I was speaking to a veteran the other day that has about 20 years of service and has been in more countries than I can remember. As we talked about the war in Afghanistan, possible future war with Iran and other current military affairs, he told me, “Things are changing. They are after military websites, online accounts and even Facebook pages of active duty troops. It is a Cyber Cold War now.”
International websites are under siege by everyone from political hacktivists to cyber-crime organizations, to Nation State backed hackers. But what is the real threat?
- Political Hacktivists – The current Anonymous leak of the intercepted FBI call concerning Anonymous told me everything I needed to know about how serious a threat political hacktivism is taken. During the call, FBI agents and British agents joke around and laugh up to the point where a senior agent joins the conference call. Then it was all business. Denial of service threats and the releasing of credit card info is a nuisance, but not really a threat, especially when compared to the other heavy crime that the FBI is used to dealing with.
- Cyber Crime – This is a lot more serious than political hacktivism. International cyber-crime is booming, and recently more money was stolen through cyber-crime than was made in the illicit drug trade. But this really is an extension of organized crime and not cyber war.
- Nation State Hackers – This is where the threat really lies. From the release of counterfeit network equipment that could be backdoored to industrial sabotage to military based espionage. This is where our military level cyber forces should be focused.
In essence we are in a Cyber Cold War. Nation State hackers are very active in attacking and compromising military, government and defense contractor sites. Terrorists are using social media sites to recruit, train and spread their poison. It is very representative of the espionage, politics and spread of communism during the Cold War.
Is our current military cyber force capable of dealing with this threat? I think when our cyber command was created, it had in mind the threats they were facing and had the desire to be both offensive and defensive. Blocking the threats and counter-attacking in the cyber realm. But before cyber command even got off the ground, it was hamstrung by the legal and political ramifications of offensive operations.
What then is needed?
We need a Cyber Special Forces group.
After the failed Bay of Pigs invasion, President John F. Kennedy realized that the US was facing a new battle with the spread of communism. He made it a priority to get Special Forces groups created and active to face this threat.
Troops were selected that were intelligent, capable and willing to learn. They were put through intense training that allowed them to move undetected in enemy territory and engage the enemy on their own terms.
As Special Forces groups evolved, their peacetime missions became two fold. They were sent into countries to train allied or somewhat friendly forces, but at the same time to gather intelligence about countries that at some point in the future may not be allied with US intentions.
Right now, our Cyber Command seems more defensive oriented. Instead of just monitoring and detecting threats, a capable offensive unit is needed. One that can not only counter-hack, assess potential targets, train friendly nations, and stop electronic threats. But also be able to put boots on the ground and physically shut down terror cells and any other physical threats that arise from intelligence gained.