One of the world’s leading experts on cybersecurity calls cyber sabotage attacks “the worst innovation of this century.” Cyberweapons have become too dangerous, and cyberattack can lead to visible and important damage to the critical infrastructure or telecommunications. And, attribution is almost impossible.
Democracy has only 20 years left to live if an effective means of digital identification is not developed before that deadline. As young people growing up with social media reach voting age in increasing numbers, they will lead a major shift to online voting. A lack of identity security will throw open the gates to massive voter fraud that will destroy the fidelity of elections, and with it, true representative government.
That gloomy assessment came from one the world’s leading experts on cybersecurity. Speaking at the AFCEA Global Intelligence Forum in the National Press Club in Washington, D.C., Eugene Kaspersky, chief executive officer and co-founder of Kaspersky Lab, warned that this will be a consequence of the failure to secure the Internet.
“Kids today are always online,” he pointed out. “They will want to vote online. We need a 100-percent, biometric-based digital identification card.”
Issuing this type of identification will help secure the Internet if it is restructured, Kaspersky continued. He suggested splitting the Internet into different components: One would be highly secure, where financial transactions would take place, and another would be totally open for noncrucial activities with no identification required. Other segments with varying degrees of importance and security would be located in between these two extremes, he offered.
A “digital Pearl Harbor Armageddon” that inflicts catastrophic damage on the United States is not likely soon or in the foreseeable future. The worst cyber attack that could be expected would have less of an effect for a shorter period of time, said an expert with the Office of the Director of National Intelligence (ODNI).
Sean Kanuck, national intelligence officer for cyber issues at the National Intelligence Council, ODNI, told the audience at the second day of the AFCEA Global Intelligence Forum in the National Press Club in Washington, D.C., that predictions of destruction that would bring the United States to its knees are unnecessarily pessimistic and unlikely to materialize.
The worst cyber event that could be expected would be regional, not national, in terms of its effects. It would not be enduring, instead lasting days at most. It probably would afflict familiar targets such as oil and gas distribution networks, power grids and transportation.
The financial sector could be damaged by a cyber attack that causes substantial losses. Right now, the U.S. government does not have a baseline or a metric for determining remediation expenses or financial losses, Kanuck said.
The most damaging cyber attacks possible are among the least likely to happen, because the powers capable of undertaking them are unlikely to launch them, according to an expert with the Office of the Director of National Intelligence (ODNI). Sean Kanuck, national intelligence officer for cyber issues at the National Intelligence Council, ODNI, told the audience at the second day of the AFCEA Global Intelligence Forum in the National Press Club in Washington, D.C., that cyber attack capability need not translate to immediate threat.
Kanuck explained that the most sophisticated players in cyber are powerful nations that know it would run counter to their interests to inflict a damaging attack on the United States. They will—and do—conduct cyber espionage, but they would not want to bring down the United States except possibly in an existential military conflict that threatens their regime or as a part of a major war.
On the other hand, some less capable cyber nations might be willing to launch a devastating attack. Nations such as Iran, for example, might see benefits from inflicting great harm on the United States.
Non-state players would join the major powers in eschewing a crippling attack on the United States. Kanuck pointed out that these non-state entities use cyber to their advantage, such as for criminal activities. “They do not want to kill the goose that lays the golden egg,” he noted. “They want to profit, but they don’t want to bring down the law upon themselves.”
The most serious national security threat looming in cyberspace may be the potential for vital data to be altered by cybermarauders, according to a cyber expert with the Office of the Director of National Intelligence (ODNI). Speaking to an attentive audience at the AFCEA Global Intelligence Forum in the National Press Club in Washington, D.C., Sean Kanuck, national intelligence officer for cyber issues at the National Intelligence Council in the ODNI, admitted that the threat to data integrity keeps him awake at night.
Kanuck offered that, some day, a chief executive officer or even a U.S. president might not be able to trust the normally reliable data needed to make a crucial decision. That situation might be even more damaging than cyber attacks currently envisioned as realistic near-term threats.
“The question will not be distributed denial of service,” he said. “The question will be, can I trust my data from being altered?” He noted that, when data is denied, victims know it immediately. But, if data is altered without people immediately realizing it, they only discover it after financial records are not clearing and balancing, for example.
“Whether it is national security information for the president, or financial information for a chief executive, when you don’t know whether the data is true or false, it’s a really bad day.”
Resistance to change may prove to be the biggest impediment to information sharing among the cyber intelligence community. Both government and industry must break out of their existing paradigms to share cyber intelligence that may prove vital to national security.
Panelists on the second day of the AFCEA Global Intelligence Forum in the National Press Club in Washington, D.C., outlined some of the cultural obstacles that hold back information sharing. In the intelligence community, the conflict is the traditional need to know versus the new need to share.
“We need to change the paradigm of how we think about things,” said Vice Adm. Michael Rogers, USN, commander, U.S. Fleet Cyber Command and commander, U.S. Tenth Fleet. “How do we educate our senior officers about how we live in this [new information sharing] world?”
Larry Zelvin, director of the National Cyber and Communications Integration Center at the Department of Homeland Security, pointed out that cybersecurity is a competitive business; not everybody is going to share. “People may not want to be as open as we think they ought to be—for some very good reasons,” he added.
Paul Tiao, a partner in the law firm of Hunton and Williams, called for leadership and a community-wide dedication to information sharing. This should include metrics for measuring the sharing that takes place. And, personal contact is important for overcoming cultural barriers “People have to sit with each other and talk with each other—not videoconference. if you want to collaborate, do more than just share information,” he suggested.
Ultimately, private sector companies are the defenders of cyberspace, Zelvin offered. “It’s not the government that will protect us, it’s the private sector.”