Is a ‘cyber 9/11′ inevitable?

Is a ‘cyber 9/11′ inevitable?

Another day, another report warning that the U.S. is dangerously unprepared for the realities of 21st century cyber-warfare. Monday’s study, which was the subject of a story by AP’s Lolita Baldor and which is slated for full release in the coming weeks, doesn’t say anything you haven’t heard before: The computer networks of the military-industrial complex, and the U.S. generally, are very vulnerable to mischief and attack because the feds can’t talk amongst themselves and also can’t coordinate with the private sector.

Wrote Baldor:

The Intelligence and National Security Alliance says the dramatic expansion of sophisticated cyber-attacks has moved beyond acceptable losses for government and businesses that simply threaten finances or intellectual property. “The impact has increased in magnitude, and the potential for catastrophic collapse of a company has grown,” said the report, which is slated to be released later this month. It adds that it is not clear that the business community understands or accepts that.

The report comes amid growing worries the U.S. is not prepared for a major cyberattack, even as hackers, criminals and nation states continue to probe and infiltrate government and critical business networks millions of times a day.

But in Washington, when you say “The sky is falling and everyone’s responsible!” that means no one will pay attention, because no one person’s job is on the line. When Adm. Thad Allen was the commandant of the Coast Guard, he used to say the U.S. needed to have a “national discussion” about whether it wanted to continue permitting small vessels to operate mostly out of sight of state and federal regulators, given the terrorism dangers of having no “air traffic control system” for American coasts and waterways. Well, we didn’t have a “national discussion,” the Coast Guard didn’t get better monitoring or a more robust system for testing and licensing boaters, and the risk of a Mumbai-style terror attack remains.

Cyber-security and cyber-warfare are the same way: Every month brings another speech, or hearing, or white paper that points up the weaknesses of our American cyber-defenses, and calls for a “discussion” and “better coordination with industry,” and — you’ve heard it all. Last year, a congressional report said that China had improperly redirected some 15 percent of the world’s Internet traffic through its systems in April 2010, for purposes about which we can only speculate. Every time he gets a chance, Rhode Island Rep. Jim Langevin warns about the dangers of a so-called SCADA attack, in which a cyber-attacker might try to sabotage the supervisory control and data acquisition networks in a factory or power plant.

In short, the cyber-security situation is roughly where terrorism was in the months before Sept. 11, 2001. The U.S. had been attacked several times, including at the World Trade Center; in Dar es Salaam and Nairobi; and in Yemen with the bombing of the destroyer USS Cole. But the threat of terror wasn’t truly driven home until the Sept. 11 attacks, which prompted massive federal reorganization, two wars, trillions in new spending and a “new normal” of electronic eavesdropping, heightened security, and all the rest of it.

So the question is, will the ongoing cyber-crisis continue as a slow burn, or will there be a “Die Hard 4″-style meltdown? It’s not the same as terrorism, obviously — a lot of cyber-mischief is perpetrated by spies and criminals who have a parasitic relationship with the institutions they attack; they don’t want to destroy the defense industry because they can continue profiting from vacuuming up its secrets.

Still, as Langevin and others have tried to warn us, there’s a chance that cyber-terrorists, possibly backed by a national enemy — we won’t mention any names — could try to bring down the New York Stock Exchange, or the power grid of the East Coast, or who knows what. Do you think such an action movie-style attack is only a matter of time, the way retired Gen. Myers nonchalantly said “a security surprise is in our future?” Or do you think it’s all too far-fetched?

Join the Conversation

Watching the TSA and DHS fumble air travel safety, violating everyone’s rights, evacuating terminals when a mouse is sighted, give me pause for worry. Clearly our enemies, particularly China, are polishing their cyber plans, readying them for launch. (That’s right, trade fools, I called them an enemy) Our satellites, both civilian and military, will go down. Cellphones down. Trains down. Air travel down. Gas transmission and electrical grid lines will be taken offline, possibly triggering disasters all their own. These strikes will be pre-emptive, a first salvo that will cost us lost commerce and military advantage. The public will be scared, desperate, dangerous, and without direction. What civil defense? Shelters? Food and water supplies for Joe and Jenny Neighbor?Better get your emergency provisions ready, kids. Uncle Sam will be blind, unable to move, frozen.

What does “operate out of sight of regulators” mean? If it refers to electronic monitoring, I’m OK with it. But if it’s visual, that’s a problem.

I take consolation in the fact that our cyber-adversaries are as vulnerable to attack as we are, if not more so.

Our adversaries are vulnerable to attack, but I don’t think many of them are as wedded to electronics as we are, so probably aren’t as vulnerable to the same type of attack.

I believe it was Tsun Tzu that wrote something to the effect that if anything is totally critical to your war effort it becomes imperitive to your enemy to deny you that thing. We live by electronics, so.…

Did anyone else notice that an intelligence plane apparently had to land because the GPS “quit”?

I just did not realize that if those little GPS satellites stop working on your Garmin, the physical principles of Bernoulli fail to produce lift! OOOps! Did I hear some old coot (like me!) suggest shooting a sun-line? ROTGLMAO!

Does that mean if the cameras use film, you have an issue but if they are digital we are OK? :-)

Just because we have chosen to deliberately hamstring ourselves with very impressive, but potentially less than robust, capabilities does not mean that our enemies are obliged to do so, even though we have often paid handsomely for the privilege.

Honestly, I would temper your consolation just a bit. Just consider that STUXNET would have had exactly zip-diddly-zero impact on the Manhattan Project.

Anyone ever read Daemon? Wish that would happen.

We need to start using the tools used by hackers on a wider scale. Plus we need more interoperability between all IT security people. Sometimes the problem is that people who have been in top positions in places like the CIA and NSA think that they know best. We need to start thinking outside the box. Also people in the IT field (private or Federal) need training in order to get a leg up on the competition. Finally we need to keep vital infastructure like power plants on a stand-alone system. Connecting them together leaves them more vunerable to attacks from outsiders using the Internet. With stand-alone we can better control access to those resources because attackers would have to physically break in to a plant in order to take it down.

You are right!

The Chinese shot down their own “obsolete” weather satellite to quietly and effectively show us their capability to knock out our satellite system and shut down the USA.

I got it.…did anyone in the Pentagon get it?

Maybe our Pentagon is waiting for more Chinese aircraft carriers to be launched for “research purposes”. Was that Chinese submarine missile launch off Catalina Island just a mistake or was it another quiet capability statement? A combination of Chinese economic domination and emerging military might could possibly imply
some remote chance of minor future problems for the Pentagon.
Thanks for you post. Globalism fiddles while national security crumbles.

Correct! The Cyber INTEL is still extremely “stovepiped”, sad to say. The situation is improving at the working level, nut not quickly or thoroughly enough. In addition, the preponderance of training is “checklist”-oriented (e.b., how to use this tool, how to document this attack, how to enter these settings), as opposed to: Why was this entity attacked?; Why did it work?; etc.

WRT your final assertion, I agree completely, but I doubt that a state adversary would do something like that, since it would make eventual negotiation and/or occupation more difficult. Think about the old “Mutually Assured Destruction” philosophy; one would not annihilate the entire enemy command structure; there would then be no one left to formally surrender. Likewise, it would be more expedient to erase all cell phone billing records (causing chaos and panic) instead of destroying the cell phone infrastructure which would prove useful for communicating and negotiating later…

The Kill Switch Police State and the i-9/11

(full) http://​wp​.me/​p​P​k​X​P​-za



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