Defense is America’s top priority. All the evidence you need to support that claim is a look at our nation’s budget. We are wholly committed to ensuring that no physical threat to our country is allowed to complete its mission.
We have vast arrays of advanced weaponry, some of the world’s best-trained tactical warfighters and the diplomatic power to shape global geopolitics if it keeps America safe. Yet the most prominent threat on the horizon is one we are ill-equipped to deal with. Our nation’s cyber infrastructure is frighteningly vulnerable.
Cyberspace is Closer to Home Than You Think
William Gibson, the novelist that gave us the Matrix forerunner Neuromancer, is credited with coining the term “cyberspace” nearly three decades before the Pentagon. Even in an era when online computing was a foreign concept to the lay person, Gibson envisioned a plane separate from our physical reality but connected to it.
Today, we are quite aware of how the internet and its best-known network, the World Wide Web, affect our daily lives. You or someone you know has probably been affected in at least some small way by one of the numerous cyber-attacks and breaches that threaten modern businesses with vast amounts of data to secure.
It’s a frightening reality, but it becomes truly unnerving when you learn that many of the same vulnerabilities used to exploit businesses could be leveraged against US Government networks. Some of them might even work, and the fallout could impact the lives of every single American.
Trump’s Team is Unprepared for New Threats
During his campaign, President Trump made claims that he would pour funding into stopping cyber attacks on known weak points in our nation’s infrastructure. So far, he’s done little of the sort.
A single executive order, issued in May 2017, calls on government agencies to share new technologies to shore up knowledge gaps and reduce vulnerabilities.
Unfortunately, no further progress has been shown, and this small win was quickly overshadowed by the awkward suggestion of a joint cyber security task force between Russia and the US, the result of a conversation between Trump and Russian President Vladimir Putin.
Meanwhile, there are several areas where cyber security experts agree the US could improve its level of security.
The Drone Wars
Another science-fiction great, George Lucas, will recognize the concept of using automated robots to carry out military sorties. You probably know that already goes on today. However, with other nations gaining access to better drone technology and concerns about what might happen if a rival government was to hack into US military drones on the rise, we are at a turning point.
At the moment, President Trump’s team is on the verge of deploying drone technology as part of expanded security measures. While a government spokesperson refers to the security drones as nothing more than “advanced balloons,” you can’t help but wonder how secure the surveillance data from the flying robots would be. Could a foreign operator potentially gain information on the president’s whereabouts by hacking into such a drone?
Our exposure as citizens to drone technology is increasing every day as well. The new technology is already available in marketing roles, sought-after by distributing companies like Amazon, and could even put the trusty pizza-delivery guy out of service in the not-so-distant future. Consumer-focused drone products have reached a level of popularity that necessitates new laws to protect commercial aircraft.
Similar to the 2016 Mirai network attack that crippled America’s backbone ISPs for the better part of a day, an attack on drone networks has the potential to be felt far and wide. And that’s not the only vulnerability we face.
The Power Grid
Many cyber security experts feel that if a foreign actor wanted to target the US infrastructure tomorrow, they would begin with the nation’s power grid. Such an attack was already carried out in the Ukrainian capital of Kiev, with devastating effects.
The reason for this involves the grid’s outdated construction. It was conceived at a time when network-based attacks were not a risk. Since then, the grid has been retrofitted to work in unison with new network technologies. The updates afford us better power management but leave the system exposed to attack.
To mitigate the risk, an “old-school” approach is being considered. We would have to take the power grid off of the internet. Some suggestions even include the use of mechanical elements that can’t be hacked because they don’t rely on network commands, and a reversion to analog technology to prevent the threat of digital infiltration.
In short, we are very exposed to cyber-attacks in our current state, but there might be one reason a potential attacker would hesitate. That is the threat of a retaliatory attack.
We could be living in the second era of MAD — mutually assured destruction. The term was first used to describe the way that nuclear superpowers would almost certainly wipe each other out in the event of a full-on nuclear war. History repeats itself, so it’s very possible that we’re at the beginning of a cyber cold war, gearing up for an arms race.