America’s growing cyber threat: Seven things we must do right now to protect US interests

Make no mistake, the United States has never been more unprepared for a conflict than it has been against the cyber war.

Our enemies are consistently inflicting damage on the American economy.

In fact, every year we lose more intellectual property on government, university, and business networks than all of the intellectual property in the Library of Congress.

Just this week, we saw a massive cyberattack that may have compromised the personal data of at least four million current and former federal employees.

China is the likely culprit.

Recently, we’ve also seen reports on how automobiles, which are being run more and more on computer technology, are vulnerable to cyberattack.

Even more disturbing are recent reports concerning the vulnerability of airplanes to cyberattack. A recent General Accountability Office (GAO) report confirmed the vulnerability of aircraft to cyberattack and their onboard systems of being hacked.

In 1965, Gordon Moore, the co-founder of computer chip maker Intel, observed that the number of transistors on integrated circuits doubles every two years.

“Moore’s Law” has not only remained constant for decades, but there have been similar rates of remarkable increases of technology.

Cyber warfare is the most complicated national security threat that the U.S. has ever faced because technology is changing so quickly. In fact, the speed of change in the cyber technology realm is changing faster than the Pentagon and that of our broader national security apparatus’s ability to analyze and adapt.

In recent years, we’ve seen an exponential surge in cyberattacks on our nation’s critical infrastructure.

I’m concerned that hackers, be they “lone wolves” or supported by a hostile state, can cause more harm to our financial institutions than anywhere else.

The five biggest banks in America have assets equivalent to 56% of America’s GDP. This is up from 43% in 2006. The “too big to fail banks” have only gotten bigger. Securing our financial system must be a top priority in the cyber war.

The 9/11 Commission said that 9/11 was “above all, a failure of imagination.” The equivalent of a 9/11 in the cyber realm has the potential to be even more devastating on our economy. At the beginning of World War II, Nazi Germany’s “Enigma Code” appeared unbreakable.

As shown in the recent movie, “The Imitation Game,” the British brought together the best cryptographers and in the end, under the genius of Alan Turing, built a machine to crack the Nazi’s Enigma machine. It was a game-changer for the Allies.

Similarly today, the United States needs to assemble our best minds to tackle our ever-increasing vulnerability in cyber warfare.

Recently, there is strong evidence that the science of quantum computing can provide for the generation of truly random numbers. Once this technology has matured, it would greatly reduce, if not eliminate, the likelihood of hacking into any system. There is also strong evidence that the technology could actually be put on a chip. Fortunately, the U.S. Air Force Research Laboratory (AFRL) has done a great deal of research and work in this area.

Here are 7 things that must be done now to effectively combat the cyber war threat:

1. Fully support the Air Force Research Laboratory and make the development of quantum computing with the generation of true random numbers on a chip, a reality.

2. Recruit cyber experts at home and abroad. James Gosler, one of our nation’s top cybersecurity experts, believes that the US has only 1,000 people with the necessary skills to defend the country against the most complex cyberattacks out of the 20,000-30,000 people required.

3. Provide national security scholarships to top computer science and data security majors in the United States.

4. Fight a preventive war against cyber terrorists. We must go after our enemy before they can cause damage to our economy.

5. Follow the country of Georgia’s example and plant “booby traps” for cyber terrorists and hackers.

6. Ensure that US Cyber Command has the ability to coordinate with the private sector during a cyberattack. This may involve shutting down certain networks, etc. Here, the private sector must be protected from liability.

7. Distinguish between cyberattacks from regimes like China and Russia versus Islamist regimes like Iran. Historically, Chinese cyberattacks are geared more towards espionage, while Islamist attacks are primarily focused on sabotage. Different countermeasures are required depending on the origin of attack.

The cyber threat to the United States is growing each day and is inflicting real damage to America, both economically and from a national security standpoint.

It’s taking a tremendous toll on our government, our economy, and the private sector.

It’s time for the United States to fight back with real imagination and creativity in order to win in this new dimension of warfare: the cyber war.

Van D. Hipp, Jr. is the former Deputy Assistant Secretary of the U.S. Army.  He is the author of the newly released book, “The New Terrorism:  How to Fight It and Defeat It.”  All of the author’s proceeds go to the National Guard Educational Foundation to fund scholarships for children of fallen Guardsmen.   Follow him on  Twitter @VanHipp


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