Winning the 'Cyberspace Race'

Winning the 'Cyberspace Race'
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The Cyber Threat is now our greatest national security challenge, a 21st Century “weapon of mass destruction” that is currently having serious impacts on America and is getting worse – militarily and economically across public and private sectors, and socially across all segments of society.  

Our adversaries around the globe such as Russia and China, and including ISIS, Iran, and North Korea have developed significant cyber capabilities.  This “global cyber proliferation” is serious and growing worse by the minute.  In the late 50s and early 60s the emerging Cold War’s battlefront included the “Space Race” with the Russians, and eventually a symbolic “American on the moon.”  Today we have a similar situation, a “Cyber Space Race” which will represent the dominant “high ground” for decades to come. 

We are being “hacked and attacked” every day in America – our personal accounts and lives, our critical infrastructures, and there are undoubtedly many serious incursions that we have not detected or have gone unreported.  A few recent examples illustrate the point: State-backed Iranian hackers conducted a denial of service attack against U.S. banks to attack United States infrastructure, and not just the banks themselves.  Russian-backed hackers sought to influence elections in the United StatesFrance and throughout Europe.  The Chinese military has carried out cyber-espionage attacks against U.S. companies, hacking intellectual property (IP) from U.S. public and private entities, including sensitive military IP worth billions. North Korea foreshadowed their cyber capabilities when hacking Sony Pictures, but has recently demonstrated a far more robust cyber arsenal, an alarming threat to the public and private sectors of America and its Allies. Equally alarming is the Islamic State’s recruiting of jihadists who are then connected to encrypted sites for further radicalization and operational instructions. 

The worst-case scenario is a potential “Cyber Pearl Harbor” or a “Cyber 9/11.”  While once found only in doomsday thrillers, this existential threat posed by cyber is now very real.  

While America’s public and private sector cyber defenses have grown since the mid-1990s, the cyber threat to all elements of national power has grown even more rapidly. America is at HIGH risk. Of particular concern is our soft commercial sector underbelly, which comprises 85% of internet use in the United States.  Cyber breaches present an unprecedented and often disastrous risk to the value of commercial entities.   

Consider the Target, Home Depot, Sony, and Equifax cyber intrusions. Each cost the companies billions in market valuation, lost revenue, employee productivity, reputation and expenses. While it is harder to quantify than a stock price, companies and institutions are successful in large part due to trust. An individual company violating that trust with their customers can have devastating effects for that company, but the magnitude of recent data breeches strikes fear in the hearts of all Americans and undermines trust in the fundamental institutions of our society.

Just as techniques and technology developed in America’s space program resulted in innovations benefitting the full range of American life, so too can military-grade cyber capabilities be leveraged to harden vulnerable government and commercial entities.

Techniques and technologies such as commercial sector onboarding of military-grade technologies, implementing network segmentation to protect sensitive information, applying advanced encryption techniques to protect large databases, ensuring protection from insider threats, and using advanced analytics to uncover risks to commercial internal or external networks.

America must win the 21st Century “Cyber Space Race.” We must mobilize the entire spectrum of American enterprise, from the cyber education of our children to the highest levels of academia, business, and government. The U.S. commercial sector must do everything possible to protect themselves, their customers, and this nation. This includes using military-grade cyber defense capabilities to ensure commercial viability, thus securing America’s increasingly vulnerable economic engine. 

Major General Bob Dees (U.S. Army, Retired), was Exercise Director for our nation’s first full-scale cyberwar exercise, Eligible Receiver ’97, and subsequently provided cyber expertise to the Presidential Commission on Critical Infrastructure Protection. He remains engaged in the “Cyber Space Race.”

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