I know! (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#43843059)

For the sake of all that is good, don't destroy Adobe! Just humble them. It's one thing to keep them from screwing with you, it's another thing to actually have to use The Gimp for real work!

Re:I know, I know! (1)

jasper160 (2642717) | about a year and a half ago | (#43843181)

You are a genius!

Airgap? (2)

skomorokh (2934601) | about a year and a half ago | (#43842411)

I don't understand. Is this actually a threat or is it just an attempt to break into some webservers/desktops? Why would the SCADA system controlling things like gas and power be connected to any machine with an Internet routable IP or that is able to connect to any machine with an Internet routable IP? Is it impractical to only use bright red network cables for Important Things and, in those situations where it's worth the compromise, traverse a wireless link or a leased line (ie. phone system directly, not Internet) through a carefully configured VPN with more bright red cables on the other end? If you want access at your desk... another machine with bright red cables. And glue in all the usb ports. Power plants right? They don't do this do they? Why?

Re:Airgap? (2)

ColdWetDog (752185) | about a year and a half ago | (#43842519)

Why would the SCADA system controlling things like gas and power be connected to any machine with an Internet routable IP or that is able to connect to any machine with an Internet routable IP?

Like most topics, we've beat this one to death in the past. Yes, anyone with half a brain wouldn't do that. Unfortunately, among persons setting up SCADA systems, having some functional neurons seems to be something of an edge case.

Re:Airgap? (1)

skomorokh (2934601) | about a year and a half ago | (#43842963)

Um, do you speak from experience with infrastructure engineers or this is just the vague impression you get from Internet fora? I don't quite have the hubris to assert one way or another, I was hoping to better understand. Like most things I haven't done, I imagine than actually doing it is a lot more complicated than imagining it and there are some real-world aspects that make this far less impractical than it seems. Were I to guess, it wouldn't be the people setting up the system I'd blame. I imagine that no one wants to pay for it because it's not a guarantee and isn't noticable until it's too late which is probably after next quarter. Is brightly coloured plastic and some redundant VPNs and commodity PCs it really THAT expensive though in the context of generators and such?

Re:Airgap? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#43843043)

And you're an uninformed doofus. As a guy responsible for a SCADA system I'll tell you that one of the first things I wanted to do was disconnect all external connectivity. That was when I got hired and before I understood all of the intricacies of what the requirements are. We have to share real time data with all of our neighboring utilities as per federal law. Marketers and accountants need access to data to make decisions in real time. Federal agencies such as WECC demand that we provide them with things like load forecast data, spinning reserve schedules, tie-line outages, etc so that they can perform real time studies. We have a security in depth approach that limits exposure, but disconnecting is just not possible. Our own government is really creating the largest holes that we have.

Re:Airgap? (1)

ebno-10db (1459097) | about a year and a half ago | (#43843163)

And you're an uninformed doofus. As a guy responsible for a SCADA system I'll tell you that one of the first things I wanted to do was disconnect all external connectivity. That was when I got hired and before I understood all of the intricacies of what the requirements are.

Sounds like you started out as an uninformed doofus too.

We have to share real time data with all of our neighboring utilities as per federal law. Marketers and accountants need access to data to make decisions in real time. Federal agencies such as WECC demand that we provide them with things like load forecast data, spinning reserve schedules, tie-line outages, etc so that they can perform real time studies.

1. This may be a naive question, but it sounds like all that data is stuff that is an output from the actual SCADA part of your plant. Cut a few wires and you can convert a two-way link into a one-way link. Read all you want but you can't control the plant from an external network. Would that work?

2. How was this stuff handled before the Internet?

3. If worse comes to worse maybe we need a WAN other than the Internet for this type of stuff.

Our own government is really creating the largest holes that we have.

Sounds like the stuff the government requires serves a real purpose. Are there cases where that's not true?

