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Sunday, February 9, 2014
[voiceofrussia] Cyberwarfare the biggest threat for US security - survey
A new Defense News Leadership poll shows that most of the US defense leaders believe that cyberwarfare is the main threat for the country. According to the survey, Republicans list terrorism as the second biggest threat while Democrats cite climate change. Zachary Fryer-Biggs, the Washington staff writer for Defense News, broke down the data from this poll in his interview for the Voice of Russia.
Tell us a little bit about this poll. It is coming from Defense News Leadership. And it shows that most of the defense leaders believe that cyberwarfare is even more threatening than terrorism. Are you surprised by that?
I was a little surprised. We’ve definitely seen an increase in mention of cyberwarfare being a serious threat, but to see it not only appear as the top threat, but just destroying any other threat in the polling was a bit surprising.
Let’s talk numbers here. About how much did cyberwarfare destroy the other top threats that defense leaders believe the US faces?
Well, when you look across all of the respondents without a political affiliation or job title, we had 45% of the respondents listing cyberwarfare as the top threat versus only 26% who were listing terrorism, and 14% listing China as the third most significant threat. When you actually break across party lines, however, you start to see some real division as to what that №2 threat would be. Amongst the Democrats we saw that climate change was actually listed at the second most popular response for top threats. Amongst the Republicans it was terrorism.
That’s interesting. So, cyber warfare is the only threat really that both sides of the isle agree is a huge threat.
Absolutely! And, interestingly, amongst independents cyber warfare was even more popular than among the other two groups. So, regardless of political affiliation they all agree that cyber has become really a significant threat.
And cyber warfare has been a big threat for a while, it’s not like the Internet was just invented last year. So, why is it that cyber warfare seems to becoming more threatening to the United States?
I think the awareness of the cyber threat has increased considerably, partially because people are talking about it more. For a long time in the government cyber was entirely the realm of the intelligence community, which is pretty tightlipped in general. But these days it’s transitioned, so that you get more defense department leaders talking about it, more civilian leaders talking about it. And we’ve also seen some transition, where companies, who would never talk about potential threats to their businesses, as the fear of shareholder lawsuits et cetera, becoming much more open about some of the issues they face.
Correct me if I’m wrong, but it seems that cyber attacks and the big great Internet, when it comes to crimes, it seems like our Defense Department is always catching up to the crimes. Do you think that cyber warfare is becoming more of a threat, because in some ways it is kind of the Wild West? We haven’t really dealt with this before and we are kind of dealing with the problems and the crimes as they come?
I think to a degree there is a responsive nature to it, absolutely. I think you look at the really true varieties of cyber attacks that you need to keep in mind. One is the commercial attack, if you will, the attack that is designed to produce money. That’s an attack where, to some degree, the defenders are always behind, they are always going to be trying to figure out what the next threat factor is and they are probably going to continue to lose money throughout.
When it comes to more of a military application – that’s where a government can get involved in the torrents and even attack to try to prevent some of those threats, and that changes the equation a little bit. So, I think there is a Wild West nature to the both. But, to some degree, with the military application, there are more tools at the disposal of users that might make it a little more controllable.
Well, the whole Edward Snowden NSA leaks shine an interesting light on this very topic. I mean, clearly, the United States defense leaders believe that cyber warfare is the top threat. However, we’ve got Edward Snowden here, revealing and exposing a lot of the questionable and controversial ways that the United States monitors cyber warfare. How do we reconcile the two?
I think, when we look at these numbers, and we have 47% of respondents saying that Edward Snowden’s disclosures help the debate about surveillance, we have to keep in mind that that don’t necessarily mean that those individuals believe what Snowden did was right. In my reporting I found some quite a few senior defense folks and intelligence folks who believe that what Snowden has done has improved the debate, has created more public consciousness and made a necessary improvement in the discussion, but, nevertheless, his disclosures has threatened the US national security. So, the advancement of the debate does not necessarily equate with approval.
Okay. Well, when it comes to cyber warfare, and you said that it was the only nonpartisan threat, that both parties could agree was indeed a threat. That’s going to affect policy, I would assume, no matter who is in office – whether it is a Democrat or a Republican in the White House. What sorts of policy, do you think, the United States is moving towards to try and keep up with the cyber warfare?
You know, it’s an interesting question. There is really a political divide as to the solution, even if there’s less of a political divide as to the problem. For several years now we’ve seen efforts to bring about cyber legislation, but the real stumbling block is how much authority the government is giving to intervene if companies or individuals are attacked. And also, the responsibility that is going to be placed on companies to help protect themselves, what we’ve seen is a real push, especially by the Republicans to increase information-sharing, so that companies are more aware of the sort of attacks, and in particular the defense companies, the companies that keep the sort of secrets about our technology that are critical for military applications.
There’s been a push on the Republican side to try to increase that information-sharing, so that companies are in a better position to protect themselves. On the Democratic side there was more of a push to create standards, so that those companies have to find ways to defend themselves and they are not allowed to simply pass the buck. There is merit to both sides, but the problem is that there’s been a lack of agreement as to how to treat these two different components to come up with effective legislation.
That’s a very interesting point that you say. There is more of a divide in the solution, instead of the identifying the problem. But going back to the divide between Republicans and Democrats when it comes to what they believe are the biggest threats. Democrats, their №1 threat, besides the cyber warfare, is climate change. I find that to be very interesting, because I think cyber warfare and terrorism could go hand in hand, but climate change kind of seems to be out of left field. What are Democrats thinking?
I can’t say exactly what they are thinking, but I think part of the distinction here comes down to how you really define the word “threat”. And this was left open to the respondents. So, I think, if you are looking longer term, what could have a greater impact on a society – something like climate change could well house that. You know, if an entire city or state area is flooded – that has a significant impact, whereas the cyber attack, at least as we are seeing it right now, it wouldn’t occur as a permanent change. It might shutdown the power but it is probably not going to be something permanent. It is going to be hours or days and then it will likely get fixed. So, depending on the scope, the time frame which you are considering – it can radically change what you are viewing as a threat.
That’s a good point too. Do you see a bigger push for the cyber warfare department to try and tackle this growing problem or not yet?
There’s been some transition, because, as a legal matter, having the Department of Defense and the military defending companies etc is a problem. And so, there’s been a push to move a number of different programs over to the Department of Homeland Security, for example the Cyber Pilot. One of the problems is that the bulk of the talent in the US Government remains in the military and intelligence communities. So, you can move the responsibility over to Homeland Security, but if they are not able to hire up and bring even more talents there on that problem, you are moving it away from the people who might be able to actually have an impact.
Since the Edward Snowden revelations foreign governments have hinted at regulating or restricting certain Internet channels. People are worried that the Internet, being an open channel for the entire world might become stricter. Do you think that that is a necessary step in combating cyber warfare?
There is always going to be an inherent risk when you have an architecture designed the way the Internet is. That’s why there’ve been discussions over the years of developing a separate Internet, if you will, that could be more secure, because the way our Internet is designed, it can never be perfectly secure. When you see a lot of countries talking about trying to limit access etc, the Snowden disclosures have provided a wonderful excuse to try to restrict access. But as a practical matter, they’ll never be able to restrict it sufficiently, unless they completely cut off the Internet to prevent any kind of threat or any kind of espionage.