by Dave McGill
It’s become increasingly apparent that this nation has fallen behind the curve with respect to a type of warfare that could paralyze everything from banking and business transactions to nuclear defense capabilities.
Over the July 4th weekend and into the following week, a widespread cyber attack knocked out the websites of several governmental agencies. Coming, as it did, on the nation’s birthday and just days after President Obama described Russian Prime Minister Vladimir V. Putin as having “one foot in the old ways of the Cold War,” the attack was seen by some as a warning shot.
If so, it would not be the first. Early last year, the Pentagon admitted it had spent $100 million over the preceding six months to repair the damages from such attacks.
It is not certain, of course, that the Russian government is behind the mayhem. There are other suspects, such as China, but if one looks back along the trail, the footprints of Russia are there.
Last November, a strike on key Defense Department sites was reported to have come from inside Russia. That attack caused the Pentagon to ban the use of flash drives, a move that made the sharing of information more difficult in the war theaters.
Furthermore, an electronic attack from Russia in 2007 shut down government computers in Estonia and last summer, western governments and the business world were stunned by the degree to which Georgia’s communications capabilities were disrupted during its short war with Russia.
Two weeks ago, Defense Secretary Gates ordered the creation of a military command to oversee cyberspace both from a defensive and offensive standpoint. That was just 11 days before the latest attacks which brazenly even knocked out some of the new websites responsible for fighting such crimes.
Also disabled were the communications of the Treasury Department, Secret Service, Federal Trade Commission and Transportation Department, as well as the websites of major South Korean government agencies and banks.
Hacking has advanced far beyond the illicit activities of young, gifted vandals. It has been reported that the potential economic damage from these high-level attacks could involve the widespread disruption of the nation’s financial markets, banks, and supply chains, including food deliveries. And, the military consequences could shut down our communications, paralyze our ability to conduct operations, disable our capability to respond to an attack and even take command of our drones and stall our warplanes in flight.
Clearly the misuse of cyberspace potentially represents the most destructive weaponry outside of the nuclear arsenals.
The United States is apparently late to the dance, in this respect, but it is encouraging to know that the Obama administration is now extending a major effort to close the gap.