Re:Airgap? (4, Insightful)

Antipater (2053064) | about a year and a half ago | (#43842533)

Because people take network security about as seriously as they take nutrition. Everyone says they want to do the right thing, but then at the first sign of inconvenience they're back to their bad habits.

Re:Airgap? (1)

ebno-10db (1459097) | about a year and a half ago | (#43842803)

And I thought that "what do Twinkies and Internet connections have in common" was just a philosophical question.

Re:Airgap? (2)

gstoddart (321705) | about a year and a half ago | (#43842865)

Why would the SCADA system controlling things like gas and power be connected to any machine with an Internet routable IP or that is able to connect to any machine with an Internet routable IP?

And the answer never changes -- incompetence and laziness.

We all know you shouldn't have your critical infrastructure on the web, but that never really seems to change anything.

Ha! We are ahead of you Iranian hackers. (4, Insightful)

140Mandak262Jamuna (970587) | about a year and a half ago | (#43842451)

We have stopped maintaining our bridges and roads, and we have reduced infrastructure spending drastically. By the time you Iranians figure out how to destroy American infrastructure, there will be nothing left for you to destroy. Fools on you Iranians.

Re:Ha! We are ahead of you Iranian hackers. (1)

Kilo Kilo (2837521) | about a year and a half ago | (#43842625)

It's funny because it's true, as much as I wish it weren't. It seems that "smart" infrastructure (power plants, etc.) have laughable levels of security while "dumb" infrastructure (roads, bridges) are pretty much falling apart. Why can't this country do anything right? Why are we surprised when Iran hits back with the exact same tactic we used on them? Why can't we plan more than a day in advance?

Re:Ha! We are ahead of you Iranian hackers. (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#43842837)

Because we care more about complaining about how bad it is, and attacking each other over ideology (which moist would not pull a hair for at any time other than a political argument) than working together. We never learned how to work together, our country is even set up at 50 nominally independent states. In the past there was enough of a vague sense of patriotism and enormous prosperity that people were kept fairly happy and things got done. But now that is all gone, and we need to work together properly and we just cannot do it. The choices are the continue like this until something bad happens, and it snowballs into something horrible, begin massacring each other until there is only one ideology left so no one has to work with someone they do not agree with, or act like a sophisticated, modern society and work together for our mutual prosperity. The dutch have done it for hundreds of years, I doubt americans are mature enough.

Re:Ha! We are ahead of you Iranian hackers. (1)

140Mandak262Jamuna (970587) | about a year and a half ago | (#43843051)

Holland is a tiny homogenous country. Singapore is a tiny multi-ethnic (Chinese, Malay & Tamil) country. That you mention Holland but not Singapore is telling. Anyway, what is possible for these tiny countries is not possible for big countries.

Re:Ha! We are ahead of you Iranian hackers. (1)

ebno-10db (1459097) | about a year and a half ago | (#43843193)

We never learned how to work together, our country is even set up at 50 nominally independent states.

That explains why the US never got beyond being a 3rd rate agricultural colony.

Re:Ha! We are ahead of you Iranian hackers. (1)

Medievalist (16032) | about a year and a half ago | (#43843573)

I don't know why you're bringing Moist into this. He's not really a super-villain, and I don't need that we need anything dampened, or... made soggy.

Re:Ha! We are ahead of you Iranian hackers. (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#43842899)

A day in advance actually means more than 4 years in politics and more than 1 quarter in the stock market... and we know how hard it is for policitians and CEOs to think more than 1 period in advance.

Re:Ha! We are ahead of you Iranian hackers. (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#43842893)

Don't forget that the U.S. have left 'critical' defense information, like plans for advanced technology jet fighters, etc., open to attack as well. Apparently the Chinese have already taken us up on this 'offering'. And the Australians recently admitted that they 'gave away' the blueprints to their intelligence services headquarters and it's security systems.

Hopefully all of this is just an elaborate plan to stimulate the economies of Australia and the U.S., a bet that the Chinese will just call the contractors who build these things for the governments of the foreign devils, since they are so far behind the rest of the 'civilized world'. I'm sure the Chinese would trust us to build their defense and intelligence solutions for them, right?

