Wednesday, August 6, 2014

When Will U.S. Cyber Alarms Match Its Cyber Threats?

by James McFarlin

Former Secretary of State Madeline Albright recently stated “the world is a mess.” And indeed it is. From Russia’s stoking of a war of insurrection in the Ukraine to the Israel-Hamas war to conflicts in Syria, Iraq and throughout much of the Middle East and North Africa, large swaths of the world are at war.

But it is instructive to place such events in perspective. In spite of the significant dangers they pose, these conflicts offer but a prelude to even the greater threat to America’s national security which emanate from the increasing worldwide proliferation of cyber weapons.

Why? Because these conflicts, no matter how loud, are still like distant thunder; in the world of cyberattacks ground zero is America’s critical infrastructures and ultimately, our way of life.

Updated 9/11 Commission Report to the Rescue?

The release of “Reflections on the Tenth Anniversary of The 9/11 Commission Report” on July 22nd arrived carrying for many the potential and the hope for enlightenment and national security direction in today’s turmoil-filled world.

This new report drives home that: “One lesson of the 9/11 story is that, as a nation, Americans did not awaken to the gravity of the terrorist threat until it was too late.”  It then concluded that “History may be repeating itself in the cyber realm.  The Internet’s vulnerabilities are outpacing the nation’s ability to secure it.”

At this point a few solid prescriptions for action from the Commission would be in order.

But that was not to be. The report’s alarms quickly dissolve into a treatise about subjects such as working with allies to establish norms of cyberspace behavior and of the importance of improving private sector/government collaboration on cyber threats.

It is difficult not to sense that what is missing in this updated report lies in the authors’ tone. Where is their sense of urgency? The bat to the side of the head that may be an unfortunate necessity if America is to awaken to the consequences of cyber attacks?

Given the report’s descriptions of the many threats facing the United States it is possible to conclude that even the authors had perhaps not fully yet awakened to the magnitude of the dangers looming behind the conclusions they themselves had reached.

One can only hope our nation’s alarm clocks wake up and stir our national leaders’ imaginations before a cyber incident of the magnitude of 9/11 results in the need for a “Cyber Strikes Commission Report.”

This report was abstracted from my article of the same name in SecurityWeek. The full article may be viewed here.

("One World Trade Tower and Tribute in Light Memorial" image: Anthony Quintano/Flickr)

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