A massive, well-planned cyber attack could immobilize many of our nations' systems simultaneously. Has the U.S. protected itself well enough from that sort of attack?
We’ve already looked at the (slim) possibility of the U.S. becoming a third-world country, and now, hot off the heels of the news that 600,000 Mac computers were attacked by a virus last week, we’ll be looking at a technology threat.
The Mac attack happened in spite of experts’ confidence that Macs, unlike PCs, were exempt from this threat. Could cyber attack on the U.S. be in the same position?
Cyber warfare is real and on the rise, not only to personal computers but corporate, municipal, state and the federal government. This means a massive, well-planned cyber attack could immobilize many of our nations’ systems simultaneously. For example, financial markets could be affected as well as transportation, food resources and services including the power supply. Money might be unavailable when massive computer systems are down. If this happened on a national level, chaos could easily follow without one traditional weapon being utilized.
Though this sounds fictional, it isn’t, according to Richard Clark, a security expert who teaches at Harvard's Kennedy School of Government. His book, in conjunction with Robert Knake, explains why.
Clark and Knake feel that the U.S. has not pursued a strong enough policy against cyber attacks because it has not paid enough attention to cyber security. They suggest that internet service providers are not implementing enough vigilance for their networks, which puts the U.S. in jeopardy. To assure better monitoring, they want the government to enact new rules on internet service providers that would ensure stronger cyber security.
There are several criticisms of their approach. One is that internet service providers are already doing a great deal. It is, after all, in their best interest to provide cyber security. Additionally, others point out that the likelihood of an all-out cyber attack that would successfully immobilize most systems at once is unlikely because not all intended assaults would work.
Whatever the reality, we do know that cyber warfare can be effective. In late 2009 or early 2010, the Stuxnet virus took control of the devices running Iranian centrifuges containing uranium and disrupted their speed causing them to crash. Experts reported that this delayed Iran’s nuclear program by months to years. This strike, believed to be a joint effort of the U.S. and Israel, shows how one assault can be specific and powerful. It is scary to think of many general attacks, each with equal potency.
By bringing this to the attention of U.S. citizens and the government, the authors may have contributed to the U.S. being better prepared, no matter what the critics say.
Read more:Defending against cyber attacks from NATO online