For the past few years, experts have been warning governments of the shifting paradigm in warfare – from physical military theaters to cyberspace. Congress has repeatedly rejected cyber security legislation on the premise that these laws would infringe on the rights of companies to make autonomous decisions on how to allocate their resources. However, this decision prohibits the federal government from using mandatory laws to protect private businesses, thereby causing the private sector to be at risk for cyber intrusions into critical infrastructure.
As ‘hacker armies’ proliferated in the past decade, certain governments around the world have sponsored cyber warfare cells to plan crippling cyber attacks on other countries. Some are domestically operated, such as the cell headquartered in Shanghai by the People’s Liberation Army in China, which has links to hacking attempts on U.S. power grids and private corporations. Other countries prefer less localized operations – North Korea is suspected for operating a global elite cyber military called Bureau 121. According to Reuters, this secret society is comprised of 1,800 cyber-warriors, computer experts trained from the age of 17 to become talented hackers. Out of 2,500 applicants, 100 students are hand-picked to study at the University of Automation, a private college situated behind barbed wire in the country’s capital. After studying for five years, these operatives are deployed to different locations around the world to supply the Pyongyang government with confidential information to sabotage other countries. Not only could enemies of the United States compromise information crucial to national security, but these cyber armies could be used to target the stock market and domestic infrastructure. Due to the widespread reliance on technology for day-to-day operations, our global society is caught on the crux of defending economic and political institutions, while developing domestic programs to defend against each other.
After months of verbal strife over confidentiality and civil liberties, Congress was unable to pass the Cyber Intelligence Sharing and Protection Act in 2011, which aimed to promote higher standards of cyber security by allowing the exchange of Internet traffic information between private companies and the federal government. As a result, President Obama issued an executive order to address the lack of reasonable and progressive legislative action towards decreasing the vulnerability of the private sector and our domestic economy to hackers. This order calls for the sharing of potential cyber threats and government information to private companies, along with technological recommendations rather than the “mandatory minimums” of defensive measures proposed in the bill. However, the lack of hard-hitting legislation leaves the United States vulnerable at a critical time for our domestic economy, which has been growing at an annual rate of 5% in the third quarter – the fastest pace since 2003.
Perhaps the most concerning element of cyber warfare is the lack of accountability shown by all actors. As long as the software used to commit the hacks remains untraceable, countries have plausible deniability for the actions of their hacker armies. Additionally, individual actors are not only difficult to track down, but are often not told who else works in the armies. Therefore, state and individual actors are not required to take responsibility for their actions, thereby degrading the principle of common warfare. Thus, while progress allows our society to reach incredible feats such as Starbucks drone delivery systems and compressive sampling cancer detection techniques, it acts as a double-edged sword, as it leads us farther down a road fraught with uncertainty.
For instance, at the present moment, the United States does not have the definitive ability to hold North Korea responsible for the hacks on Sony Pictures Entertainment, since the hidden hacker army, The Guardians of Peace, have apparently confessed to hacking the company’s private salary information and leaking movie releases. Similarly, although President Obama vowed a timely and “proportional” response to the Government of North Korea, the United States has not publicly taken an for North Korea’s Internet failing for a collective fourteen hours at three separate times this week.
As a form of defense, the U.S. government should consider taking preemptive measures, such as creating recruitment programs aimed at incentivizing people with exceptional computer skills to work for the federal government defense teams. Thus, the United States will not only strengthen our cyber defense mechanisms, but will also provide deterrence to hackers who would have taken lucrative bids to join the private world of ‘hacker armies.’ These ‘armies’ are full of highly skilled individuals who work on small and large-scale operations for a variety of reasons, from economic profit to political motivations. In the past, the capabilities of these armies were to commit less severe crimes, such as identity theft of individuals with high current or potential income. However, over the past few years, technological advancements and an increase in sheer manpower, has allowed hacker armies like The Guardians of Peace which attacked Sony Pictures, to target large corporations and infrastructure, which could result in devastating repercussions on the U.S. and global economy.
Image Credit: http://uk.reuters.com/article/2014/11/29/uk-sony-cybersecurity-northkorea-idUKKCN0JD0K820141129