theParklander

The Danger of Cyber War:
Our computers may be our worst enemy
By Bill Johnson / January 1, 2017

I used to joke that one day we'd learn our banks were raided and all our money was in China or Russia. That's not funny anymore or a far-fetched fantasy.

While our computers and Internet systems brought astounding efficiency and convenience, they also contain the seeds of extraordinary damage and may be our most dangerous enemy.

A cyber warrior in the Chinese military is now more dangerous than a squadron of bombers or a long-range missile that we'd have time to intercept. (Even a tech- savvy Iranian screwball in his mother's basement can wreak havoc on us with a few keystrokes.)

Richard Clarke, a recognized national security expert with decades of experience in the White House, Pentagon, and other agencies, along with technical expert Robert Knake, sounded a chilling warning about cyber war in an aptly titled book, Cyber War.

Cyber War
Clarke and Knake make a compelling case that nearly every aspect of our society is vulnerable to attack - banks, sewage, water treatment plants, subways, trains, air traffic control, and so much else in our daily lives that now depend on computers. Many of our largest companies, banks, and federal departments have been hacked.

The White House, the Pentagon, the Treasury Department and others have all been broken into. Millions of federal personnel records (including mine) were stolen from the Office of Personnel Management.

Because our military now depends on computers to run our ships and planes, guide our bombs, spot the enemy, deploy our troops (even foot soldiers now have computerized weapons), it's easy to imagine the next war will be fought in cyber space. Nations with the financial ability have established departments of cyber warriors. In the past, we could see an enemy coming, but Clarke and Knake point out that once an enemy disables your computer system you cannot retaliate, creating the need for a "first strike strategy," which is fraught with problems.

Cyber War outlines examples of what tech-savvy warriors have done. Here are a few examples:
  • Israeli planes destroyed a building in Syria, which was believed to be a weapons manufacturing plant. They did so with no resistance from the ground or air. Israeli intelligence officials won't comment, of course, but analysts believe the Israelis breached Syria's Russian-made radar system and reprogrammed it to show empty skies when Israeli planes flew in.
  • Russia punished the independent nation of Georgia by shutting down its banking and mobile phone systems.
  • China took control of 1,300 computers at embassies worldwide and could turn on cameras and microphones without being detected.
  • The U.S. Energy Department knew that data was being stolen from its nuclear laboratories but couldn't stop it.
  • Hackers can cripple a system simply by overwhelming it, blasting it with messages.
Finally, Clarke said we may not even know that some of our systems have been infiltrated and "bombs" or "trapdoors" were installed to be triggered later.

The genie is out of the bottle and we can't put it back. Just as a 35-foot ladder can breach a 30-foot wall, an electronic tool can eventually breach a computer firewall.

We have probably built our own worst enemy, and the cyber war is on.

Bill Johnson is a career reporter and a former U.S. Senate aide.




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