Within the last two years, a series of events have happened that are characterized with internet hacking. Some of these activities include spying on google documents, Western companies, spying on Iran’s nuclear sites using Israeli created Stuxnet and spying on US secret cables by wikkiliks. Cybersecurity laws in the United States have continued to be modified over time to meet new challenges that come with time, but there are difficulties in completely securing information that is critical to National Security such as power and financial networks. When President Obama took office, he declared the Cyberspace an important National Asset and called for a review of the past policies. Recently, the White House released a document that describes an International approach to emerging issues of Cyberspace so as to alert the whole world of its expectations and plans to combat issues that will arise from internet insecurity. Presently, Cybersecurity laws in the United States are enforced by Department of Defense and Homeland Security with the two monitoring military and government websites respectively. Even with this approach, the government still lacks ideas on how to protect delicate information that is not within the government, but instead seeks assistance from the private sector.
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Current reports have indeed proved that cyber wars are happening and increasing very fast. According to Clarke (2010), “About seventy two networks in the globe were attacked belonging to several organizations like the UN, companies and governments within the last four years, though the names of the affected organizations have not been made public.” Experts of Cybersecurity are predicting tougher times ahead in dealing with cyber attacks; they also foresee bigger consequences of cyber crime that would cripple networks of government, banks and power.
Unlike the past when we experienced military wars among Nations, wars have changed with time from the Military Second World War to the Cold war of late 1980s and 90s and now attention has shifted to cybersecurity as competition for technology becomes intense. Cyberattacks have become a common phenomenon as the fight to have the most sophisticated tools of technology becomes necessary. It is in this regard that major economies of the world are engaging in cyberwars so as to steal knowledge or intimidate their competitors.
Cyberattacks include practices associated with cyber wars, spying, terror, criminology, vandalism and protests. The gabs between subjects are usually big making it difficult to identify executors and their intentions. Traynor (2007) wrote that, “An example of Cyberattack is the one that targeted the government networks of Estonia from intelligence teams of Russia in 2007.” The motive of the attack was not known, whether it was political or for intelligence purposes. Cyber attackers can be classified in two levels that include Minor hackers who use botnets and cheap malware kits, while the second category is the National Intelligence Service that comprises a pool of experts coming up with latest techniques of attacks. According to McAfee Security Insights (2010), “Any person with a computer has the potential to impose damage.” It is believed that the biggest and most persistent threats of cybersecurity are espionage and cybercrime.
Cyberattacks have common features on the internet. They are often asymmetrical in practice implying participants with inadequate technical knowledge compromise what they consider being of high value on the web. Another weakness of web content is its nature to encourage openness rather than prioritize security. This aspect makes those designing cyberdefence be relaxed in curbing offensive practices. Another factor fueling cyberattacks is due to the nature of the internet to hide the identity of subjects making it difficult to trace attackers.
Cybercrime is a broad word that describes all crimes that a computer is the medium. This type of crime has become a global affair that affects individuals, institutions and government agencies. It is practiced in a number of ways that include internet fraud, spying and theft of data content. Gjelten (2010) argued that, “Various reports from data security organizations such as Norton indicate that more than a third of people in the world have been the victim of cybercrime.” As of the year two thousand and nine, it is estimated that cybercrime has caused businesses more than one trillion dollars worldwide. The easy nature of digital networks to be manipulated makes it an easier target to be targeted by cybercriminals. Albert Gonzalez, a US hacker, admitted having hacked networks and stolen almost fifty million credit card numbers belonging to major businesses using the internet. Danchev (2008) reports that, “A place that has become notorious of cybercrime is Hackerville in Romania, which has become a threat to internet businesses because of use of malware attacks and scams; in fact, the economic boom of that place has been brought by acts of cybercrimes.”
According to Clarke (2010), “Cyberespionage, which is at times categorized as a component of cybercrime, is an act of using the internet to steal industry and State secrets.” Early his year, Chinese hackers were found to have conducted major spying on Western Energy Company’s technologies. Despite the fact that the evidence showed it was a Chinese authorized activity, it was difficult to link it directly to the Chinese authorities. McAfee Security Insights In early 2010 reported that, “There were cyberattacks targeting corporate structure of google and other technology companies from Chinese attackers with an aim of stealing intellectual property.” It was also characterized with spying on the email accounts of Human Right Activists in China. In 2009, spies stole information from pentagon regarding the Dual fighter project, which is believed to be the most sophisticated and expensive weapons program the US has ever attained. Within a very short time, spies had stolen data that had detailed characteristics of the design of the aircraft and electronic components. Even in this cyberattack, the perpetrators were believed to originate from China, but challenges of verification of internet usage make it difficult to trace the origin.
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Some experts of cybercrime believe that activities pertaining cyberwar have been associated with minor activities that don’t befit it. Some elaborate examples of cyberwar include the invasion of Georgian governments’ website of foreign policy by Russian spies immediately before Russia invaded it in 2008. This was the first illustration of how cyber wars can be used for political and military gains. The other is the attacks on governments’ websites that almost brought to a standstill the state site, in South Korea which is believed to be a major threat from North Korean cyberwar.
