If asked what the greatest threat to global security is, most people would say “Terrorism.” While that can certainly be argued, I would respectfully disagree.
I believe that cybersecurity threats pose an even greater danger to global security. These threats can be seen in many ways: From deliberate, denial of service attacks against web sites, internet connected devices, and cloud based software; to hacks stealing people’s identities and financial scams; or even state actors, attacking other nation’s energy infrastructure, financial markets, and corporate intelligence.
Terrorism dominates front page news and web sites, but cyber security threats are more insidious in a way that many either don’t understand, or blithely ignore.
In countries and companies all over the world, information and devices comprise most of our infrastructure and corporate intellectual property.
On October 24, 2016, for example, CBS News reported that cyber security threats were growing in both intensity and scope. Hackers are creating distributed denial of service attacks by flooding popular services like Twitter, Netflix, and PayPal. Others are hacking the emails of political candidates and political organizations, trying to disrupt or influence local and national elections.
The United States has also made a push into inter-connected devices that are both open and interoperable. It has defined a new age with the Internet of Things (IOT). We have put computer chips and sensors into cars, medical devices, and hospital equipment; yet our desire to make devices interoperable with many other things means that we have fallen behind in securing those very same devices.
Last year Wired showed how hackers can control the networks and door locks of smart homes, or control a car just by accessing its entertainment system.
We also don’t secure our data, which leaves it sufficiently exposed to being stolen, held for ransom, or compromised in a financial scam.
If the United States wants to protect its people, it must ensure that our cyber security is up to date, and that we’re protecting the data centers containing our sensitive information.
According to Lloyd’s (a British insurance company) estimates, cybercrime has reached such an escalated level that businesses are spending nearly $400 billion just to protect themselves from these attacks (Steve Morgan, Forbes).
The Internal Revenue Service reported, in 2015, that over 330,000 identities were stolen in order to successfully file $50 million in fraudulent tax returns.
Security experts and government officials have explained to President Obama that the cybersecurity of our infrastructure is insufficient in stopping cyber-attacks. For better or for worse, our vulnerability to cyber-attacks show the lack of attention, and funding, given to securing so many of our systems here in the United States.
Not only can hackers obtain access to our infrastructure, which could lead to a major terrorist attack, but the theft of sensitive information can be harmful to our country and its people. Billions of dollars or an equal amount in intellectual property can be stolen, and classified personnel information – including data relating to our military – are all things that can be obtained through cyber-attacks.
In 2015, for example, Chinese state-backed hackers stole 4.2 million records of U.S. military personnel and their families. Another example is the 2014 hacking of Boeing, and other defense contractors, looking for trade secrets on the F-22 and F-35 Stealth Jets.
Just recently Yahoo was hacked and the hacker obtained over half a billion names with numbers, birthdates, and more information that could lead to the identities of those people being stolen. These attacks have shown that most of our lives are online and people can see anything. The Russian hacks on the Democratic National Committee have also shown that these cyber-attacks can influence elections in the United States – which poses a threat to any election process all over the world.
In relation to our infrastructure being hacked, another, bigger threat to global security would be the hacking of nuclear facilities. Ironically, it was the United States and Israel who created Stuxnet, one of the world’s first cyber weapons in 2009. This worm was deliberately introduced into Iran’s nuclear centrifuge system to slowly sabotage the equipment.
Nuclear weapons, some of the deadliest weapons in existence, pose a global extinction threat to our world. Hackers compromising nuclear missile launch protocols could trigger a nuclear holocaust. Experts at the Nuclear Industry Summit reported that hackers, focused on key systems that control industrial and safety procedures, could cause problems resulting in chaos and damage: for example, in Ukraine over 700,000 people lost power when hackers targeted the power grid. If the United States continues to ignore the elephant in the room, then a major attack could be launched against us and thousands of people may die as a result.
The three main components that suggest that cybersecurity threats are the greatest danger to global security are: The hacking of information and devices, the theft of private data (from people all over the world), and the possibility of compromising of our infrastructure and corporate, intellectual property; in a way that can either result in mass casualties, or destruction of the economic standing of the U.S.
The thought that terrorism is the most dangerous threat to global security isn’t true, because, so far, no one is adapting to the new type of warfare (cyber warfare) which has can destroy nations and people.
* Ryan Kuo is a student at Oregon State University studying toward his bachelor of science degree in political science. He is a registered Libertarian and he wrote this short piece because Americans need to realize the danger of ignoring cyber security threats. Follow him on Twitter (@gobeavs20) and Instagram: (@mrryankuo).