The Best Cyber-Defense May be a Strong Offense
Insurance Experts' Forum, May 13, 2010
It’s not often that life imitates science fiction, but when it does we are obliged to sit up and take notice.
The U.S. Department of Defense (DoD), in a recent release, is praising the Senate’s confirmation of Army Lt. Gen. Keith B. Alexander, director of the National Security Agency, to also lead the new U.S. Cyber Command.
According to DoD, the new command was created last year “in light of growing threats against the Defense Department’s computer networks, the corresponding threat to national security and the need for unity of command to address the problem.”
His main focus at Cyber Command, Gen. Alexander told the Senate, will be to build capacity and capability to secure the networks and educating the public on the command’s intent.
“This command is not about an effort to militarize cyberspace,” he said. “Rather, it’s about safeguarding our military assets.”
Now this is where I have to roll my eyes in disbelief. Who is this man kidding? Cyberspace has been “militarized” for some time now, the most convincing evidence being attacks by foreign governments on DoD’s own computer systems. The idea the Cyber Command is simply another defensive measure sounds very politically correct, but it also sounds very stupid. If another government takes offensive action via the Internet against the United States, I, for one, want to be able to hit back and hit back hard.
And this is where some science fiction writers have been prescient—predicting the development of cyber-wars and computer-driven military action. The scary part of this, however, is that aggressive cyber-actions by foreign governments are not just aimed at military targets, but at all of us. That’s what happened when the China government leveled attacks at Google, and there is no reason to think that our enemies will not attempt to strike at our economy via the Internet. After all, it’s a lot less risky (for the bad guys) than flying planes into buildings, and much easier to accomplish.
Let’s stop pretending that even though there is a cyber-war raging out there at this very minute, we just want to have good defenses and educate the public. Insurers, agents, bankers and anyone with an enterprise is a potential target. Yes, it is very important for each of our entities to mount a strong defense against cyber-intrusion, because we are not dealing with the ill-advised actions of some bored teenagers here (as might have been the case 10 years ago). These attacks are government-funded actions taken by trained military and other agents.
This is war. We can take it seriously, even if the federal government wants to live in denial.
Ara C. Trembly (www.aratremblytechnology.com) is the founder of Ara Trembly, The Tech Consultant, and a longtime observer of technology in insurance and financial services.
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