Attacking a country without physically crossing its borders, conflicts between countries being fought in cyberspace; sounds like a sci-fi drama, doesn’t it? Well, it’s time to wake up because security experts believe that this is going to happen for real. (And we can’t say this is going to be out of the blue because over the past few years, numerous attacks have been made targeting government and military networks and most of these attacks are believed to be the work of highly organized, well-funded, state-sponsored groups.)
It’s been a decade since the country first experienced the wave of the dreadful 9/11 attacks. Fast forward to 2011, the country faces a critical threat to its security from cyber attacks, says a new report by Bipartisan Policy Center.
The report, which was released last month by the bipartisan think tank’s National Security Preparedness Group (NSPG), explains the progress made by the public sector in implementing the security recommendations of the 9/11 Commission. Nine security recommendations that have yet to be implemented were discussed and the comments about cybersecurity were part of the discussion.
Highlighting concerns expressed by the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) and the U.S. intelligence community about terrorists using cyberspace to attack the country, the report warns that “the cyber threat to critical infrastructure systems — to electrical, financial, water, energy, food supply, military, and telecommunications networks — is grave.”
Should the terrorists hack into any one of these critical infrastructure systems, say the U.S. electric grid, it’s going to be – as the DHS officials put it – a “nightmare scenario” resulting in power being shut down across large sections of the country for several weeks. This clearly spells devastating effects on the society. We’re sure you’re aware of the crisis being faced in Japan owing to the disruption of power grids.
Established in 2007 by former Senate Majority leaders Howard Baker, Tom Daschle, Bob Dole and George Mitchell, the Bipartisan Policy Center (BPC) is a Washington-based think tank that gave rise to NSPG, a group that monitors the implementation of the 9/11 Commission’s recommendations for beefing up national security following the terrorist attacks. According to NSPG, the government has made much progress in implementing most of the recommendations made by the 9/11 Commission. However, not all 41 recommendations have been implemented.
One such area that has seen little progress is the recommendation to increase the availability of radio spectrum for public safety purposes. Since incompatible and inadequate communications led to needless loss of life on 9/11, more radio spectrum for first responders had been suggested. This plan, however, has been gathering dust, thanks to a political fight over whether to allocate 10MHz of radio spectrum to first responders or to a commercial wireless bidder.
Likewise, the civil rights and privacy fronts have also seen little progress, said the report. Following the 9/11 attacks, surveillance activities and the use of tools such as National Security Letters to search for terrorists have greatly expanded. However, a recommendation for setting up a Privacy and Civil Liberties Oversight Board with the executive branch of the federal government has yet to be fully implemented. No wonder the NSPG has given the implementation of this recommendation a failing mark!
As far as this report is concerned, it is undoubtedly going to trigger doubts in the security industry about the critical infrastructure targets’ preparedness for dealing with cyber attacks. However, as some believe, these threats aren’t being taken seriously enough within the government. Many government officials had shown similar skepticism toward the alarms that had sounded prior to the Sept. 11, 2001. The only thing to see now is if they are going to let history repeat itself yet again.
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