International Policy Digest

Tech /11 Jul 2019

The Dem Debates Glossed over the Biggest Threat to the United States: Cyberwarfare

At one of the recent Democratic presidential debates, the candidates were all asked who or what was the biggest threat to the United States? Their answers ranged from all over the map from Russia to China to climate change. None of them hit the real critical threat to the United States and its impact on our national economy.

The biggest threat by far? It is cyberwarfare or what I have coined as Nanokrieg, where there are no physical frontlines, only virtual lines across electronic borders and electronic grids. Battlefields are now in server farms in data centers and across intelligent infrastructure (the power grid and national communications networks).

Candidates need to realize that the “essence” of cyberwar waged on intelligent infrastructure takes on a whole new set of accelerated strategies and tactics. As I have written before, “The speed of response equals victory, or at least, survival.”

In cyberwar or Nanokrieg, the intelligent infrastructure of organizations (power and communication networks) are vulnerable. Anti-virus software and other network security software covers about 90% of the attack scenarios. That leaves 10%, which is too big an area to leave open.

All the electronic safeguards we have today can be summed up as a digital Maginot Line of defense. It is not as impenetrable as the security “experts” have touted it to be and President Trump needs to make this a priority in his administration as well.

Spending more money on traditional warfare upgrades is not the only initiative Trump should be taking today. He and those who follow him need to have a clear understanding of Nanokrieg and what the cyberdefenses are for attacks and counterattacks.

Today, cyberattacks aren’t measured in days or even hours. A whole cyberwar can last only a couple of seconds – or less. Plus, the volume of attacks launched could be in the 1,000s over a very short period of time.

Some attacks could happen to government or commercial installations and no one would even know about them for several years. Some cyberattacks are virtually unnoticeable and untraceable. This is the area we are most vulnerable and politicos do not understand how critical it is.

Most attacks and cyber intrusions are not reported and you can understand why. No one wants to admit their electronic defenses against a rogue cyberattack are “inadequate.”

Today, riches and treasures do not need heavy equipment or convoys of trucks to pull them out, they can be taken out of the country or on the network in a sub-second as well. Electronic valuables have no physical weight, just virtual value.

We have all watched Hollywood action movies where bank accounts are drained from one account to another. That isn’t Hollywood anymore. It’s a reality.

All the Democratic candidates need to understand the impact of cyberwarfare and the need to have defenses in the United States strengthened to a higher standard of security for all electronic information in both the public and private sectors.

We have already seen in multiple instances, where people’s credit card and personal information are stolen. We have also seen power companies and their electronic grids compromised. Where were the safeguards in these utilities and banks? Where are the new types of defenses against cyberattacks?

According to IBM, almost one out of four financial institutions are still exposed. Is your money sitting in one of these institutions? Is your organization’s money?

No company or financial firm wants to announce their protective measures are inadequate and that all their internal confidential information has been compromised.

In less than a second, 1000s of pinpoint attacks on different targets can be executed by high-speed transaction processors. Stocks could plummet. Bank accounts could be wiped out – or transferred. Certain controls in power grids and other utilities, like maximum temperature levels or power load levels, could be overridden.

Those running as a presidential candidate need to realize that cyber weapons do not have to be flown into the battle zone or brought in by big transport ships, they are carried in by the network within a sub-second. Trojan horses, worms, viruses, and other destructive malware weapons do not need huge supporting logistics, legions of soldiers, or long timeframes. They can be sent off in a microsecond on an electronic pathway to the “war zone.”

EMP bombs are definitely part of the new arsenal of Nanokrieg and they are very effective in knocking out civilization as we know it. An electro-magnetic pulse bomb (EMP) was a threat scenario discussed in the Cold War-era. An EMP bomb is not a bomb that is dropped and strikes a target or a city. An EMP bomb could be exploded 100-200 miles above the earth and its coverage is a much wider area.

EMPs should be viewed as a force equalizer for those small countries which do not have all the money and resources to sustain a huge military force. It is perfect for waging asymmetrical warfare. All you need is one well-placed bomb 100 miles or so above the earth. And well-placed does not equal “accurate.”

With more terrorist organizations around the world and unstable countries like North Korea and Iran, this type of threat has been given more credence as being a real possibility.

The delivery system for an EMP bomb is a lot more imprecise than a guided, intercontinental ballistic missile. All it needs to have is a simple rocket that can get it out into space above a country. It does not have to have pinpoint accuracy as a missile launched to hit a particular city or facility.

The effect of an EMP bomb is that all unshielded electronics within its range go dead. The generated electronic “pulse” fries all the electronics in computers, cars, data centers, buildings, and anything that is unprotected. Basically, a well-placed EMP bomb can throw a whole region back into the 1700s. No vehicles, no computers, no radio, no TV. Nothing electronic functions anymore.

Data centers, as well as the power grid, should be protected from this type of attack. Building amenities should include the ability to shield tenants’ electronics from an EMP attack. The more electronics that are shielded, the less impact an EMP will have on a region and its economy.

Some organizations are discussing the effects of an EMP attack and what it would do to the total economy. They are identifying those rogue nations and terrorist groups that could use a weapon like this.

Some articles are popping up in the mainstream press about EMPs but unfortunately, some reporters have no clue as to what EMPs entail. One such article was in The Washington Post, the author talks about the “improbability” of having an EMP bomb because in order for it to be “effective”: “It requires a missile that can deliver the bomb to a precise point in the atmosphere.”

Precise point? The beauty of an EMP bomb is that you do not have-to-have pinpoint accuracy, you just need to get it up over a region.

My advice to the reporter is to stick with what he knows and not delve into infrastructure and electronic warfare issues that he knows nothing about. All you need is to deliver the bomb 100 miles above the earth anywhere over the United States and you will affect a lot of territory.

North Korea is working on a satellite that will orbit the earth 100 miles away which is the perfect location for an EMP bomb. At this point, this is not science fiction, a Hollywood movie, or a theoretical threat. It is a cold reality.

Once that EMP goes off, unshielded electronics get fried and those depending on them will become modern-day inhabitants of a 17th-century world.

All presidential candidates need to realize we are beyond traditional warfare with those who would be our enemy and we need to be prepared to fight a Nanokrieg-type war with a traditional adversary like Russia or in an asymmetrical war with a small rogue country, like Iran or North Korea.