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Cyber attacks continue – America weighs response options

August 24, 2015

Nearly every month, another private sector business or government department discovers that its most critical computer networks and databases have been “hacked” by someone. While many of these attacks appear sponsored by foreign countries – others are the work of rogue criminals bent on either making a statement or simply disrupting the normal flow of world commerce and communications.

At present, most Americans are aware that these events are now increasing both in frequency and intensity. Here’s a brief review of many cyber attacks that have occurred during the past two years (both U. S. government networks and private company systems are being targeted).

  • The 2014/2015 breach of federal personnel records. Major cyber attacks have been recently waged “against the Office of Personnel Management. Sensitive records on 22.1 million federal workers, including millions cleared for access to secrets, were stolen by hackers linked to China’s government;”
  • The Sony Pictures cyber attack in November 2014. This damaging event failed to prevent the entertainment group from releasing its film “The Interview” that mocked North Korean leader Kim Jong Un. Although important data was destroyed during this attack and embarrassing emails were released to the public, the film was still released on a slightly delayed basis. Since that time, “Sony has spent at least $15 million to repair the damage;”
  • The Anthem Insurance system breaches. These events compromised the healthcare records of as many as 80 million people. The stolen data included “names, birthdays, medical IDs, social security numbers, street addresses, e-mail addresses and employment information, including income data;”
  • Russian attacks have been carried out against both U. S. State Department and White House networks;
  • The February 2014 cyber attack waged against the Sands Casino in Las Vegas. Some believe this attack was waged by Iran in retaliation for comments made by Sands owner Sheldon Adelson – regarding Iran’s “nuclear development program;”
  • The ongoing cyber attacks against American retail giants. These have included the theft of private information from about 40 million Target customers, as well as those doing business with JP Morgan Chase, Neiman Marcus, Experian and Home Depot.

This problem has become so widespread that it’s now quite common for Americans to have had some of their most sensitive personal data stolen.

The current White House stance on these cyber attacks

While it’s entirely possible that President Obama, his top cabinet members, and select members of Congress are currently drafting secret plans to retaliate against all recent state-sponsored cyber attacks, some average citizens are wondering what’s going to happen next. Fortunately, the White House has clearly stated that, “We can and must do more . . . We need a capability to deter and impose costs on those responsible for significant harmful cyber activity where it really hurts – at their bottom line.”

Opinions now being shared by other top U. S. government officials – past and present

James Lewis, who now serves as a cyber security expert at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, has said that America’s current “defensive approach that emphasizes closing vulnerabilities to cyber attacks is not working.”

General Mike Flynn, a former Defense Intelligence Agency director has voiced even greater concerns. He has said, “The extraordinary intellectual theft ongoing across the US’s cyber critical infrastructure has the potential to shut down massive components of our nation’s capabilities, such as health care, energy and communications systems. This alone should scare the heck out of everyone.”

Fortunately, the U. S. government is fully aware of all the potential threats that may develop. It’s just carefully reviewing its options in order to avoid accidentally precipitating a war. James Lewis (already referenced above), says it’s quite difficult to discern the appropriate form of retaliation but he believes there are many measured ways our government might respond. He also said, “Many people think a cyber response is the best way to signal where the lines are the other side should not cross.”

Conclusions

When new cyber attacks occur in the future, the American public can know that our government will carefully weigh our personal privacy concerns as it decides how best to respond to the events. In the meantime, every effort must be made to train highly qualified Americans for responsible cybersecurity positions with the government and private sector companies.

By Elizabeth Smith, freelance writer and graduate of the University of Texas Law School