Back in the 1990s Cyberpunk was hot in science fiction. A central theme of this genre was battles in cyberspace. Fast forward to 2010 and the dystopic future envisioned in those tales has failed to materialize. However, the theme of cyber warfare was rather prescient. The internet is literally a war zone in which attackers try to breach the defenses of networks and individual computers. While much of this is done by criminals, there are also states playing this new game.
While criminals are a serious concern, the actions of nation states are also extremely worrisome. After all, software experts with the backing of a national budget could do considerable damage to another nation by attacking the private and governmental computer infrastructure. Financial systems, energy systems, defense systems and communication systems could be disrupted or even crippled. In theory, such attacks could be done anonymously. This would allow a nation to do damage and avoid retaliation.
China has shown that it is quite willing to use computer hacking (in the bad sense of the term) as part of national policy. While Google was the main target recently, there is no reason to think that China has any qualms about this method. Other nations also seem to be willing and able to use such methods.
While the United States has been a center of computer and network innovation, the United States government has done rather poorly in the area of cyber security. This, obviously enough, needs to be rectified. Part of the problem is, no doubt, that our main focus has been on dumping money to counter the (non-cyber) terrorist threats (or to create the illusion that we are doing so), to fight our two wars, and so on. Another problem is that we have a hodge-podge system and lack a unified approach to this matter. There is also the concern that some government folks seem to be more concerned with downloading porn at work rather than focusing on the issue of security.
Whatever the reason, our country has a serious vulnerability in this area that must be addressed. Of course, this might be “addressed” by companies with high paid lobbyists getting fat contracts to provide useless security measures that will need to be repaired and patched to actually be effective.
Richard Clarke has just written a book on the this very subject. Don’t forget to add North Korea to your list. They attacked us last year from China.