Computers, networks are next battlefield
By Michael Ryan
Pearl Harbor and the 9/11 attacks were actual assaults on our homeland, acts of war in which thousands of people died.
But while nothing can hold a candle to the physical devastation wrought by enemy bombs and hijacked airliners, the fact is we are under cyberattack every day in this country – in fact, by some estimates, as many as 500,000 times each day, at a potential cost of $2 trillion by the year 2019.
Cyberattacks, as a primer by the University of Maryland University College puts it, are unwanted and unauthorized intrusions on people’s and institutions’ “computers, networks, programs, and data.”
They could’ve included “appliances.” Even refrigerators come with internet-capable Wi-Fi these days.
In short, our governments, our businesses and our homes and personal electronic devices are under constant attack from countries, organizations and criminals – and the United States and nearly every one of its citizens are vulnerable.
“We’re dealing with a cyber-insurgency – a cyberinsurgency that began about 20 years ago through orchestrated efforts by both the Chinese and Russian governments,” Strategic Cyber Ventures CEO Tom Kellermann told Fox News’ Bret Baier recently. “What’s changed is, now hackers from around the world are colonizing U.S. cyberspace.”
A cybersecurity analyst protects the nation’s power, water and chemical plants, electrical grid and other facilities from cyber attacks.
The bad actors, both government and private, are basically breaking in to burglarize or stalk you, Kellermann says.
It’s particularly problematic for ordinary citizens, Kellermann notes, “because most individuals do not know how to secure their homes, their devices or their corporate networks.”
It’s even worse for the federal government.
A 2014 breach of computer files at the U.S. Office of Personnel Management, which was traced to the Chinese government, exposed personnel and security clearance information on millions of federal employees and contractors, and compromised many of their families’ privacy.
“Officials said the breaches rank among the most potentially damaging cyber heists in U.S. government history because of the abundant detail in the files,” wrote ‘The Washington Post’.
And, of course, everyone now knows that Russia is believed to have hacked the Democratic National Committee in an alleged attempt to influence the 2016 U.S. election.
“We also see cyberthreats challenging public trust and confidence in information services and institutions,” Director of National Intelligence James Clapper told a Senate Armed Services Committee hearing recently.
Even Iran and North Korea are improving their ability to launch “disruptive or destructive” cyberattacks, Clapper said – ominously adding that “nonstate actors” such as terrorist groups are also making increasing incursions into cyberspace.
Our computers – and our phones and perhaps someday our toasters – are the new global battleground. Cyber has become a leading – if not the leading – national security threat.
“Clearly,” Clapper said, “cyber will be a challenge for the U.S., the intelligence community and our national security for the foreseeable future. And we need to be prepared for that.”
This country doesn’t seem to have a broad strategic plan for combatting cyberattacks.
We’d better get our act together, and quickly. To wit:
1. “Insufficient attention and insufficient strategic thought has been given to cyber and cybersecurity for years,” Kellermann says. “I think the time has come to recognize cybersecurity as a national- and economic-security imperative. We should recognize and appreciate that we are being colonized in cyberspace.
“It’s an absolute imperative that (President Trump) take this issue more seriously and begin to invest in the cybersecurity of the United States of America.”
Indeed, President Donald Trump has named former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani – who brilliantly shepherded that city through the aftermath of 9 /11 – the chairman of a White House cybersecurity task force.
2. Clapper also recommends separating U.S. Cyber Command from the National Security Agency and putting two different people in charge of them.
3. Kellermann also suggests Internet-connectable device manufacturers make it a higher priority to secure their products and to teach users to do the same.
One other key to securing the nation is increased partnerships between the government and private sector computer experts. It’s something the city of Augusta, Augusta University and the state of Georgia are on the forefront of, with a planned $50 million Georgia Cyber Innovation and Training Center in Augusta, and with the nation’s Army Cyber Command moving to nearby Fort Gordon.
“The center will be a state-owned cyber range,” says Gov. Nathan Deal’s office, “that brings together academia, private industry and government to establish cybersecurity standards across state and local agencies to develop and practice protocols for responding to cyber threats.”
We’d better all come together. We’re all under attack.
Michael Ryan is editorial page editor of ‘The Augusta Chronicle’ in Georgia.
All of us with internet-connected devices – which is to say nearly all of us – are vulnerable to computer-based attacks.
America’s enemies are in a constant state of cyberwarfare with us – yet we have been slow to produce a comprehensive counter-strategy.
A 2014 breach of federal government computers exposed millions of federal employees and contractors and even their families to foreign hacking and espionage.
Recognition of the breadth and depth of the threat to our homes, businesses and country is the first step.
Training, training, training! Education, education, education! Our schools must react to the emergence of cyber threats the way we responded to Sputnik.
New alliances and partnerships must form. The federal government, state of Georgia and Augusta University have joined for the education and training of tomorrow’s cyber warriors.