News & Events
Intel professor contributes article on Cyberspace
|Posted on Thursday, February 28, 2013 at 9:46 AM|
Cyberspace is no longer geek speak. Now it's the language of presidents and generals, of corporate chief executives and national security strategists. More importantly, it has been tied to another word, infrastructure, and the marriage of these two puts this issue squarely on the table of the national security strategist.
In wars past we have seen infrastructures -- electric grids, telecommunications networks -- attacked with bombs, not bytes, but now the computer age and an interconnected world make all such infrastructures, especially our own, reachable and vulnerable.
The New York Times recently made the argument that China has been engaged in cyberespionage to gather information on our infrastructures, but to what purpose? Are the Chinese just stealing data, or is that what could be called "intelligence preparation of the cyber battlespace?"
National security strategists have worried about infrastructure vulnerability since at least the 1990s, and President Bill Clinton's final National Security Strategy emphasized the protection of infrastructure as a "vital interest." But relatively few people have focused on the synergy and connection between cyberspace and critical infrastructure, despite the fact that modern societies and economies are prime examples of this.
Want cash from an ATM? You use cyberspace to get it. You want natural gas to reach your home during a winter storm: Cyberspace controls it getting it there. You want electricity to keep cities and events such as the Super Bowl illuminated at night; cyberspace controls the on-off switch. Transportation networks, energy flows, digital money and telecommunication networks -- these are just some of the key functions that make our society and economy work, and they all depend utterly on cyberspace.
The language of this discussion has become increasingly muddled, unfortunately, which has contributed to the difficulty of making sense of it. The opening paragraphs of the New York Times article repeatedly discuss cyber "attacks," but where is the damage, and where are the attackers?
These weren't attacks; they were intrusions, intended to steal information. I am not trying to minimize the importance and impact of these intrusions, in fact just the opposite, but far too often we use words such as "terrorism," "attack," even "war" to describe actions in cyberspace.
The New York Times and the recently released Mandiant report have done the country a service by shining a bright light on the actions of People's Liberation Army Unit 61398, but we need to examine what these actions mean. Stealing information to gain a corporate or competitive advantage is far older than cyberspace, and conducting espionage on a potential adversary's key resources is equally old.
This is where the issue of infrastructure becomes particularly worrisome. The key infrastructure elements discussed here all contribute to American national security and military power. Worse, these infrastructures are by their very nature dual-use, meaning that the military and government also depend on them. In wartime they would be valid and legitimate targets and, in all likelihood, would be attacked. Any military planner worth his/her weekly paycheck would find them irresistible.
And now we see that Unit 61398 is gathering data on our infrastructures. Is this cause for worry, and if so, why? We explore this question in the education of senior military officers attending our various war colleges, but we need to significantly deepen the discussion to include academia, the media, key elements of our economy and, especially, our Congress. This is national security in the interconnect age ... and the time to start studying it is now.
DANIEL T. KUEHL is a faculty member at the Institute for Intelligence Studies at Mercyhurst University. Dan is head of the panel which will discuss Cyber topics at the 2013 Global Intelligence Forum. A career U.S. Air Force officer, he retired as a lieutenant colonel in 1994. He is also a career educator, with 18 years as a professor of information operations at the National Defense University Information Resources Management College in Washington, D.C. His Air Force experience included five years at the Pentagon, where he helped plan the air campaign against Iraq during the 1991 Persian Gulf War, and where he was the division chief for the Air Force's landmark study of air power in that war, the Gulf War Air Power Survey. At National Defense University, he helped create the Department of Defense's first major educational effort on what was then called information warfare.
Published: February 28, 2013 12:01 AM EST
Updated: February 27, 2013 4:30 PM EST