The United States faces a crossroads with cybersecurity, the question being whether it should seriously invest in cyber infrastructure or continue postponing serious action until something disastrous happens.
U.S. intelligence agencies agree Russian agents attempted to interfere with last year’s presidential election through hacking. But Moscow’s meddling in 2016 isn’t the first time hackers have struck the U.S. government in recent years; in fact, it’s just a symptom of a larger problem.
In June 2015, the U.S. Office of Personnel Management announced its data was breached by hackers as early as March 2014. By July, the OPM estimated that the social security numbers, addresses, birthdates and names of nearly 21.5 million current and former government workers had been stolen by the hackers, believed to be based in China.
Chinese hackers also struck at Google in 2009, gaining access to sensitive data on American surveillance targets. This data included court orders indicating active investigations against Chinese operatives on American soil, according to U.S. government officials at the time.
And just a year earlier in 2008, U.S. Central Command’s military network was breached when an infected flash drive was inserted into a laptop at an American base in the Middle East. The drive, thought to have been planted by a foreign agent, uploaded a code allowing data transfers to foreign servers.
Faced with this trend, it’s not hard to see why a report from the organization SecurityScorecard found U.S. government agencies ranked last in cybersecurity when compared to private organizations.
There’s no doubt social media and the web exploded much faster than anyone, including the American government, anticipated. But in the face of such rapid expansion, what can be done to meet the corresponding onslaught of cyber terrorism?
One open avenue is to simply spend more funds on technological security, especially at local and state levels. Funding could make or break states’ cyber security; according to a NASCIO and Deloitte study conducted in 2016, 80 percent of state chief of information officers in the survey reported a lack of funding as their biggest challenge in beefing cyber security.
It might be worthwhile for states, if not the federal government, to allocate larger parts of their budgets to strengthening their technological infrastructure. A more robust infrastructure would go a long way to prevent hacking interlopers from disrupting our states’ business.
This is especially vital as public transportation, power grids and even private vehicles come to rely more on computers.
A broader solution on the national level is for the government to take a more combative role in deterring the influence of foreign powers on everyday Americans. As Richard A. Clarke and Robert K. Knake point out in Politico, Russia, for example, creates fake social media profiles to target American audiences, feeding them false stories playing on their beliefs.
They go on to argue how the government should partner with entities like Facebook, Twitter and Reddit, sharing intelligence to “identify the location of these social media bot factories and to determine which pretend Americans they have falsely created.”
The 21st Century has seen the rise of new technology, and with it new forms of terror and theft. The U.S. should mark itself as a leader in the new century by not taking these threats lightly and building a stronger cybersecurity defense.