Third World country (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#43842505)

Obama's original model was to create a cult following that, along with a reliably liberal majority in Congress, would do all the the heavy lifting of "fundamentally transforming the US" for him while he enjoyed his perch at the topof pop culture and politics. His constant agitating and us/them rhetoric is designed to activate the cult and get them pounding on the media and their representatives to do whatever hewants.

The model has failed; the cult was strong enough to get him elected butis distinctly uninterested in policy, and his one big policy achievement lost him control of Congress in 2010. He keeps trying to breathe life into the model through manufactured wedges like guns and immigration. But it is really the model that has failed. America is not - yet - a Third World country where masses of voters can be continually "organized" and whipped into a frenzy by a charismatic leader, and force legislatures to bend to his will.

Live by the Cyber Sword (1)

ThatsNotPudding (1045640) | about a year and a half ago | (#43842593)

Die by the Cyber Sword.

It really will be a photo finish to see which country has more cheap, lazy, and incompetent mid and upper level bureaucrats and MBAs.

Re:Live by the Cyber Sword - No Contest (1)

some old guy (674482) | about a year and a half ago | (#43842787)

No contest, USA wins that one hands-down.

The real competition is who has the most/brightest hackers and security geeks. If we keep flooding ourselves with incompetent H1B's, the Iranians will have us by the short hairs.

Re:Live by the Cyber Sword (1)

ebno-10db (1459097) | about a year and a half ago | (#43842833)

It really will be a photo finish to see which country has more cheap, lazy, and incompetent mid and upper level bureaucrats and MBAs.

The ultimate cage match: MBA's vs. theocrats.

Some questions (4, Insightful)

Okian Warrior (537106) | about a year and a half ago | (#43842763)

Okay, some questions.

Firstly, how do they know it was Iranian hackers? The linked article is the NYT reporting US officials as saying that the attacks came from Iran, and that the attacks could not be carried out without the regime's knowledge. Not a direct quote, btw - a paraphrasing of something a government official said, paraphrased by the reporter, and punched up by the editor for more impact.

Yet the register first line reads: "Iranian hackers are launching state-sanctioned attacks on US energy firms and hope to sabotage critical infrastructure by targeting industrial control systems, according to American officials."

There's a difference between attacks originating in Iran and attacks sponsored by the regime. Also, it's difficult at best to determine the origin of an attack - are they sure these attacks weren't proxied *through* Iran?

Secondly, how do they know that the goal is sabotage, when no sabotage has actually occurred? How do they know that this isn't just some bot herders trying to find more spam outlets? Certainly "accruing information on how their systems work" sounds more like a port scan or a vulnerability scan - which would be the first step regardless of the intent.

This is high-octane scare mongering. Be afraid, everyone! Don't use logic, let your emotions guide your opinions!!!

Re:Some questions (1)

ebno-10db (1459097) | about a year and a half ago | (#43842879)

This is high-octane scare mongering. Be afraid, everyone!

You act as though someone were calling for a nuclear attack. Even if this story is total garbage, I hope it gets lots of attention. Something has to be done about our insecure SCADA/infrastructure, regardless of whether you think the threat is from the Evil [insert whatever you hate here] or a bored kid in the basement.

Re:Some questions (1)

iggymanz (596061) | about a year and a half ago | (#43842923)

dumb-asses who hook their SCADA systems to the internet richly deserve what they get. Hope some big companies get burned so they wake up.

Re:Some questions (1)

ebno-10db (1459097) | about a year and a half ago | (#43843037)

dumb-asses who hook their SCADA systems to the internet richly deserve what they get

Agreed, but what bothers me is that I sometimes have little choice in relying on services provided by the aforementioned dumb-asses (e.g. electricity).

