Valley News Column: Data is extremely powerful and creates immense vulnerabilities

America created cyberspace in its own image – free, open, decentralized, distributed and autonomous. If the Internet had been created in China or Russia, its architecture would have been very different. Unfortunately, its very openness and freedom have become the source of its vulnerabilities.

Authoritarian nations find the freedom of cyberspace very threatening. They are building firewalls to protect their societies from freedom. For geopolitical reasons, they also use cyber weapons to attack others.

One of the most interesting features of cyberspace is that its entry threshold is so low that an ingenious and self-taught person can create applications and new platforms and get rich; or become a hacker and penetrate infrastructure, financial or military systems without leaving a trace. Rogue states and well-organized digital terrorist groups use free hackers to steal intellectual property and break into diplomatic and strategic plans.

Cyber ​​security attacks are stealthy and insidious. There are no rules of conduct to protect cyberspace, the domain in which all of our activities currently take place – military, economic, commercial, political and cultural. Power grids, financial systems and defense networks could be destroyed, not only by hostile states but also by non-state actors, alone or in collusion with their governments. Last October, a cyberattack shut down the power grid in Mumbai, India’s financial capital, plunging millions of people into darkness. The New York Times suggested it was a Chinese cyberattack – a warning that China could not only fight India in the Himalayas, but also in its financial hub.

The May 7 ransomware attack on Colonial Pipeline, one of America’s largest fuel suppliers, was carried out by affiliates of a criminal hacking group, DarkSide. The attack crippled Colonial’s computer system, for which he had to pay the ransom in cryptocurrency – 75 bitcoins, or nearly $ 5 million, according to media reports. Blockchain-based cryptocurrency is a possible future for global finance. The cryptocurrency ransom cannot be traced at this time.

One of America’s most valuable assets, intellectual property, is under constant threat. Chinese pirates have accessed the designs of some major US weapon systems to modernize their military. Perpetrators can conceal their location due to the anonymous nature of the Internet, making attribution of cyber attacks problematic. But technology is being developed to locate the perpetrators. A few years ago, Mandiant, an American computer security company, was able to identify that a unit of the People’s Liberation Army, located in Shanghai, had “systematically stolen hundreds of terabytes of data” from companies, organizations. and US government agencies. They stole “product plans, manufacturing plans, clinical trial results, pricing documents, trading strategies, and other proprietary information from more than 100 Mandiant customers, primarily in the United States.” . Time reported.

But what can be done with hackers if they are from Russia, North Korea or China? The Independent Commission on the Theft of US Intellectual Property said in a March report that “IP-intensive industries support more than 45 million jobs in the United States. Intellectual property theft costs the US economy hundreds of billions of dollars per year and reduces R&D investment and innovation by US companies. “

Most intellectual property theft continues to originate in China, a situation that has not changed since the commission’s first report in 2013, when it said intellectual property theft “must have consequences, with costs. high enough for the state and businesses to adopt behaviors and attitudes that support such theft. are fundamentally changed. His most intriguing recommendations included that “businesses victims of cyber theft should be able to recover their electronic files or prevent the exploitation of their stolen information.” And further, that “technology and the law must be developed to implement a range of more aggressive measures that identify and penalize illegal intruders in proprietary networks. … ”

The United States National Security Agency conducts oversight under the authority of the Foreign Intelligence Review Act. It collects metadata from telephone companies and Internet data from Internet service providers. It monitors the cross-border data flow. With so much data being collected through its surveillance power, the NSA should have known through its system of early awareness of DarkSide’s ransom attack before it happened.

You would think Silicon Valley tech assistants should have developed foolproof encryption to protect the nation’s data. But they haven’t yet.

Cyberspace, in the final analysis, is nothing more than data. Data is power, as Matthew Slaughter, dean of the Tuck School of Business in Dartmouth, and David McCormick of Bridge Associates, argued in Foreign Affairs. With 5G technology and the so-called “Internet of Things”, which would turn everything into a network object, data would grow exponentially. They say the data is “non-competitive” in the sense that “it can be used simultaneously and repeatedly by any number of businesses or people without being diminished.”

It is true – but how dangerous it is in practice! Just consider: The Pentagon spends hundreds of millions of taxpayer dollars on research and development on advanced defense systems, which are just data. If the data is “unrivaled,” the Pentagon shouldn’t be concerned when hackers copy the weapon design system, which China could use to develop a competitive advanced defense system, saving millions of dollars, years of research and development – and pose a threat to America. The Pfizer and Moderna vaccine patents are “non-competing” data, but they would not be shared with anyone.

Cyberspace has been called the fifth realm: earth, air, water, space, and now cyberspace, for which the United States created Cyber ​​Command, the Pentagon’s offensive cyber force that Donald Trump elevated in 2017 to a command. separate unified military to strengthen operations in cyberspace. .

America, like India and other technologically advanced countries, has become a nation of data. Data gives us power, but it creates vulnerabilities that the DarkSide and Mumbai attacks gave us a taste of. Who would establish the new world order in the digital age? Techno-autocratic nations like China and Russia, or the democratic nations of the world, the United States, Japan, India and others?

Narain Batra, of Hartford, is a columnist for The Times of India, author of The First Freedoms and America’s Culture of Innovation, and professor of communication and diplomacy at the University of Norwich.


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