Tuesday 22 December, 2020


North Norfolk coast.

Quote of the Day

”To yield to the mere process of disintegration has become an irresistible temptation, not only because it has assumed the spurious grandeur of ‘historical necessity’, but also because everything outside it has begun to appear lifeless, bloodless, meaningless and unreal.”

  • Hannah Arendt, The Origins of Totalitarianism

Musical alternative to the morning’s radio news

The Beatles | Get Back | A Sneak Peek from Peter Jackson.


Not a trailer but a glimpse of his forthcoming film. Wonderful.

Long Read of the Day

No ‘Negative’ News: How China Censored the Coronavirus

Great New York Times piece.

The Solarwinds hack

You will probably have seen stories about the so-called Solarwinds hack. Hackers acting on behalf of a foreign government — almost certainly a Russian intelligence agency — broke into a range of key US government networks, including in the Treasury and Commerce Departments, and had free access to their email systems. It’s clear that many other government departments had been penetrated and that the intrusions have gone undetected for many months.

The attack was only discovered because a FireEye, a well-known cyber-security firm, found that it had been hacked and began to investigate how it had happened. They realised that the intrusion stemmed from a vulnerability in a product made by one of its software providers, the Texas-based SolarWinds Corporation.

“We looked through 50,000 lines of source code, which we were able to determine there was a backdoor within SolarWinds”, a senior techie at FireEye told Bloomberg. After discovering the backdoor, FireEye contacted SolarWinds and law enforcement agencies.

Hackers, suspected to be part of an elite Russian group, took advantage of the vulnerability to implant malware, which then found its way into the systems of SolarWinds customers when they updated their software. So far, more than 25 entities have been victimised by the attack, according to people familiar with the investigations. But SolarWinds says as many as 18,000 entities may have downloaded the malicious Trojan.

So who or what is Solarwinds? It produces a piece of software called Orion on which according to the FT “hundreds of thousands of organisations around the world” rely to manage their IT networks. It’s described (perhaps fancifully) as a “single pane of glass” that can monitor everything in a system, and it seems that the hackers inserted malicious code into the software updates provided by SolarWinds to its customers, which then allowed them to open a back door that let them spy on their targets at will. The updates were released between March and June this year — which means that the hackers have been inside some systems for as long as nine months. It also means — as Ben Evans pointed out in his weekly newsletter, that the hackers have had the run of the internal networks and data of customers like the US Treasury, the Department of Energy (which, among other things, manages America’s nuclear weapons arsenal) and more besides.

This, says Evans, raises two questions:

1: This is today’s espionage, and the NSA spends billions trying to do this to everyone else. But what’s the line between espionage and something more? 2: How does this change how big networks are designed, managed and perhaps regulated?

It also raises another question: what should a state do when it is attacked in this way? Currently, this is an unanswered question. Will we get to the point where a cyberattack triggers what military people call a ‘kinetic’ response? If China eventually moves on Taiwan because it wants (or needs) that country’s chip-making expertise and facilities, will the US react with conventional military force? Or instead launch a crippling cyberattack on China, on the grounds that a conventional war could rapidly escalate to a nuclear confrontation? Same questions apply to Russia and the Baltic States.

Another, hopefully interesting, link

  • Bob Dylan on Paul McCartney. Link

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