The Internet has become an increasingly dangerous place and this may only be the beginning, asserts Jay Healey, Director of the Cyber Statecraft Initiative at Atlantic Council.
“I am gravely doubtful that our kids and grandkids are going to have an Internet and cyber space that is fundamentally as awesome as the one that we had,” he said. “It’s probably going to be less free, less secure, and less resilient than the one that we had.”
Through a combination of espionage and complex cyber weapons, the Pentagon has succeeded in militarizing the Internet at breakneck speed. The risks of this arms race are not just the obliteration of Internet anonymity, but the opening of a Pandora’s Box in which relatively cheap weapons can do ridiculous amounts of real-world destruction.
“In cyberspace, criminal organisations, activists such as Anonymous and other private groups, as well as the odd lone hacker, have already displayed disruptive power. Terrorist groups are surely not far behind,” wrote The New Yorker’s Stevel Coll last year.
There’s little indication that the planners who set this cyber beast loose gave much thought to secondary and tertiary consequences.
“We’re not thinking this stuff through,” Healey said at the Defence One Summit last week. “We’re taking a short term view … If we were in such danger with SCADA, should we have thrown the first SCADA punch?”
Healey is referencing the Obama administration’s scramble to cyber-secure utility networks that control gas, electric, and water. That push for security comes more than a decade from the time when Stuxnet was in its early planning stages.
As if to exemplify the lack of defensive preparation prior to launching offensive attacks, the delivery of one of the Stuxnet variants depended on contractors plugging unauthorised thumb drives into trusted internal networks. The Pentagon and the NSA knew that contractors were “lousy at cybersecurity,” Ralph Langner wrote in his Stuxnet piece on Foreign Policy.
Years later, a Booz Allen Hamilton contractor would stick an unauthorised thumbdrive into a trusted network and download almost “200,000” documents from the NSA.
“The whole Internet has become Beirut, or Afghanistan, the whole thing is a war zone, basically being fuelled by nation states giving money to people who develop these kinds of exploits,” Peter Ludlow, an Internet culture expert and professor of philosophy at Northwestern University, told Business Insider.
As a result of the cyber war accelerating around us every day, countries in the wings are taking steps to reshape the Internet, and massive corporations are introducing new safeguards. Even smaller companies are forced to hire cyber security professionals and institute safeguards, and browsing for the average user has become more dangerous than ever before.
“There are big issues happening in the Internet itself and the governing of the Internet, and frankly we’ve pulled back from that conversation,” said Peter Singer, a national security expert at the Brookings Institute. “There’s a real danger in the upcoming year that America keeps quiet because of the battle of narrative, and the Internet itself doesn’t look the same.”
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