By Brooke Faulkner
Warfare in the modern era isn’t contained to the traditional battlefield. While the idea of war conjures up images of soldiers, tanks, and aircraft fully equipped with destructive weapons, a quieter form of warfare can deal damage in a much different way. Cyber warfare is no longer the stuff of science fiction, and we must ask ourselves if the government of the United States is adequately prepared for these threats, whether they are domestic or foreign in nature. Though wars will continue to be fought with conventional weapons, it seems as though the new focus on warfare is within our computers and communications services.
Is the U.S. Prepared?
America takes great pride in its military prowess, so much so that the country spends more on its defense budget than the next top 10 countries combined. Despite the massive budget at the disposal of the armed forces, the U.S. is seeminglystill vulnerable to attacks from some of their longest-standing antagonists. The U.S. needs to prioritize cybersecurity as the rest of the world begins to adopt more aggressive cyber warfare tactics.
Cyber warfare can come in the form of cyberterrorism or cyberthreats. Cyberthreats cover a wide range of malicious activities such as denial of service attacks, intellectual property theft, and installation of destructive malware. Cyberterrorism is any premeditated, politically motivated attack against information and communication computer systems, programs, and data that results in harm to non-combatants. Both of these forms of cyber warfare carry different levels of threat but should be equally prepared for.
Despite the pressing necessity of effective defense against all forms of cyberattack, the U.S. is currently better equipped to go on the offensive than the defensive. While there is certainly value in possessing the skills to enter the field of cyber warfare with the appropriate tools, leaving systems largely undefended could be a recipe for catastrophe. The idea that the U.S. could suffer from cyberattacks isn’t far-fetched, as there is already precedent for it.
Successful Attacks Have Already Happened
It is now a well-established fact that Russia purposefully meddled in the 2016 presidential election, whether or not it was in collusion with Donald Trump’s election campaign. In 2017, the WannaCry ransomware attack held important data hostage from both civilians and governments the world over, with the prevailing theory being that North Korea was responsible for the attack. Foreign powers are openly attacking the U.S., and we are woefully unprepared to defend ourselves.
China has been thought of as a sleeping giant for decades; however, the country has now begun to attempt to exert further control over the internet. China has also historically taken no issue with violating copyright law and regularly take intellectual property with no internal consequences. With growing interest in the functional aspects of the internet, coupled with practically state-sanctioned intellectual property theft, the chances of there being an attempted attack from China seems more likely than not.
Corporations also face serious cybersecurity risks in this new, technologically inundated era. The internet of things is incredibly useful to businesses, as all working parts can effectively communicate with each other, but the IoT is often left incredibly vulnerable to attack. Additionally, with more and more companies choosing to work with freelancers or allowing employees to work from home, sensitive information can be more easily compromised, as these individuals will be using their personal computers and smartphones to conduct business on behalf of the company.
Should the Government Be Responsible for Protection?
The fact that many of the attacks in recent years have been focused on the private sector brings up an interesting question: Should the U.S. government be responsible for protecting private citizens and businesses from cyberattacks? Though the U.S. and the U.K. have jointly decided to cooperate with one another in defense against cyberattacks, little has been said about specific protections to those outside of the government.
Cyber warfare is particularly scary to private citizens and corporations because there are truly no rules when it comes to attacking them. While government institutions can decide whether or not a cyberattack against them could constitute an actual act of war, the private sector is left with little recourse and are often solely responsible for the failings of their security measures. Because of this, some are calling for some sort of standardized set of rules like the Geneva Convention, so that governments would be more capable in defending their citizens from attacks.Unfortunately, bureaucracy is legendary for its glacial pace forward, and this type of resolution may still be years out. Until that time comes, businesses will still be solely responsible for managing any damage done through cyberattacks against them, and while online business insurance can help to cover some costs can help you from losing everything, losing public trust is immeasurably damaging. Hopefully foreign powers will one day be more culpable in these attacks, but for now it is still the Wild West.
Brooke Faulkner is a writer and mom based in the Pacific Northwest. She writes about issues important to her and her family, in hopes that spreading knowledge will help inform people on the decisions being made that affect their lives. You can find more of her writing on contently or twitter!