An American data expert took on a secret mission and uncovered how a Chinese army of hackers had spent years fighting against the USA. This case shows how cyberwar works – and what Germany will soon have to deal with.
one frosty January morning, it dawned on Laura Galante that the secret mission shed been working on would lead her right into the heart of world politics, and soon. She was sitting in a suburb of Washington DC, in an office with white walls, empty shelves and large windows. It was the year 2013 and Galante was tired, as so often during that time. Quite apart from the difficult mission she was working on, she was also pregnant. Together with a small team she was trying to uncover something. No one besides them and their boss were allowed know about it, not even within their own company.
This, it occured to Galante while a cold wind sweeped across the empty streets outside, will change my life. She was about to make a global power into a personal enemy.
It was only a few months ago that she had received a phone call. A computer security company was looking for specialists able to filter specific electronic data out of a huge amount showing how exactly criminals and governments attempt to overpower other states. She didnt have to consider for very long.
“This will change my life”: security resarcher Laura Galante
The boss, Kevin Mandia, a man in his early 40s with a square face, previously a U.S. Air Force officer, had an air of fearlessness. And she had exactly what he was looking for. She was 28 years old, a fast talker and was said to think just as fast. She had a degree in Politics and Law and had previously been analysing cyber attacks in the US Department of Defence.
This is how Galante became a warrior in an invisible war, the cyber war.
She is now head of her department at FireEye, an American company for computer security. Her clients are companies, known worldwide by almost every child; other clients include public authorities, Ministries and Governments. All of them can potentially come under fire in this new conflict. They get attacked by dangerous and destructive weapons which cant be seen, heard or smelled. This war isnt loud and bloody, it is fought on screens, with keyboards and fibre optics. Whoever loses control of his computers, loses power. This is where Laura Galante comes in.
Sitting at their computers, the enemies send out malware through the Internet. They send instructions to external computers, often in email attachements. This is their way to steal passwords, email correspondence and documents, mostly unnoticed; this is how they gain access to the computers of generals and ministers to record conversations; this is how hackers manipulate elections or paralyse government authorities and power stations. These are attacks meant to damage what keeps countries together at their very core: their economy, their internal security, everyday life.
This conflict has intensified steadily over the last years; right now, it looks as though it might be stearing towards escalation. Espionage, sabotage, destabilisation are all happening already, every day. The question is what comes next. How long will it take until someone reprogrammes drones or sabotages a nuclear programme?
Galante has a special programme on her computer which opens a map of the world. On this map, there are yellow and green arrows, moving from one country to another, from one continent to the next. This shows her where the attacks are happening, which country the attackers are in, and which country the attack is aimed at. Over the next weeks and months a lot of those arrows will be pointing to Germany. The German secret services warned the chancellery weeks ago: there will be an election in September, having an effect on the world order of the future.