Facebook Google Plus Twitter LinkedIn YouTube RSS Menu Search Resource - BlogResource - WebinarResource - ReportResource - Eventicons_066 icons_067icons_068icons_069icons_070

Tenable Blog

Subscribe

AfterBites: More on Espionage

The Story:

--Pentagon Official Charged with Espionage Conspiracy
(May 13 & 14, 2009)
A Pentagon official has been charged with espionage conspiracy for
allegedly leaking confidential documents to a Chinese government
operative. James Wilbur Fondren Jr. has been on administrative leave
from his job as Deputy Director, Washington Liaison Office, US Pacific
Command (PACOM) since February 2008. Fondren was allegedly able to
access the sensitive information through his security clearance. If he
is convicted of the charges against him, he could face five years in
prison and a fine of US $250,000.
http://www.nextgov.com/nextgov/ng_20090514_7707.php
http://www.scmagazineus.com/Defense-Department-insider-charged-with-espionage/article/136743/
http://www.usdoj.gov/opa/pr/2009/May/09-nsd-469.html
[Editor's Note (Northcutt): Limiting access rights based on roles is essential.]


My comment on this (which didn't get posted along with Northcutt's) was: "

Is this where I get to say "I told you so"??

For the last few months we've been treated to a well-marketed push trying to paint China as an internet cyberespionage threat. Some of us have been pointing out that "this is not how real espionage is done" and that real spies still operate by suborning trusted insiders. We should not ignore the real threat while we're chasing after what amounts to little more than a well-marketed attempt to increase security budgets for agencies and beltway bandits. "

It's obvious: a privileged insider with the clearances to access information is always going to be vastly more valuable (or damaging, depending on your perspective) than an external attack, which basically has to come in blind, penetrate defenses, and resist outward-facing detection. Furthermore, an insider with access is likely to be better positioned to know what information is valuable, and where it is. Exactly as this case reveals.

From the DOJ's (URL above) article on the incident:

"According to an affidavit filed in support of the criminal complaint, Fondren retired from active duty as a Lieutenant Colonel in the U.S. Air Force in May 1996. In approximately Feb. 1998, he began providing consulting services from his Virginia home. Fondren’s sole client for his business was a friend by the name of Tai Shen Kuo. Kuo was a naturalized U.S. citizen from Taiwan who lived primarily in Louisiana and maintained business interests in the United States and the People’s Republic of China (PRC). Kuo also maintained an office in the PRC.

In August 2001, Fondren became a civilian employee at PACOM at the Pentagon, where he was again granted a security clearance by the government. He held a Top Secret security clearance, worked in a Sensitive Compartmented Information Facility, and had a classified and unclassified computer at his cubicle."

How do you penetrate a Sensitive Compartmented Information Facility? Hire a hacker? Or hire a con$ultant?

Other than the dubious satisfaction of being able to say "I was right, again" this story affords me only a little satisfaction: they caught him quickly. He'd only been in business for a year or so. But: how much data can an insider with physical connectivity to a system steal, versus someone who has to download it over the Internet?

Related Articles

Cybersecurity News You Can Use

Enter your email and never miss timely alerts and security guidance from the experts at Tenable.

Tenable Vulnerability Management

Formerly Tenable.io

Enjoy full access to a modern, cloud-based vulnerability management platform that enables you to see and track all of your assets with unmatched accuracy.

Your Tenable Vulnerability Management trial also includes Tenable Lumin and Tenable Web App Scanning.

Tenable Vulnerability Management

Formerly Tenable.io

Enjoy full access to a modern, cloud-based vulnerability management platform that enables you to see and track all of your assets with unmatched accuracy. Purchase your annual subscription today.

100 assets

Choose Your Subscription Option:

Buy Now

Tenable Vulnerability Management

Formerly Tenable.io

Enjoy full access to a modern, cloud-based vulnerability management platform that enables you to see and track all of your assets with unmatched accuracy.

Your Tenable Vulnerability Management trial also includes Tenable Lumin and Tenable Web App Scanning.

Tenable Vulnerability Management

Formerly Tenable.io

Enjoy full access to a modern, cloud-based vulnerability management platform that enables you to see and track all of your assets with unmatched accuracy. Purchase your annual subscription today.

100 assets

Choose Your Subscription Option:

Buy Now

Tenable Vulnerability Management

Formerly Tenable.io

Enjoy full access to a modern, cloud-based vulnerability management platform that enables you to see and track all of your assets with unmatched accuracy.

Your Tenable Vulnerability Management trial also includes Tenable Lumin and Tenable Web App Scanning.

Tenable Vulnerability Management

Formerly Tenable.io

Enjoy full access to a modern, cloud-based vulnerability management platform that enables you to see and track all of your assets with unmatched accuracy. Purchase your annual subscription today.

100 assets

Choose Your Subscription Option:

Buy Now

Try Tenable Web App Scanning

Formerly Tenable.io Web Application Scanning

Enjoy full access to our latest web application scanning offering designed for modern applications as part of the Tenable One Exposure Management platform. Safely scan your entire online portfolio for vulnerabilities with a high degree of accuracy without heavy manual effort or disruption to critical web applications. Sign up now.

Your Tenable Web App Scanning trial also includes Tenable Vulnerability Management and Tenable Lumin.

Buy Tenable Web App Scanning

Formerly Tenable.io Web Application Scanning

Enjoy full access to a modern, cloud-based vulnerability management platform that enables you to see and track all of your assets with unmatched accuracy. Purchase your annual subscription today.

5 FQDNs

$3,578

Buy Now

Try Tenable Lumin

Visualize and explore your exposure management, track risk reduction over time and benchmark against your peers with Tenable Lumin.

Your Tenable Lumin trial also includes Tenable Vulnerability Management and Tenable Web App Scanning.

Buy Tenable Lumin

Contact a Sales Representative to see how Tenable Lumin can help you gain insight across your entire organization and manage cyber risk.

Try Tenable Nessus Professional Free

FREE FOR 7 DAYS

Tenable Nessus is the most comprehensive vulnerability scanner on the market today.

NEW - Tenable Nessus Expert
Now Available

Nessus Expert adds even more features, including external attack surface scanning, and the ability to add domains and scan cloud infrastructure. Click here to Try Nessus Expert.

Fill out the form below to continue with a Nessus Pro Trial.

Buy Tenable Nessus Professional

Tenable Nessus is the most comprehensive vulnerability scanner on the market today. Tenable Nessus Professional will help automate the vulnerability scanning process, save time in your compliance cycles and allow you to engage your IT team.

Buy a multi-year license and save. Add Advanced Support for access to phone, community and chat support 24 hours a day, 365 days a year.

Select Your License

Buy a multi-year license and save.

Add Support and Training

Try Tenable Nessus Expert Free

FREE FOR 7 DAYS

Built for the modern attack surface, Nessus Expert enables you to see more and protect your organization from vulnerabilities from IT to the cloud.

Already have Tenable Nessus Professional?
Upgrade to Nessus Expert free for 7 days.

Buy Tenable Nessus Expert

Built for the modern attack surface, Nessus Expert enables you to see more and protect your organization from vulnerabilities from IT to the cloud.

Select Your License

Buy a multi-year license and save more.

Add Support and Training