Archive for December, 2012

Geek-HackingAmidst the plethora of U.S. national security threats buzzing in the media today, one issue stands tall amongst the others when discussed at the highest echelons of our military and legislature. Cybersecurity, or what I would call the prevention of widespread disruption, destruction, and/or capture of our invaluable electronic technology systems, has become the proverbial flavor of the year for security strategists after recent attacks stemming from places such as Israel, Iran, and the perpetually bothersome China. Senator Joe Lieberman, Sec.Def. Leon Panetta, and a host of other national security A-listers have all warned of our gaping vulnerability to a devastating cyberattack, and President Obama has gone so far as to deem cybersecurity “one of the most serious economic and national security challenges we face as a nation” and that “America’s economic prosperity in the 21st century will depend on cybersecurity.”

It’s only fitting to recognize Secretary Panetta’s provocative likening of the U.S.’ current susceptibility to such attacks as a “cyber Pearl Harbor” waiting to happen, and doing so sheds light onto the strategic and defensive importance of the matter. While I agree that the U.S. is diverting an insufficient amount of time and treasure to addressing this threat, I fail to hear any experts say is how vulnerable our enemies are to the same threats that are causing the single strongest nation in the world (the U.S., if you had any doubt) to quiver in its boots. Perhaps it is the U.S.’ strategic prerogative to lull potential adversaries into a false state of security, buttering them up for a crippling blow when the time is right? Though Secretary Panetta may need to tiptoe around words like “offense” and “attack” when testifying on the Hill, I am bound by no such political correctness and will delve deeper into various facets of the U.S. cyberarsenal.

Much like its Cold War cousin, a policy of cyberdeterrence based on mutually-assured disruption (the new M.A.D.) is the most viable defensive strategy that the U.S. could adopt in this situation. Though many theorists may cite the famous “best offense is a great defense” adage to support their claim of earmarking more preventative measures, I would be remiss if I did not draw their attention to the unscathed nature in which the United States operated during the height of the Cold War. It was our investment in silos, warheads, and bombers that psychologically pummeled our adversaries into submission, not reliance on bomb shelters, gas masks, and sirens. I hope Mr. Panetta’s comments do stimulate conversation about the DoD’s use of offensive cyberwarfare tactics, especially in an era where conventional military means are quickly becoming obsolete.

Presuming that Iran and China remain the primary conductors of cyberespionage that the U.S. faces today, we should rest assured that both countries stand to suffer tremendously at the hands of cyberattacks on their home soil. The Middle East and East Asia have become not only as technologically dependent as the rest of the developed world, but are also experiencing a rapid expansion of technology usage in their respective societies despite relatively successful efforts to suppress media exposure during times of crisis. One need only look at the roles Twitter, YouTube, and Facebook played during events such as the 2011 Arab-induced revolutions*, the “Innocence of Muslims” video backlash, and the widely circulated footage of Neda Agha-Soltan dieing at the hands of a Revolutionary Guard sniper in the 2009 Iranian protests to see the full-integration of technology in each nation. Mixing a sudden denial of service from said technology, crumbling financial services, and already disintegrated public opinion towards the host regime would create an environment ripe for collapse and disarray. Therefore the rebuttal that Eastern societies are better suited to survive in “disconnected” environments (compared to the West) neglects the extent of technological development in the two regions over the past decade.

Aside from the e-assassins sitting in Pentagonian war-rooms across the river, let’s take a minute to consider America’s true e-cavalry waiting for the bugle to sound: internet-based social groups. I recognize that members ofanon U.S. Anonymous, 4chan’ers, and other internet cliques are often our government’s greatest critics, but I strongly believe that in the event that these groups’ precious intarwebz, cat pics, Call of Duty sessions, and Mountain Dew XP caches are no longer accessible thanks to Iranian or Chinese cyberattacks, the U.S. would instantaneously gain a harrowing new fighting force in the global cyber war. I’ve personally seen /b/ (a hyper-NSFW sub-community of 4chan) locate, disparage, and dismantle crooked burger-joint employees, playground bullies, and competing social websites using only commercially available software, open source image analysis, and the collective power of nationwide internet geekdom. The sheer havoc that could be wrought on informal and unsuspecting technologies abroad without presupposed legal repercussions or oversight during a wartime scenario (assuming the U.S. government would continue it’s streak of inability to prosecute and locate most domestic e-villains), could be monumental when supported with conventional military and special operations maneuvers.

To think that our enemies do not sense the same vulnerability to cyberattacks that we do, given the unprecedented amount of technological dependence that the entire world has acquired over the last decade, would be both a strategic and naive blunder. Just as fear of nuclear retaliation mitigated some of the most tense and volatile Cold War showdowns the world has ever faced, I believe the same fear of reciprocal cyberattack – whether formal or informal – are enough to keep most potential adversaries at bay. The United States wields one of the most technologically savvy, connected, and resilient societies in the world, and any attempt to drastically compromise U.S. national security in cyber capacity would surely elicit a response far more detrimental than our foes would ever expect.

That being said, your move e-thugs…

(*I say “Arab-induced revolutions” because I feel the phrase “Arab Spring” doesn’t give enough credit to revolutionary movements (like those in China) that reverberated outside of the Middle East during the same period)

(source: http://www.nytimes.com/2012/10/12/world/panetta-warns-of-dire-threat-of-cyberattack.html?pagewanted=all)