Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Preparing for the Cyber-9/11

Speaking at an RSA conference in San Francisco last week, General Keith Alexander, director of the NSA's Cyber Command warned of the need to harden crucial national computer infrastructure against catastrophic cyber-attacks. The General warned that while precautions should and must be taken such attacks were all but inevitable.

General Alexander cautioned that while, "Most of the destructive tools being developed haven't been used; we need to use this window of opportunity to develop defense."

The General's comments echo statements made two days earlier by Deputy Secretary of Defense William Lynn who warned that malicious software could be implemented to cause real world damage to power plants, water supplies and other vital infrastructure.

Lynn's whose warnings were perhaps even more dire, stated, "It is possible to imagine attacks on military networks or critical infrastructure like our transportation system and energy sector that cause sever economic damage, physical destruction or even loss of life."

Lynn and Alexander's warnings are certainly not without precedent. In January Russia urged NATO to track down the culprits behind the Stuxnet worm that targeted a Russian-built nuclear power plant in Iran, saying the attack could have triggered a disaster on the scale of the 1986 Chernobyl incident.

But while General Alexander stressed the need to take preemptive action to minimize the potential damage from such an attack he also addressed the need to protect civil liberties and individual privacy.

"I believe we have the talent to build cyber security that protects our civil liberties and privacy," said the General who also pointed towards education as a key factor in protecting the nation from cyber threats. "Our nation needs to push science, technology, engineering and mathematics. It is absolutely vital to our future."

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