Information Assurance: National Security’s New Front Line
by Lance Cottrell - CTO of Anonymizer - Monday, 19 May 2008.
Nowadays, few would ever consider using the Internet "unprotected" without a reliable anti-virus software and firewall solution installed on their PC networks. Yet most people, including government operatives, are visiting Web sites equally unprotected in other ways, and exposing their IP addresses and network identifies to the organizations that run them.

An agency’s IP address is one clue cyber criminals can use to identify the confidential online activity of undercover agents, researchers, investigators and analysts. Someone visiting the Web can unintentionally disclose their operating system, browser version, physical address and other sensitive information. Adversaries can use this information to uncover a government organization’s confidential plans and jeopardize their entire operation. Additionally, once an enemy knows your IP address, they can start scanning and attacking your network directly, endangering your data and infrastructure.

The impacts are substantial

Once an IP address is exposed, Web site administrators can automatically block an agency’s access to specific pages on a site, redirect them to a cloaked Web site that displays false information, attract that visitor to a "honey pot" page, monitor to gain intelligence or directly and maliciously harm the network. Tactics like this could mean exposing a cover, losing millions of dollars or even risking the lives of government agents. More aggressive enemies even automatically counter attack to create a denial of service, or damage or infiltrate government infrastructure.

The threat is by no means hypothetical. Many Web sites currently publish active government IP addresses so administrators can easily identify when an agency is visiting their domain. Exposed agencies include the FBI, Department of Homeland Security, National Security Agency, Drug Enforcement Administration and the Department of State. It’s one key reason why the Bush administration is proposing to allocate $6 billion in the 2009 budget for a cyber security effort.

Deploying information assurance systems

These types of growing online threats and attacks now shed light on the need to implement improved Information Assurance practices. These initiatives protect outbound connections to the Internet in order to ensure access to open source information, guarantee the integrity of the information gathered and protect against confidential leakage or counter-intelligence from adversaries.

One set of Information Assurance technologies that agencies can deploy today is non-attribution solutions. These types of systems provide many layers of capabilities that even today’s most sophisticated analytic tools will be unable to thwart. The better platforms include the following elements:
  • Frequent Rotation of IP Addresses: The solution creates an unrecognizable pattern of Web surfing activity by frequently changing the originator’s IP address.
  • IP Address Diversity: IP addresses used for rotation are drawn from a highly diverse population and come from many different network blocks.
  • Provider Diversity: IP addresses come from different Internet Service Providers, so as not to give away a pattern in and of itself.
  • Geographic Proximity: Internet activity appears to come from areas other than those closely associated with U.S Intelligence operations, such as Northern Virginia or Maryland.
  • Assurance of Non-Retention of Records: Records of user activity are not retained or, at the very least, make them difficult to produce.
Additionally, comprehensive non-attribution solutions also support remote users as well as e-mail and online chat applications. There are also times when such systems also protect IP addresses that are used for “scraping and harvesting,” time-consuming search activities that use a significant portion of a Web site or server’s bandwidth.


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