Cyber Warfare Now Far Bigger Threat To US Than Terrorism

2016-10-02_14-28-49

With the Cold War long over, most Americans believe that the worst threat currently facing The United States is terrorism.  They would be wrong.  By far, the biggest threat to this nation is now Cyber Warfare.

After receiving classified intelligence briefings on the recent hacks into the DNC, top members of Congress’ Intelligence Committees have now definitively said that Russia was behind the attacks. Homeland Security has also confirmed that Russia hacked into the voter registration systems in more than 20 states.

Putin has been very vocal about his disdain for Hillary Clinton. He has made it clear that he wants Trump to win the U.S. Presidential election. And we know now that Russia is actively trying to affect our political process to get the results they want.

Sen. Dianne Feinstein and Rep. Adam Schiff put out a joint statement saying,

“Based on briefings we have received, we have concluded that the Russian intelligence agencies are making a serious and concerted effort to influence the US election. At the least, this effort is intended to sow doubt about the security of our election and may well be intended to influence the outcomes of the election — we can see no other rationale for the behavior of the Russians.”

At a Senate Armed Services Committee hearing on cyber warfare, Deputy Secretary of Defense Bob Work said, “In terms of deterrence we are not where we need to be.” He also explained that many DOD “systems were not built” to meet the threats that we are currently facing.

James Clapper, the Director of National Intelligence added,

What we could expect next is data manipulation, which then calls into question the integrity of the data [from financial transactions to the power grid, etc.], which in many ways is more insidious than the attacks we’ve suffered thus far.

It has been widely reported that the Chinese have been hacking into our computer systems in recent years.  We’ve been able to identify one of the Chinese groups responsible for hundreds of cyber attacks since 2006, as the “Comment Crew”.  These hackers seemed to focus not only on military secrets and private corporations, but also on our delicate infrastructure, including our power grid and utilities.

Last year we found out that the Comment Crew, who attacked Google and more than 20 other American companies in 2010, has also gone after our federal law enforcement.  They apparently were trying to see if the FBI had their eyes on any Chinese intelligence operatives.  In addition to the Chinese attacks, Iranian hackers have now moved from attacking banks to targeting our energy companies.  The fact that these hackers are able to get into any of our critical systems so easily should be alarming to all of us.

Our own university system has become another area of great concern to many who worry about cyber attacks and national security.  In order to remain globally competitive in this new technological age, a necessary emphasis has been placed on educating students in computer science.  But along with educating our own kids, many foreign students have also come here to attend our universities. This has become especially important when you factor in that US professors are now admitting that in these technical fields, the US student talent is somewhat lacking.

It must be said that many foreign students come here for an education, and then stay, making our country stronger.  Silicone Valley is full of them.  But the concern, of course, is that we are educating thousands of foreign students every year, including many from hostile nations, and then sending them home armed with knowledge that could cripple our homeland.  According to the Institute of International Education, in the 2010-2011 school year, China alone sent 76, 830 grad students to our US universities.

It certainly could be argued that by teaching foreign students how to create technology, we are putting our national security at risk.  But American universities contend that stronger restrictions would only stall progress and would have a damaging effect on research and development.  So, as we try to walk this fine line between progress and security, irreversible damage may be occurring.

In 2009, a Georgia Tech professor teaching a course with classified information decided to record his class and make it available to his students, through a link online.  At the time, he thought the link would only be accessible internally at Georgia Tech, but the valuable data was uploaded to Georgia Tech’s servers and remained exposed for nearly a month before they found and corrected the error. During that time, the information was viewed 660 times in 36 different countries, including China, Pakistan, Russia, and Iran.

This would be bad enough if it were an isolated case.  But, unfortunately this is far from a rare event.  Cyber experts admit that security leaks through universities is a big problem.  The rules are ambiguous and infractions are rarely prosecuted.

Of course, possibly educating hostile hackers is not our only problem.  Perhaps one of the most concerning is our aging and vulnerable infrastructure.  The really frightening thing about this is that, unlike our banks, our infrastructure is much easier to breach.  Among the many security problems with our aging system is its inability to be easily fixed and restarted.  The true fear here is that, with the intense increase in these cyber attacks, we could take a crippling blow before we are ever able to even address possible solutions.

This cyber warfare should be a real concern for the United States.  It’s not something that our children can practice duck-and-cover drills for at school, but it is every bit as real and threatening as nuclear attacks were a generation ago.  And, just like the nuke threat, this is extremely difficult to defend.  Many of these cyber attacks aren’t even identified until long after the assault.

In one of the recent cases of our military secrets being hacked, they didn’t catch it until 3 years later.  They thought it was some kind of virus. But, even once we know, what is the appropriate retaliation?  Do we launch a traditional military offensive against the country that owns a big part of our debt?  Do we try to infect their computer systems with American viruses?  Whatever we do clearly will have global implications.  If that doesn’t put a chill up your spine, I don’t know what will.

Cyber warfare is the biggest threat to national security in this new century.  These hackers pose more of a threat to our country as a whole than any terrorist or military operation.  It’s a new kind of technological battle, and it can’t be defended in the traditional ways we’ve always fought.  It has possible catastrophic significance to life as we know it in this country and we must quickly find better ways of protecting ourselves.