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I have an idea of a story that takes place in a near future dystopia, where the government is planning to deploy a new dangerous surveillance software. This surveillance tech is of course contracted to a private corporation to develop. And a resistance group intends to stop or disrupt the development of this software.

For traditional industries, operations can be disrupted by attacking the infrastructure. Such as blowing up an oil well will disrupt oil production without targeting the workers.

But since software are stored on the cloud/internet, along with large amounts of backups elsewhere, and can be copied at will. Would the only way to disrupt software development be targeting the individuals working on the software itself? Does software development have "infrastructure" that can be targeted?

A commentator mentioned that the resistance can disrupt software development using hacking. But what happens if the resistance is mainly filled with traditional warrior types (mercenaries, police etc), would they have to use violence to disrupt development?

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    $\begingroup$ The cloud is just someone else's (array of) computer(s). $\endgroup$ – Renan Mar 30 at 6:08
  • $\begingroup$ The internet isn't literally in the clouds. You can target that infrastructure .... there is some redundancy but not infinite. I would argue no more than if you wanted to stop say cars being made all together. $\endgroup$ – Raditz_35 Mar 30 at 8:07
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    $\begingroup$ First, find out what is the bus factor of the software development team; most usually it's surprisingly small. Then, talk with the corresponding number of bus drivers. $\endgroup$ – AlexP Mar 30 at 9:00
  • $\begingroup$ Seems like an XY Problem. The issue seems to be (bad) State intrusion, not software. You get rid of the problem through change of policy...or change of government...instead of mucking about with computers. $\endgroup$ – user535733 Mar 30 at 14:36
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    $\begingroup$ @Raditz_35 And now I want to see hackers destroying the Intenet with cyber-cloud seeding. $\endgroup$ – Eth Apr 1 at 10:55
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Modern software development practice uses libraries. Lots and lots of libraries, and often the developers don't know what exactly these libraries contain. This goes from basics like Java or Javascript over frameworks like Spring or Angular to build tools like npm and special-purpose libraries like Jackson.

In theory, a conscientious development team could go over each line of other people's code. I certainly hope that happens in critical mil-spec projects.

In practice, developers get their libraries from a reputable source and perhaps check if there are any published vulnerabilities. You mentioned that the development is outsourced, and whoever does the work will have to watch the budget.

So the attack would go something like this:

  • Identify a small, open-source library deep in the tech stack. Say the JSON parser used by an OAuth implementation used by the login for the admin backend. This could involve either hackers or more traditional spies -- get someone into the corporate offices and take a look at the source code.
  • Suborn the developers of the library to put a backdoor or malware into the next release. This could involve social engineering or more traditional strongarm tactics, or a mix of both. Say one of the geeks who contributed to the library in the past is asked to a date by a cheerleader type. One thing leads to another, and there is a pull request. (This needs time to develop, so no overt violence.) Then some scary masked intruders visit the maintainer of the library and pull fingernails until the pull request is accepted. (This is an one-time action, so no need to be subtle. The maintainer is disappeared afterwards.)
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    $\begingroup$ Could a backdoor or malware to fixed by simply rolling back? Since software could be copied, backed up or stored elsewhere safely. Hence the comparison with the oil well. Rebuilding traditional infrastructure is costly and difficult, but software could be copied and stored elsewhere. Could viruses realistically destroy all copies of a software including all backups and redundancies simultaneously? Or would a malware simply be a speed bump towards it's development. $\endgroup$ – Railroad Tycoon Mar 31 at 1:18
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    $\begingroup$ @RailroadTycoon, if there is a "breaking change" in the API then they would have to roll everything back -- the compromised library, the libraries which use it, the entire system. That may or may not be an option. $\endgroup$ – o.m. Mar 31 at 5:01
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There are two approaches to stopping this software development.

First, destroy all hardware i.e. servers of the company and government servers. Such a project could not be allowed to be uploaded just anywhere in the cloud, but only on secure internal and possibly government servers. Internal servers may include servers anywhere in the world where the company has a branch.

The more elegant second option would be to break into the company in one location and have the group's hacker protected by the warriors upload a virus into the company's internal systems which destroys every snippet of code within their systems and may even have access to government servers the company has access to and also wipe these systems.

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  • $\begingroup$ Destroying "all" hardware seems impossible since software can simply be copied and pasted. If one data storage center is destroyed, they'll create additional backups in other data centers. Unless every single data storage can be destroyed simultaneously, would that really stop software development? $\endgroup$ – Railroad Tycoon Mar 31 at 2:39
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    $\begingroup$ Destroying all hardware becomes possible, when the software is so top secret that it must not be shared over the Network and is only available within the local company network. $\endgroup$ – Alex2006 Mar 31 at 7:16
  • $\begingroup$ Okay, what happens if it's not that top secret? $\endgroup$ – Railroad Tycoon Mar 31 at 17:23
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Staff

The primary asset of software that can be targeted is the staff. Assassinating the lead programmer will slow down development. Bribing an underpaid junior programmer to install a backdoor could allow you to use the system against its master. Stealing a copy of the master access key. Even getting a copy of the source code would help.

With hacking, the weakest point in the security is usually the people. A lot of people write their password on a post it note stuck to their screen or under the keyboard. More often than not, someone claiming to be tech support can ring a secretary and they'll give them their log in details when asked. All else fails, plug in a keytrap or a network monitor.

Hacking, unlike in the movies, usually relies more on human engineering than software.

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