Cyberspace: The New Battlefield

In the entire world, there is no one more reliant on cyber tech than the United States.  The United States rely on things like SCADA systems (the “Power Grids”) to run our country. But because of this, the United States has more to lose from an offensive cyber attack on our country more than anyone else in the world.

Leon Panetta has discussed this in his speech in New York:

But the even greater danger facing us in cyberspace goes beyond crime and harassment…A cyber-attack perpetrated by nation states or violent extremist groups could be as destructive as the terrorist attack of 9/11. Such a destructive cyber terrorist attack could paralyze the nation.

Protecting Your Computer is an American Duty

Cyber warfare is a completely difficult battlefield than anyone is used to. In a cyber war, every citizen is involved.  A country can hack its way from the bottom. For instance, it can hack your local computer you’re using now, network to your neighbor’s computer that is networked to a business computer, which is networked to a corporate computer that networks to Washington.  As soon as their “hacking foot” is in the door, the hack can spread anywhere.

What would a Cyber Attack even look like? How bad can it actually be?

Department of Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano answered this after the tragic events of Hurricane Sandy.  She stated,

“One of the possible areas of attack, of course, is attacks on our nation’s control systems — the control systems that operate our utilities, our water plants, our pipelines, our financial institutions. If you think that a critical systems attack that takes down a utility even for a few hours is not serious, just look at what is happening now that Mother Nature has taken out those utilities.”

Legality

We’ve spoken about defense, but what about the United States using the cyber field offensively? How does the United States deploy cyber? Who’s going to do it? What are the special rules of engagement in this battlefield?

Unfortunately, nobody knows this yet.  Even in the case where a country cyber attacks a company, the CEO must call the “local” police first.  The local police then send the report up the ladder until someone can figure out what to do. There are few procedures. No outlines. The question that must then be posed is if they do act, how far can the D.O.D. act in the private domestic IT sector? Should this be something for Congress, the media, and the public to debate?

Either way, the ball is rolling. The Department of Defense has an established cyber-security department that provides policy reports and related information concerning cyber-security.

In August, Congressman Lieberman presented a cyber-security bill that would have set security standards for companies that provide “critical infrastructure” like electricity and water. The bill was blocked 52-46.  In September, Lieberman urged President Obama to publish advisory lines for a cyber-security executive order. In November, President Obama did the next best thing. He signed the Cybersecurity Directive. As of now, the directive has been kept secret, but those close to the White House have stated

“[It would] finalize new rules of engagement that would guide commanders when and how the military can go outside government networks to prevent a cyber-attack that could cause significant destruction or casualties.

Most recently, Auburn University officially opened its Cyber and Security Center at the Auburn Regional Airport that is to be led by retired Lt. Gen. Ronald Burgess “to lead the university’s cyber initiative.”

So what exactly does the next generation face? This is a question General BB Bell, a retired General who now serves on the Defense Advisory Committee asked to a group at the National Press Club in Washington, D.C.

He followed it up by stating,

“We have the Army, Navy, Marines, and Air Force. Is it crazy to think that someday we may need to create a Cyber Command branch? I don’t [personally] know, but somebody better start figuring it out.”

How do you feel about the future of Cyber Security? What actions do you believe the United States should take?  Share your thoughts!

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