One of the best cited examples of cyberwar is the Stuxnet worm, which has the ability to physically damage information pertaining to national security of a Nation. According to New York Times, “It is the most sophisticated cyberweapon ever designed.” However, its origin cannot be traced though speculators associate it as a joint project between US and Israeli researchers. Several Nations are victims of this worm though the primary target was Iran. Stuxnet is complex software of its kind ever made to attack specific industrial systems. It is said to have brought operations in an Iranian nuclear plant to a standstill while operations were going on normally.
The use of Stuxnet just demonstrates how modern wars have shifted from the traditional targets of military and political attacks. In fact, Falkenrath believes that half a megabyte of computer code can accomplish what United Nations Security Council cannot achieve in half a decade. The effects of stuxnet showed the United States of the possible damages of this kind of an attack on similar technological facilities. A research by the congress committee noted that should there be an attack on an industrial system by worms like stuxnet it would derail the government’s ability to offer security both locally and internationally. Recent studies show that only a few countries in the world can carry attacks of such magnitudes including US, China, Israel and Russia though many more Nations are constituting agencies of cyberwarfare. Even if countries like China have the ability to launch cyberattacks on countries like US, it would be dangerous for them because it would cause strained international relations or even trigger military action if such attacks are traced to them.
Cybersecurity policy in the US
The responsibility of cybersecurity in the United States is vested upon two authorities, Department of Defense and Homeland Security. A factor that spearheaded the creation of government cybersecurity agency is the hacking of Department of Defense Networks in the year 2008 at the Department of Foreign Affairs Command station. An unknown foreign intelligence agency stole information from the networks without being noticed. Lynn (2010) wrote, “Upon this incident, Pentagon declared cyberspace the fifth domain of warfare that is, equivalent to sea, land, and space. United States Cyber Command (Cybercom) was launched in that respect to cater for cyberdefence functions within the military.” This command uses the expertise of National Security Agency and Defense Advanced Research Agency. Its responsibilities include; offering protection to military defence networks, establishing a monitoring chain to the president and working with other intelligence services by sharing threats and risks associated with cyberspace.
Cybercom is however, limited in network protection as it protects networks associated with the military, “dot mill” domains, while the other private networks are protected by Department of Homeland Security. Under Homeland Security, is a unit that responds to emergency issues on cyberattacks on government domain networks and collaborates with the private agencies to offer cybersecurity. Homeland Security has prioritized several sectors of infrastructure that should be protected including critical industries of the defense, bank networks, and transport and communication networks. The two bodies with the responsibility of cybersecurity, Homeland Security and Department of Defense formed a collaboration allowing DHS to use the expertise of DOD. This collaboration allows exchange of personnel and joint planning on cybersecurity issues.
After assuming office in 2009, President Obama recommended revision of policies governing digital infrastructure and confirmed that the cyberspace was an important National Asset and that all avenues of protection should be used to secure it. Among the presidents’ recommendations are: Nomination of a cyber security coordinator in White House, an increase in education on cybesecurity and increasing innovations and advancements on cybersecurity. In the report, it is considered that private network providers have been taking their own initiatives to protect their own systems and that the government should provide policy guidelines and incentives. Some organizations like Center for Strategic and International Studies were opposed to some sections of these recommendations and argued that private networks should not be defended in the free market.
Law makers and business leaders see the need to integrate independent cybersecurity and National cybersecurity services protecting National interests. If the government does not take the responsibility of setting up policies to regulate the cyberspace, companies will continue to make judgments based on their own interests. In order to serve the interest of all stakeholders without bias, lawmakers have to classify a distinction between the public and private sector collaboration so as to reduce risks associated with competition among companies. Both the government and the private sector should participate in drafting policies regarding to security standards in order to avoid imposed regulations from federal law makers.
As companies continue to expand their businesses and communication channels around the globe, it is important for United States and other Nations to have joint efforts of fighting cybercrime. United States has already started on this by the formation of International strategy for Cyberspace in May this year. This is an attempt to collaborate with other Nations to address cyber issues. Lynn, W. (2010) reported that Other include, “Joint efforts by European Union and United States to address issues of cybersecurity in Nov 2010 and joint findings by United States and Russia on cyber conflict.” Despite these efforts, major impediments are yet to be met including China’s “Great Firewall” which is against United States believes of internet freedom. Experts predict that a major impediment to the United States effort on Cybersecurity will be a lack of human capital. The number of experts and resources of cybersecurity is few and hence are likely to be defeated by demand. As compared to the rate at which China and India are nurturing computer experts, the US is likely to lose its dominance in the cyberspace.
Clarke, R. (2011) “China’s Cyberassault on America”, Wall Street Journal.
Clarke, R. (2010) Cyber War. London: HarperCollins.
Danchev, D. (2008). “Coordinated Russia vs Georgia cyberattack”. ZDnet.
Gjelten, T.(2010). “Seeing The Internet As An ‘Information Weapon”. National Public Radio.
Lynn, W. (2010). “Defending a New Domain: The Pentagon’s Cyberstrategy”, Foreign Affairs. 2010, pp. 97-108.
McAfee Security Insights, (2010) “Google Attack Is Tip Of Iceberg,”
Traynor, I. (2007) ‘Russia accused of unleashing cyberwar to disable Estonia”, The Guardian.
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