Wednesday, October 17, 2012

The Threat of Cyber security

Several events in the past few weeks have cemented the fact that cyber warfare is one of the nation's biggest threats to national security. These events, coupled with our in-class presentation given on Monday have piqued my interest in the topic and have implored me to devote this blog entry to the very subject matter. Adding to the relativity of this area is the fact that October is designated as National Cyber Security Awareness Month. This awareness month has been in existence for the past nine years and is a joint venture between the Department of Homeland Security, the National Cyber Security Alliance, and the Multi-State Information Sharing and Analysis Center.

Several weeks ago, the House Intelligence Committee warned American companies to avoid working with two Chinese communication firms, Huawei Technologies LTD. and ZTE Corporation, because they "pose a national security threat to the United States." (AP) The report said, "China has the means, opportunity, and motive to use telecommunications companies for malicious purposes." This report was released after a yearlong investigation. The committee said that Chinese components in computer systems carry the risk of espionage. 

This report, as well as the relationship between the U.S. and China have become an election issue, as Mitt Romney wants the U.S. become more stringent in clamping down on China. In last night's debate, he accused China of being a currency manipulator and being a thief of U.S. intellectual property. This report has serious implications, as it creates possible quagmire between the U.S. and its leading trading partner. Furthermore, it shows just how much the western world is dependent on China, as equipment is both developed and manufactured in the country. However, a report released today by the White House after an 18-month study says that while there is no clear evidence of espionage on the part of Huawei Technologies, it did conclude that relying on Huawei is risky because of the vulnerabilities that could be discovered and exploited by hackers. (Reuters)

Just last week, Defense Secretary Leon Panetta said that Iran was to blame in recent cyber attacks that targeted oil and gas companies in the Persian Gulf. It is believed that these attacks were in retaliation of U.S. imposed sanctions against Iran, and that the attacks were supported by the Iranian government. Panetta said the attacks were "probably the most devastating to ever hit the private sector." (CNN)

These events now point to the sense of urgency the government has in creating defense mechanisms to ward off these cyber attacks. In 2010, the mock simulation of a cyber attack on the U.S. government brought to light the amount of vulnerabilities the technology system has. Whether or not Huawei Technologies is the espionage branch of the Chinese government or not, we know at least one country that is developing and devoting a military wing to cyber warfare. Tehran has assembled a "cyber corp" as an official part of its military. A recent article in The Economist about bit coins also raises awareness to just how serious this issue is becoming.

Panetta warned that the U.S. is prepared to retaliate if it is hit by a cyber attack and even said that the U.S. would consider striking preemptively. He did not, however, go into details on how the U.S. would respond offensively or defensively. It is clear that the U.S. is preparing for an attack as DARPA is discussing Plan X, one of the most extensive plans to ever come out of the agency. This plan will also necessitate cooperation between the public and private sectors, as both are targets for cyber attacks. 

How do you forsee this situation playing out? Over the past decade, our defense department has had to strategize over how to defend our country from terror attacks, including, but not limited to, biological and chemical warfare and physical attacks on the country. Now they have had to include cyber security into this portfolio. Do cyber attacks warrant the need for the U.S. to strike preemptively or do you have faith in the government to protect our country from all enemies, even the cyber enemy?


Lightman said...

I appreciated your post--and I'm glad my presentation turned you onto the topic. I also suppose that means I've put my screen-name with a face. The illusion is shattered; I apologize.

Do I foresee a future where the United States feels obligated to strike preemptively when it detects an imminent cyberattack? Absolutely. And I don't think they'll feel to bad about it either. In fact, as Panetta suggested last Thursday, that's what they're planning on doing.

Also, if there's anything behind Panetta's claim that the US Government can now track attacks to points of origins, I foresee a future where the US Government routinely untilizes cyber methods for both defensive and offensive purposes.

I have a question for you. And this is just me wanting to pick your brain...but you mentioned biological and chemical warfare in your final paragraph. Using biological and chemical warfare is a major international taboo--do you foresee a future where the international community places a similar taboo on cyberwarfare?

Would that be justifiable, necessary, or desirable?

Obama Mama said...

I think eventually, yes, cyberwarfare will become taboo. Like all previous forms of warfare, cyberwarfare will be replaced by some other "up and coming" form of warfare, if that makes sense. I cannot comment on what the next big thing will be after cyberwarfare, but I'm sure it will all be based on the latest and greatest technology that will be available. To answer your last question, I think the international community placing a taboo on it would be justifiable, necessary, and desirable :)