What US must do -- right now -- to combat growing cyber threat

The cyberattacks just keep coming. Our enemies are inflicting real damage on our national security and the American economy. Make no mistake, the United States has never been more unprepared for a conflict than it has been against the Cyber War.

Just this week, we learned that in addition to last month’s disclosure of a massive cyberattack that compromised the personal data of at least 4 million current and former federal employees, there was a second, related breach of U.S. government computer systems. This time, hackers stole social security numbers from more than 21 million Americans. And earlier this week, a computer “glitch” was blamed for the suspension of trading on the New York Stock Exchange for nearly four hours, the grounding of all United Airlines airplanes, and the malfunction of the Wall Street Journal’s homepage – all on the same day.

I’ve never been a big believer in “coincidence.” Let’s hope it was just a glitch, but the forces we’re dealing with are savvy and sophisticated enough to make cyberattacks look like glitches.

Don’t forget that “Jihadi John,” one of the ringleaders of ISIS, has a degree with honors in computer programming from the University of Westminster.

The 9/11 Commission said that 9/11 was “above all, a failure of imagination.” The equivalent of a 9/11 in the cyber realm has the potential to be even more devastating on our economy.

Furthermore, it can take a while to distinguish between a glitch and a cyberattack. For example, the massive cyberattack on OPM that we now all know about was announced by the federal government on June 4 of this year. Our government didn’t discover the cyberattack until April of this year, while the attack itself occurred last December.

Also, remember the U.S. drone that went down in Iran in 2011? The federal government immediately said it was a “malfunction.” Later, an Israeli intelligence report stated that it was an Iranian cyberattack on the drone which disabled its communication system and brought it down in almost perfect condition.

Cyber warfare is the most complicated national security threat that the U.S. has ever faced because technology is changing so quickly. In fact, the speed of change in the cyber technology realm is changing faster than the Pentagon and that of our broader national security apparatus’s ability to analyze and adapt.

In recent years, we’ve seen an exponential surge in cyberattacks on our nation’s critical infrastructure. I’m concerned that hackers, be they “lone wolves” or supported by a hostile state, can cause more harm to our financial institutions than anywhere else. The five biggest banks in America have assets equivalent to 56% of America’s GDP. This is up from 43% in 2006. The “too big to fail banks” have only gotten bigger. Securing our financial system must be a top priority in the cyber war.

The 9/11 Commission said that 9/11 was “above all, a failure of imagination.” The equivalent of a 9/11 in the cyber realm has the potential to be even more devastating on our economy.

At the beginning of World War II, Nazi Germany’s “Enigma Code” appeared unbreakable. As shown in the recent movie, “The Imitation Game,” the British brought together the best cryptographers and in the end, under the genius of Alan Turing, built a machine to crack the Nazi’s Enigma machine. It was a game-changer for the Allies.

Similarly today, the United States needs to assemble our best minds to tackle our ever-increasing vulnerability in cyber warfare.

Recently, there is strong evidence that the science of quantum computing can provide for the generation of truly random numbers. Once this technology has matured, it would greatly reduce, if not eliminate, the likelihood of hacking into any system. There is also strong evidence that the technology could actually be put on a chip. Fortunately, the US Air Force Research Laboratory (AFRL) has done a great deal of research and work in this area.

Here’s what must be done now to effectively combat the Cyber War threat:

-Fully support the Air Force Research Laboratory and make the development of quantum computing with the generation of true random numbers on a chip, a reality.

-Recruit cyber experts at home and abroad. James Gosler, one of our nation’s top cybersecurity experts, believes that the US has only 1,000 people with the necessary skills to defend the country against the most complex cyberattacks out of the 20,000-30,000 people required.

-Provide national security scholarships to top computer science and data security majors in the United States.

-Fight a preventive war against cyber terrorists. We must go after our enemy before they can cause damage to our economy.

-Follow the country of Georgia’s example and plant “booby traps” for cyber terrorists and hackers.

-Ensure that US Cyber Command has the ability to coordinate with the private sector during a cyberattack. This may involve shutting down certain networks, etc. Here, the private sector must be protected from liability.

-Distinguish between cyberattacks from regimes like China and Russia versus Islamist regimes like Iran. Historically, Chinese cyberattacks are geared more towards espionage, while Islamist attacks are primarily focused on sabotage. Different countermeasures are required depending on the origin of attack.

The cyber threat to the United States is growing each day and is inflicting real damage to America, both economically and from a national security standpoint. It’s taking a tremendous toll on our government, our economy, and the private sector. It’s time for the United States to fight back with real imagination and creativity in order to win in this new dimension of warfare, Cyber War.