Security expert: US would lose cyberwar

The U.S. government will have to take a more active role in regulating cybersecurity, a former intelligence official says

The U.S. government, if confronted in a cyberwar today, would not come out on top, a former U.S. director of national intelligence said Tuesday.

"If the nation went to war today, in a cyberwar, we would lose," Mike McConnell told a U.S. Senate committee. "We're the most vulnerable. We're the most connected. We have the most to lose."

McConnell, director of national intelligence from 2007 to 2009, predicted that the U.S. government would eventually get heavily involved in protecting cybersecurity and in regulating private approaches to cybersecurity. Testifying before the Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee, McConnell also predicted that the U.S. would make little improvements in its cybersecurity before a "catastrophic" attack will cause the government to get involved.

"We will not mitigate this risk," said McConnell, now executive vice president for the national security business at Booz Allen Hamilton. "We will talk about it, we will wave our hands, we'll have a bill, but we will not mitigate this risk."

After a major attack, the government will step in to secure the Internet, McConnell predicted. "We're going to morph the Internet from something that's referred to generally as dot-com to something that we call dot-secure," he said. "When [online] transactions move billions of dollars, or when transactions route trains up and down the East Coast or control electric power ... the basic attributes of security must be endorsed."

Government intervention is needed, added James Lewis, director of the Technology and Public Policy Program at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, a Washington, D.C., think tank. Private-sector fixes to the nation's cybersecurity problems haven't been effective, he said.

The Internet was designed as a global commons that polices itself, but that model has failed, Lewis added. "Instead, we've got the Wild West," he said. "Many will say we should let the market fix cybersecurity. I'm familiar with this one, because I, myself, wrote it in 1996, and I'm still waiting. Government needs to give the market a kick."

Early last year, Senators Jay Rockefeller, a West Virginia Democrat, and Olympia Snowe, a Maine Republican, introduced a bill that would create new cybersecurity regulations for private companies designated as critical infrastructure. The senators have rewritten the Cybersecurity Act several times after complaints from the private sector, but the bill would also require a national licensing and certification program for cybersecurity professionals. Under the bill, it would be illegal to provide some cybersecurity services without being licensed and certified.

Some versions of the bill would have also allowed the U.S. president to order that parts of the Internet under attack be shut down.

Lewis praised the bill, saying it provides a "broad rethinking" of the nation's approach to cybersecurity.

Rockefeller, the committee chairman, said cyberattacks are happening too often and are "sucking the blood" out of the U.S. economy. The U.S. government needs "strong top-level coordination" to protect cybersecurity, he said.

"Too much is at stake for us to pretend that today's outdated cybersecurity policies are up to the task of protecting our nation and economic infrastructure," he said. "We have heard the reassurances and seen the best efforts of many in the private sector working to secure their networks. But it is clear that even the largest, most sophisticated companies are not immune from attack."

While new regulations might help in some areas, U.S. technology users and policymakers need to stop tying more and more systems to the Internet, said Mary Ann Davidson, chief security officer at Oracle.

"In the many discussions on what the government can do to fix cybersecurity ... it is worth noting that no single proposal will save us, and certainly not any time soon," she said. "There is, however, one thing we can do today: Stop making cybersecurity worse by rushing to use technology in ways we know very well we cannot secure."

Davidson said she worries about when the U.S. electrical system is fully controlled through the Internet and when people working with SCADA (supervisory control and data acquisition) systems fully embrace their ability to turn the systems on and off through a smartphone.

"We know that people have built personal digital assistants that 'talk SCADA' because 'it's so expensive to send a technician to the plant,'" she said. "It won't be long before we hear: 'Move the control rods in and out of the reactor? There's an app for that!'

"Some day we may have a power plant meltdown when all someone was trying to do is answer the phone," she added.

Join the newsletter!

Or

Sign up to gain exclusive access to email subscriptions, event invitations, competitions, giveaways, and much more.

Membership is free, and your security and privacy remain protected. View our privacy policy before signing up.

Error: Please check your email address.

Tags cyberwarUSA government

Keep up with the latest tech news, reviews and previews by subscribing to the Good Gear Guide newsletter.

Grant Gross

IDG News Service
Show Comments

Cool Tech

Toys for Boys

Family Friendly

Stocking Stuffer

SmartLens - Clip on Phone Camera Lens Set of 3

Learn more >

Christmas Gift Guide

Click for more ›

Brand Post

Bitdefender 2019

This Holiday Season, protect yourself and your loved ones with the best. Buy now for Holiday Savings!

Most Popular Reviews

Latest Articles

Resources

PCW Evaluation Team

Aysha Strobbe

Microsoft Office 365/HP Spectre x360

Microsoft Office continues to make a student’s life that little bit easier by offering reliable, easy to use, time-saving functionality, while continuing to develop new features that further enhance what is already a formidable collection of applications

Michael Hargreaves

Microsoft Office 365/Dell XPS 15 2-in-1

I’d recommend a Dell XPS 15 2-in-1 and the new Windows 10 to anyone who needs to get serious work done (before you kick back on your couch with your favourite Netflix show.)

Maryellen Rose George

Brother PT-P750W

It’s useful for office tasks as well as pragmatic labelling of equipment and storage – just don’t get too excited and label everything in sight!

Cathy Giles

Brother MFC-L8900CDW

The Brother MFC-L8900CDW is an absolute stand out. I struggle to fault it.

Luke Hill

MSI GT75 TITAN

I need power and lots of it. As a Front End Web developer anything less just won’t cut it which is why the MSI GT75 is an outstanding laptop for me. It’s a sleek and futuristic looking, high quality, beast that has a touch of sci-fi flare about it.

Emily Tyson

MSI GE63 Raider

If you’re looking to invest in your next work horse laptop for work or home use, you can’t go wrong with the MSI GE63.

Featured Content

Product Launch Showcase

Don’t have an account? Sign up here

Don't have an account? Sign up now

Forgot password?