Re:Some questions (4, Insightful)

tnk1 (899206) | about a year and a half ago | (#43843241)

Iran has some pretty strict Internet rules and monitoring is most certainly employed. While it could be random hackers inside Iran, the chances of them executing a long term project and not being noticed are slim to none. The proxy scenario seems also unlikely as an anonymous proxy service is another thing you don't run in Iran without someone noticing. I think it is entirely safe to say that they were Iranian, and that the government knew about it.

As for the goal, presumably, the US government knows that the goal is sabotage by the selection of the materials targeted. If someone is downloading, say, information on security protocols and failure scenarios, you can pretty much bet that they aren't just doing that just because they are curious. Yes, perhaps there is room for doubt, but there are some things that some bored hacker isn't going to look for... isn't even going to know what to look for... without having experience. This is also a reason that it is probably Iranian government as well: they likely have experts who tell the hackers what they need to be looking for. Hackers, while smart, are not necessarily knowledgeable about infrastructure. They may know how to get into things, but they probably don't know what they are looking for once they are in.

I agree that the ultimate outcome is in doubt: learning how to sabotage the US infrastructure is not the same as actually doing it. Just like testing nuclear weapons doesn't actually mean that you intend to use them.

I also agree that releasing this information has an ulterior motive. It is PR for the agencies involved. In that sense, you have to take it with a grain of salt, but it doesn't mean it is fabricated or a scare tactic to cover an upcoming war. It's basically a department telling taxpayers that they need to continue funding them, or this could happen. A scare tactic, but for money. As much as I don't like that they do this, given how political that the budget process has become, it is probably understandable. It is also important to understand that, if these departments do their job, no one ever hears about them, because they generate no news. Sometimes, you need people to know what they are doing for the money that they pay you. This is likely what that is.

Of course they're Iranians! (1)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#43842841)

Crowd: An Iranian! An Iranian! An Iranian! We found an Iranian! We've got an Iranian! An Iranian! An Iranian! We have found an Iranian. May we burn her?
How do you know she is an Iranian?
She looks like one.
Bring her forward.
I'm not an Iranian! I'm not an Iranian!
But you are wearing a sign that says 'Iranian' on it.
They dressed me like this. - No, we didn't.
And this isn't my computer. It's a false one.
Well? - We did do the computer.
The computer? - And the sign. But she is an Iranian!
Did you dress her up like this? - No, no!
Yes. A bit.
She has got a Facebook account.
What makes you think she's an Iranian?
She put porn on my computer!
Porn?
I deleted it.
Burn her anyway!
Quiet! Quiet!
There are ways of telling whether she is an Iranian.
Are there? What are they? Tell us. - Do they hurt?
Tell me, what do you do with Iranians?
Burn them!
And what do you burn, apart from Iranians?
More Iranians! - Terrorists!
So why do Iranians burn?
Cause they're terrorists? - Good!
How do we tell if she's a terrorist? - Fly her into a building.
But can you not also fly regular airline passengers into buildings?
Oh, yeah.
Do terrorists live every day lives in America?
No, they live in fear. - Take her to America!
Who also lives in fear in America?
The 99%. - African Americans.
Very small rats. - Fries! Great gravy.
Cherries. The recording industry. - Churches.
Bill Gates. - A file sharer!
Exactly.
So, logically--
If she shares files...
she's a terrorist.
And therefore?
An Iranian!
A file sharer! A file sharer! - Here's a file sharer.
We shaIl use my deepest network packet sniffers.
Burn the Iranian!
Scan the network!
An Iranian!
It's a fair cop.
Who are you, who are so wise in the ways of science?
I am the 1%, king of the World.

Chinese, Russians, North Koreans and now Iranians (2)

guttentag (313541) | about a year and a half ago | (#43842877)

If you have one ant trekking across your kitchen to steal food, contaminating what it doesn't steal, you may not notice it. But if you have a swarm of ants trekking across the floor, you are more likely to notice them and take appropriate action. Unless you are a government agency, in which case you send a diplomat to tell the ants that if they don't stop you are going to get really slightly theatrically concerned, and the process of trying to figure out how to make a face that properly conveys that will make you annoyed at them.

