John Stokes

The Obama administration needs to strengthen US cyber-defences

The Obama administration needs to strengthen US cyber-defences
Text settings

Three major cyber attacks on America’s infrastructure from either Russia or China have sent shockwaves through the Obama administration. In the past few weeks, there have been penetrations of the nation’s power grid, the water supply system and the Air Force’s air traffic control network. All of which have heightened the fear of an “electronic Pearl Harbour”, whereby the US is brought to its knees via digital sabotage.

While the latest attacks did not result in significant damage, they demonstrated just how easy it could have been to turn off the power across much of America or interrupt the water supply. The probe of the Air Force’s networks raised the spectre of jets crashing as both pilots and ground controllers lost control and visibility.

The outgoing Director of National Intelligence, Admiral Mike McConnell, has briefed both military leaders and senior staff in the White House about the threat.  And Rahm Emanuel, the chief of staff, has been closely engaged in trying to develop a new policy that stands some chance of success. Successive administrations have appointed a number of Cyber Czars to try and defend the nation’s critical infrastructure, but the position has proved largely powerless and many of the people appointed have been time-serving incompetents.

As a result, foreign countries such as China, Iran and Russia have launched millions of attacks every day against the US government and the private sector stealing billions of dollars of trade and business secrets and leaving behind an untold number of electronic spies inside networks.

Cyber experts have been warning for years that America is the number one target for cyber attacks, and US intelligence has tracked a massive spike in attacks in recent years. China is responsible for many of the millions of cyber probes that happen every day, and the Beijing government is believed to have set up a special division of the People’s Liberation Army with responsibility for all things cyber. By contrast, the US response is fragmented, lacks any effective leadership and has no coherent strategy.