Happy Cybersecurity Awareness Month, everyone! To get things started off right, General Keith Alexander, the head of U.S. Cyber Command as well as the National Security Agency, discussed the state of the nation’s cyber defense capabilities with a crowd of curious Americans at the Woodrow Wilson Center in Washington on Monday. The short version of the talk: Hackers are getting crazy dangerous, but it’s okay because the NSA’s on top of it. The long version is a little more unsettling.
Let’s start with the hacker threat. It’s apparently getting worse. “We are seeing the threat grow from exploitation to disruption to destruction,” warned Alexander. He added that a well placed attack could bring down our power grid or crash the stock market. “All of that is in the realm of possible,” he said. Now, if you follow the cybersecurity beat, none of this is very new. President Obama actually used much more vivid language a couple of months ago when he described a hypothetical cyber attack. It involves a derailed train "carrying industrial chemicals that exploded into a toxic cloud,” and downed water treatment plants "contaminating drinking water and causing Americans to fall ill.”
It might make you feel a little bit better that the military turned a corner this year and actually started talking about what they’re going to do about said threats. That’s where General Alexander comes in. To fight this war right, he says, civilians need to open up a little bit, and let the NSA have a look at their data. The more, the better, apparently. Just last week, the Defense Department expanded a program that facilitates more sharing between the Pentagon and defense contractors and Internet service providers for these kinds of challenges. They’d like to rope in the Department of Homeland Security to include more organizations in the info-sharing program, from banks to utility companies. The idea is not to spy on Americans — unless those Americans could be hackers.
That sounds shadily Orwellian, and it gets worse. The White House is planning to issue an executive order that, in the words of Foreign Policy, “many analysts expect will authorize near-real time information sharing between private businesses and the government on cyber security threats.”
But a few lawmakers, like Sen. Susan Collins of Maine, are at least trying to force the NSA to pay lip service to due process. They’ve been pushing back against the NSA, and calling for another attempt at legislation after last summer’s Cyber Security Act of 2012 failed. So call your representative now! There probably won’t be a spy listening in. Not yet, anyways.