The real question is which of the following is going to happen first:
  1. The Chinese hackers attack the Iranian hackers before they draw attention to targets the Chinese want. If you're a spy infiltrating an installation and you come across some amateur spy who is also infiltrating, you kill the spy and hide the body in a ventilation shaft before he gets caught and the place gets locked down.
  2. The Iranian hackers accidentally disable the systems that are giving the Chinese access to U.S. secrets.

Why hasn't someone made a sitcom about this yet?

Re:Chinese, Russians, North Koreans and now Irania (1)

ebno-10db (1459097) | about a year and a half ago | (#43843083)

Why hasn't someone made a sitcom about this yet?

It could work since everybody now knows that nerds are funny. Maybe a sequel to the Big Bang Theory. Penny gets a job as a SCADA security engineer, but gets distracted by the bad guys when they deliver a great pair of new shoes to her. Sheldon could easily fix it, but he too is distracted because it's Tuesday and he had French toast instead of oatmeal.

Iran! (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#43842913)

Iranians! Fuck Yeah!
What you gonna do when they attack you!!

8)

I fear this. (2)

argStyopa (232550) | about a year and a half ago | (#43842941)

When you extrapolate
1) the increasingly-vaguely-worded and -legally-authorized reach of national governments to act in what might be defined broadly as "military" ways wherever they see fit

2) plus the ever-increasing capabilities of non-state actors (some call them terrorists, when it's convenient) and the state-sponsors that back them, not to mention the actual inability of states to closely control these assets

3) the (current) ability to execute such actions through proxies/remotely/etc such that they are nearly perfectly anonymous

4) and the increasingly brittle infrastructure of a modern, interconnected, INTEGRATED data- and electronically-driven (mostly Western) society.

The intersection of these lines seems inevitable: a non-state actor (perhaps sponsored by a state, whether or not this specific action IS sponsored/authorized) is going to accomplish something really heinous, like a Chernobyl-level meltdown, or perhaps the destruction of the electrical grid across the East Coast of the US (something that costs $billions and/or thousands+ of lives).

What happens then? If the US is catapulted into a paroxysm of 10 years of war over the relatively puny-but-showy 3000 deaths of the WTC attack, what would we do if that casualty number was 20,000? 100,000?

"Someone will need to pay dearly" would seem to be the logical response of this otherwise-torpid democracy. But what if we don't know who that is, or (almost worse) are only "pretty sure" we know who it is?

Re:I fear this. (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#43843449)

The intersection of these lines seems inevitable: a non-state actor (perhaps sponsored by a state, whether or not this specific action IS sponsored/authorized) is going to accomplish something really heinous, like a Chernobyl-level meltdown, or perhaps the destruction of the electrical grid across the East Coast of the US (something that costs $billions and/or thousands+ of lives).

Nuclear reactors don't work like that.

As for electrical grid, bah, all you need is a branch touching some wires to do that. It seems it is as flaky in places as that.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Northeast_Blackout_of_2003 [wikipedia.org]

then there is some human errors too,
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Northeast_Blackout_of_1965 [wikipedia.org]

Really, no need to panic too much.

"Someone will need to pay dearly" would seem to be the logical response of this otherwise-torpid democracy.

That is the problem. It is not technical. It is political and sociological. Wars are not started by "tech". They are started by people thinking "we'll be home by Christmas" or whatever other holiday you can substitute for that. Perhaps if people that started wars were immediately executed as some sort of sacrifice, perhaps we would end up with a few less wars.

Give it up (2)

Reliable Windmill (2932227) | about a year and a half ago | (#43843033)

Nobody cares about your propaganda. Everyone knows USA is doing exactly the same, if not at an even larger scale.

FUD (1)

jeff13 (255285) | about a year and a half ago | (#43843041)

My FUD-o-meter just went into the red.

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