NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis


December 16, 2008

The Internet has become an open field for cyberwarriors seeking to harm the United States, says the Center for Strategic and International Studies.  In a report based on closed-door information about cyber attacks, researchers found that foreign governments and terrorist groups are focused on cyber offensives in a "battle we are losing."

The departments of Defense, State, Homeland Security and Commerce all have had intrusions by unknown foreign entities; the Pentagon's computers are probed "hundreds of thousands of times each day."  Yet, no department knew the extent of damage done to other departments, according to the researchers.

The organization of the federal government, which dates to the 1930s or earlier, is part of the reason we are vulnerable, say researchers:

  • Our industrial-age organization makes a cyber-dependent government vulnerable and inefficient.
  • It's telling that the U.S. doesn't have a publicly stated doctrine on cyber defense that warns enemies and commits to taking action in response; however, there should be clear rules about who will be punished, how, and for what.
  • It's in the nature of cyber attacks that it's hard to know exactly who's responsible, but some response must be made.

A problem is that Russia and China are the main suspects, but the U.S. defense establishment hesitates to say so too loudly.  It's true that few cyber attackers are ever clearly identified; nevertheless, data are lost, communications are compromised and "denial of service" attacks bring down selected Web sites and national networks.

Researchers recommend that a new government structure for cyber protection should be implemented and the government should work more closely with the private sector on security research.  The broader point is that it's about time that we knew the extent of the cyberwarring against us.  The first step to fighting back is to admit that there's a fight on.

Source: L. Gordon Crovitz, "Internet Attacks Are a Real and Growing Problem," Wall Street Journal, December 15, 2008.

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