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America is Vastly Unprepared for Cyber Warfare

The threat of a cyber attack is as dangerous and more likely than a nuclear attack. 

What is a credible cyber threat? This is how the U.S. Department of Homeland Security defines it: 

Cyber threats to a control system refer to persons who attempt unauthorized access to a control system device and/or network using a data communications pathway. This access can be directed from within an organization by trusted users or from remote locations by unknown persons using the Internet. Threats to control systems can come from numerous sources, including hostile governments, terrorist groups, disgruntled employees, and malicious intruders. To protect against these threats, it is necessary to create a secure cyber-barrier around the Industrial Control System (ICS). Though other threats exist, including natural disasters, environmental, mechanical failure, and inadvertent actions of an authorized user, this discussion will focus on the deliberate threats mentioned above.

I recently had a meeting with a former top U.S. intelligence appointee as well as a gentleman who is recognized as the world’s top expert on the Internet. The topic of the meeting was the current and real threat of cyber attack to our homeland and/or our interests around the world. The meeting was sobering and fascinating. What was clear is that America is vulnerable and there exists gaps in prevention and response on the part of our government and private sectors. 

In the aftermath of the attacks of 9/11, the American people were asking, "How is it possible that our government didn’t see it coming or that we were unable to prevent it? How was it that we were not able to “connect the dots?” 

America has become good at responding to crises but we have not been very good at avoiding them.

The White House, Congress and the business community have been warned of the clear and present danger of cyber attacks. We know that those who seek to do America harm like China, Iran, Russia, North Korea and others are constantly hacking, probing, and attacking our computer/Internet infrastructure. Yet, despite thousands upon thousands of daily “attacks,” we as a nation are ill-prepared for a devastating coordinated attack to our banking system, energy grids, transportation infrastructure, military assets, etc.

This is what the Center for Strategic & International Studies reported with regard to foreign capabilities:

There are countries that could launch damaging cyber attacks. At least five militaries have advanced cyber-attack capabilities, and at least another 30 countries intend to acquire them. These high-end opponents have the resources and skills to overcome most defenses. Just as only a few countries had aircraft in 1914 but most militaries had acquired them 10 years later, every military will eventually acquire some level of cyber-attack capability. Cyber attacks will likely be used only in combination with other military actions, but they will be part of any future conflict. We can regard them as another weapons system with both tactical and strategic uses, similar to missiles or aircraft that can be launched from a distance and strike rapidly at a target. 

The president of the United States has a well thought out protocol in the event of a nuclear attack on the U.S. but sadly has no such protocol exists in the event of a massive cyber attack. The president of the United States is never more than a few steps away from the “Football,” the name given to the attaché case carried by the president’s military aide that contains the nuclear codes to launch a retaliatory strike in the event of a nuclear attack on the U.S. The president has as much as 30 minutes to respond in the event of a nuclear attack. However in the event of a cyber attack a president may only have seconds to respond.

According to the experts, there does not exist the legal authority to stop an attack or to properly retaliate to a massive cyber attack to America. Our intelligence officials may be able to see it coming, but lack the necessary and proper command and control similar to the protocols of a nuclear attack to deal with it at a level of the commander-in-chief.

The greatest threat to America in this day and age is not nuclear warfare it is cyber warfare. A cyber attack or attacks can be as lethal — if not more so — than a nuclear one. 

The question is not whether America will be attacked, but rather when it will be attacked. 

The generalized constitutional responsibilities of the president must be codified by statute to reflect this new threat allowing the president to respond as commander-in-chief to an act of cyber warfare.

Now is the time for the president to carry cyber warfare options as closely as he does nuclear.

The federal government must act immediately to institute the necessary, proper, and reasonable responsibilities on government and private industries to protect themselves from cyber attacks. The failure of government and industries such as financial services, energy, hospitals, transportation, national security, and communications to prepare for cyber attacks is inexcusable.

Now is the time to make sure our government and the most vulnerable private sector enterprises are up to the task to thwart attack by instituting protocols and coordinating and disseminating information.

A version of this article originally appeared on Newsmax.

Photo Credit: Rennett Stowe

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