Monday, May 4, 2009

Cyber-terrorism, a silver lining for the financial crisis?

I'm writing this from London, where Ann and I have come for a brief one-week R&R trip. My Dad said before he died 16 months ago, repeatedly, for that was his way, quite repeatedly, that he had seen the greatest change and progress of any generation the world had ever hosted. Born in 1915 and died in 2007 at age 92, he had seen horses as the major mode of transportation when he was first sentient, and you know what we had in 2007. He had seen his big brother Herb put together a crystal set in the attic so they could listen to radio, a new thing. He had gone into neurosurgery before there were antibiotics, let along CAT scans.

And when I was 20 years old just after my junior year in college, I flew to London from Boston in a Harvard Student Agencies trip where the airlines substituted a prop plane for a jet at the last minute, so I had a middle seat all night flying 12 hours over the Atlantic to land in London and I didn't know how to clear my ears out so I walked around London for a day and a half with my ears aching from pressure. Now we flew from New York in 5 hours 50 minutes with really good food on British Airlines, comfort, a daylight flight, and my ears are clear. OK, still with jet lag, which always affects me pretty severely, still getting up pretty late in the morning and not being quite with it, but that awaits another advance in science, I guess.

Our friend Michael Nacht has just had his Senate hearing to be Assistant Secretary of Defense for Global Strategic Affairs. In his portfolio is nuclear security and making progress with the Russians and others in disarmament, anti-missle defense, etc. This he is very conversant with, having been to 5 summits with Bill Clinton, 4 of them with the Russians in the 1990s. But also in his portfolio is cyber-security. According to his testimony under questioning from John McCain, he will be most concerned with making sure the computers at the DoD are secure. Not easy; I think they have already been hacked into, but I don't know how severely. Apparently, it's Homeland Security that will have primary responsibility for the more general cyber-security issue. But I think they will be working together. This is a road less traveled by Michael and I would think everyone; it's just a newer issue without a history of MAD and "Nuclear Weapons and Foreign Policy" by you know who.

But let's talk terrorism for a minute. It's been pretty clear for decades, I think, that no matter how antagonistic the major countries, they have a shared interest against the non-state actors and terrorism. Russia has Chechnya, the West has the Islamic terrorists. It's really better for both if the established powers retain their monopoly on violence, which makes them a non-failed state with sovereignty. Iran, a more ambitious nation, sponsors terrorism with non-state actors for purposes of national advancement, true, But once things are fairly well settled down into spheres of influence, the established states have a common interest as generic sovereign states.

But, what about the cyber age and hackers. Nobody foresaw this a lot that I have heard about, there was only the enthusiasm for the internet and computers, but now that they are so important to our everyday lives and our economy, as well as our national defense, the possibility of using cyber terrorism is clear. But who would do such a thing? A state actor might do something, such as Iran, I guess. And China might sponsor cyber industrial and military espionage, and from what I understand they actually do do this. But that's not terrorism, it's covert aggressive action in a more subtle way.

But what about the hackers? The Russians and the Ukrainians know who at least some of the hackers are who commit what comes close to high crimes. In fact - and here's the kicker - these very young people are regarded as heroes in their home towns!! Look what our boys (and some girls) were able to do, headlines the local newspapers, with pictures!

Why is this? I think it is a side effect of the culture of oppression. If you have been under an oppressive dictatorship as the Russian have been for ages, doing something to tweek the authorities is regarded with glee. Look what they were able to do to these men who oppress us! Authorities then have to decide what to do, and as long as these rebellious elements target the West, well, let them have their fun, and we will wield our authority when it really counts for us.

But now (and I owe this point to Ann) comes the silver lining of the ffinancial meltdown. It is now crystal clear that financial troubles in the US have worldwide consequences. If young hackers in the Ukraine or Russia or Eastern Europe bring down the Western financial system, there will be foreign officials smirking at the troubles of others -- there will be trouble right home in River City for each of them.

I think, but I don't know, that the Russians, Chinese and others have let their hackers have their way with the West up to now. I know that the West has been unable to have the Chinese clamp down on patent or copyright infringers. In those cases, the profits of the West are cut down but it doesn't really hurt the rest of the world. But if the hackers go after the financial system, if they go after money in the bank or in mutual fund companies or in large institutions, won't it be clear to the foreign countries that their own welfare will be at stake?

On the other hand, the hackers will probably foresee this, and go at things piecemeal. Just take a part of this; just take a part of that. Their efforts won't be terroristic, but theft. Still, it's money, and I think it would hit just close enough to home that the national governments would be moved to take steps. When it comes to protecting money, I think the cry will be, Countries of the World, Unite! You Can't Afford to Lose Your Money!

Where is the new Von Neumann? It's game theory all over again.

Budd Shenkin

No comments:

Post a Comment