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If I Can Find DC’s Security Loopholes, Can They?

With so much of our daily lives now online, it might seem simple to propose that we have an absolutely airtight security system for our cyber activities. That is a task that is much easier said than done, however, and there are gaping holes in the cyber systems that are designed not only to protect individuals from identity theft, but our economic system from collapse, and our country safe from invasion or attack.

There are two types of attacks that the United States should be worried about—and we are susceptible to both. What probably comes to mind first is a destructive attack. These attacks aim to destroy complete sections of our online infrastructure: routers, servers, and databases that are crucial to everyday operations. These attacks have the potential to destroy entire industries of the U.S. economy, as well as prevent proper governmental functions. The second, a disruptive attack, is not a permanent or long-term attack, but it is one designed to temporarily displace economic and communicative functions.

Electricity Risks

As early as 2009, U.S. government officials noted hacks in the power system that appeared to come from a myriad of international sources— Russia, China, and the like. These were not simple hacks: e-bombs or identity theft. These hacks had the potential to completely shut down the United States electricity system. If you have ever lived in New York, you are familiar with the sensation of the entire city, as far as you can see, going black. Imagine that scene taking place in every city across the country, and not ending in a few hours or a few days, but without an end in sight. Utility companies, including water, sewage, and electric, have all put more and more of their infrastructure online over the last few years. That means that not only can someone hack into these systems—they do not even need to be in the United States to do so.

It’s bad enough when cyber attacks are launched at conventional energy plants; the effects of a hack into the security system of a nuclear plant could have devastating effects. Nuclear leaks and the shut down of vital maintenance and security are both distinct possibilities in a world where hackers have almost every system in the U.S. at their disposal.

Banking and Transportation

Two other vitally important systems that could be completely wiped off the map by the cyber aggression of other countries are our transportation and banking systems. Imagine if you and your family woke up one morning and the accumulated wealth of America had vanished. Or perhaps almost as devastating: all the wealth still exists, but it has become inaccessible. What would the country do to maintain daily operations? How would we recover?

Most important in terms of threats to the transportation system are attacks on the safeguards and safety systems that keep public transportation functional. Systems that ensure that only one light at an intersection turns green at a time or that store updates on the functionality of planes, trains, and buses: those are all vulnerable to attack, with an almost certain loss of life should the attack be successful.

Military Risks And Data Theft

If our computer systems are so easily hacked, the entire infrastructure that has been computerized is not the only issue by far. When Bradley Manning got in trouble for leaking sensitive U.S. diplomatic cables and other documents, the scandal lasted for months and potentially endangered U.S. alliances and troops. What Manning didn’t release, however, was troop positions, troop numbers, plans in case of a nuclear strike, planned responses to overtures by hostile military forces, or nuclear launch codes. How many of those things would remain secure in event of a major hack committed by a hostile international actor? Few, if any.

With all of that information, international actors could wreak havoc on our military operations and successfully kill thousands of American troops stationed abroad. More dangerously, other countries (China is the base of most hacking operations into U.S. military computers) could launch military invasions and nuclear attacks—not just against the United States, but against any country of their choosing. Our responses would be severely hampered, because our enemies would not only be aware of our prepared responses; they would anticipate them.

U.S. presidential advisor Richard Clarke advised the U.S. government, saying,  “I can’t assure you that as you go to war with a cybersecurity-conscious, cybersecurity-capable enemy that any of our stuff is going to work.”

Worried about the security of our nation yet?

U.S. Response

Current United States policy is only to respond to large-scale cyber attacks. That means small hacks—ones that could potentially open a crucial backdoor for a larger, later attack—face absolutely no retaliation from the U.S. government. The traditional definition of war does not include cyber threats or warfare, and thus our preparation leaves a lot of gaps—gaps that can be easily exploited by those dedicating their efforts to destroying U.S. functionality.

The more digital surfaces there are, the easier it is for hackers to access the networks they’re looking for, because they have more opportunities to find gaps in the system.  The mass influx of new mobile phones, iPads, and tablets, coupled with businesses and entire industries putting their infrastructure online, means that even if we are employing secure systems, hackers will have an easier time of it. Chief of U.S. Cyber Command, Keith Alexander, said that the U.S. is not equipped to handle most cyber threats and that the U.S. would rank just a three out of ten in terms of preparedness.

Our defense systems will have to undergo a massive overhaul in order to withstand the kind of cyber attacks we are currently seeing, and the government should start by responding to each and every cyber attack on military, economic, and power infrastructures. By responding to each and every attack, the government will strongly communicate to hackers that we are taking this problem seriously. Frankly, we cannot afford to allow small attacks to continue any longer.

©2012 Off the Grid News

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