When President-elect Donald Trump takes the oath of office as the 45th president of the United States, he will inherit many challenges. These range from radical Islamic terrorism at home and abroad, unsecured borders, a military readiness crisis, the need for good paying American jobs, and more.
None, however, is more daunting and complex than winning the cyber war.
Cyber-attacks are inflicting real harm on America, from both a national security and economic standpoint. After air, land, sea, and space, it is the fifth dimension of warfare and is the most complex national security challenge a U.S. President has ever faced.
In recent years, Iran has hacked into the Navy Marine Corps Intranet (NMCI) and even conducted a cyber-attack on a U.S. drone, which disabled its communication system and brought it down in almost perfect condition. China, on the other hand, has conducted cyber-attacks against the Pentagon, and was responsible for a massive attack on the Office of Personnel Management (OPM) where hackers stole social security numbers and compromised the personal data of approximately 22 million current and former federal employees.
Recently, we have seen a massive spike in cyber-attacks on our nation’s critical infrastructure. There have been numerous cyber-attacks on Wall Street which are constantly damaging the American economy. In fact, every year we lose more intellectual property on government, university, and business networks then all of the intellectual property in the Library of Congress.
The complexity of cyber warfare stems largely from the fact that technology is changing much more rapidly than our government's ability to analyze and adapt. The 9/11 commission said that 9/11 was “above all, a failure of imagination.”
We always seem to be responding to the last attack rather than thinking “outside the box” to prevent the next one.
Presently, each U.S. military service has unique initiatives to confront the cyber threat. The Navy has its Next Generation Outreach and Recruitment Initiative, a Cyber-STEM initiative for high school students aimed at motivating our youth to go into cyber security fields. The U.S. Army has its “Hack the Army” program to get hackers involved with cyber security and offers cash rewards to those who find vulnerabilities.
And the Air Force has its CyberWorx program aimed at working with the business and educational community to identify disruptive cyber security technologies and then develop operational needs cases for Air Force applications.
President-elect Trump is an “outside the box” thinker and has shown that he is a believer in President Reagan’s maxim — “personnel is policy.” “Outside the box” thinking and good people will ultimately win the cyber war for the United States.
Here is what the Trump administration can do at the outset to begin to win the cyber war:
- Recruit cyber experts at home and abroad. Experts believe the U.S. has only a little over 1,000 people with the necessary skills to defend the country again the most complex cyber-attacks out of the 30,000 required.
- Provide national security scholarships to top computer science and data security majors at U.S. universities and colleges.
- Direct the National Security Agency (NSA) to make the development of quantum computing, with the generation of true random numbers, a priority. There is strong evidence that the science of quantum computing can provide for the generation of truly random numbers. Once mature, this would greatly reduce the likelihood of hacking into any system.
- Work more closely with the NATO Cooperative Cyber Defense Center of Excellence in Estonia. The Estonians have had to deal with Russian cyber-attacks for years and have some of the best countermeasures.
- Fight a preventative war against cyber terrorists. We must go after the enemy before they can do real damage to our economy.
- Follow the country of Georgia’s example and plant “booby traps” for cyber terrorists and hackers.
- Distinguish between cyber-attacks from China and Islamist regimes. Historically, Chinese cyber-attacks are more about espionage and economic theft, while Islamist attacks are primarily focused on sabotage. Different countermeasures are required depending on the origin of attack.
- Ensure that the U.S. Cyber Command has the ability to coordinate with the private sector during a cyber-attack. The private sector must be protected from liability if it has to shut down a network.
- Replicate the Air Force CyberWorx model throughout the federal government.
Almost every day the American economy and our national security apparatus are under constant cyber-attack. Long-term damage is occurring. Now is the time for the United States to have a real plan, combined with “outside the box” thinking, to win the cyber war and protect America’s national security and economic interests.
Van Hipp is chairman of American Defense International, Inc. (ADI), a Washington, D.C. consulting firm. He is former chairman of the South Carolina Republican Party, and served on the Presidential Electoral College in 1988. He is the author of "The New Terrorism: How to Fight It and Defeat It." To read more of his reports, Go Here Now.
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