Cyberwar Represents Existential Threat to US

Cyberwar Represents Existential Threat to US

Nineteenth century military genius Carl von Clausewitz coined the phrase: “War is a mere continuation of politics by other means.” In his day, the number of wars was limited by the time and expense to organize large armies and then march across borders to inflict pain. 

War was much more expensive in the twentieth century, but the number of conflicts expanded because planes and missiles cut the time it took to inflict pain. Proliferating technologies make it now possible for any nation to acquire cyber tools at minimal cost to instantly inflict pain on any other nation. Clausewitz would expect the number of cyberwars to grow exponentially in the twenty-first century.    

The advent of cyberwar represents a new “high bar risk” as the U.S. faces-off against a deadly trifecta of cutting-edge digital technologies, advanced military weapons, and the ability to disrupt critical infrastructure. With this type of war built around digital technology, America’s enemies will focus on turning our own technology against us.

The first year of the twenty-first century will be remembered for 19 illegal aliens who trained at a Florida school to use U.S. commercial airliners as improvised explosive devices. The 9/11 terrorists slaughtered more Americans than died at Pearl Harbor. With the U.S. government politically forced to declare war on much of the Middle East, the financial cost from the attacks and subsequent military response is over $3.3 trillion.

Former National Coordinator for Security, Infrastructure Protection, and Counter-terrorism for the United States, Richard A. Clarke, defined “cyberwarfare” as “actions by a nation-state to penetrate another nation’s computers or networks for the purposes of causing damage or disruption.” When confronted with the statistic that less than 0.0025% of revenue at the average U.S. corporation was being spent on information technology security, Clarke warned: “If you spend more on coffee than on IT security, then you will be hacked. What’s more, you deserve to be hacked.”

Edward Snowden’s revelations concerning the militarized activities of the NSA highlight cyberwarfare’s danger to the U.S. corporate sector. Military power in the cyber domain is projected through the civilian computer networks of U.S. tech giants such as Google, Facebook, Verizon, and Apple. The cooperation or conscription of private U.S. networks for cyberwarfare attacks or defenses creates an extreme liability for these firms. U.S. tech companies are top targets for suspicion and potential retaliation by enemy states.

The main proliferator of cyberwarfare capabilities to potential enemies of the United States is the boom in attendance by international students at U.S. colleges. The State Department’s 2014 Open Doors Report on International Educational Exchange reported the number of international students studying at U.S. colleges grew since 2000 by 72% to 886,052. About 23% of international students worldwide now study in the U.S.

Over 315,000 or 35% of international college students in the U.S. are enrolled in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM). This compares to about 3.1 million or 28% of American-born college students with STEM majors. But unlike international students that overwhelmingly graduate in their major, 48% of American-born students drop STEM majors before graduation.

Forbes reported Chinese cybercrooks are stealing secrets from leading U.S. weapons systems manufacturers; Iran has invaded the operations of leading American banks to plant malicious viruses that could cause a debilitating financial crisis; and Russian hackers are breaking into the networks of U.S. oil and gas companies to gain access to their industrial control systems.

Yet, 276,000 Chinese, 4,500 Russians, and 8,700 Iranians are legally enrolled as international students at U.S. colleges. Some of these students will eventually return home armed with cyberweapons-of-mass-destruction they can deploy against America.

Clausewitz stressed three centuries ago that great military commanders are prepared to respond to incomplete, dubious, and often completely erroneous information coupled with high levels of fear, doubt, and excitement that he termed the “fog of war.”

Low cost cyberwarfare tools allow adversaries of the United States to inflict pain and instantly create the fog of war by attacking American computer networks. Since no nation on earth currently has the equipment and financial resources to win a conventional military war against America, cyberwar will be the primary existential threat to the peace and security of the United States in the twenty-first century.

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