Cyber warriors “attack” the Internet of Things

Author: Ricardo Tavares
Published: 2015-04-04

Everything is becoming connected over the Internet. In developed countries, most critical infrastructure is already connected or will be connected soon. Internet Protocol (IP) enables remote management and this exponentially increases productivity and lowers costs. The downside to these benefits is increasing vulnerability to cyber-security breaches. Cyber criminals have created new business models (for example the spam botnets driving illegal sales of pharmaceuticals) to take advantage of the opportunities provided by the Internet. This is well document in Brian Krebs 2014 book Spam Nation. And nation states’ security forces have leveraged Internet capabilities to spy on, and even attack, perceived enemies, increasingly causing physical damage to their targets.

This has led traditional Cold War experts to look into cyberspace. Henry Kissinger’s latest book, World Order (2014), includes a small but important chapter on the Internet of Things and cyber security (20 of the book’s 420 pages). Kissinger writes in World Order: “With the number of devices connected to the Internet now roughly ten billion and projected to rise to fifty billion by 2020, an ‘Internet of Things’ or an ‘Internet of Everything’ looms.” He highlights the new vulnerabilities of modern societies to cyber warfare, but falls short of recommending keeping societies isolated from connectivity to maintain security.

Richard Clarke, a White House veteran who drifted into cyber security over the years, becoming Bill Clinton’s point person on the issue of protecting “critical infrastructure,” is not so shy. In his best-selling book Cyber War (2010), Clarke criticizes President Barrack Obama for encouraging Smart Grids in the US: “Unfortunately, President Obama’s ‘Smart Grid’ initiative will cause the electric grid to become even more wired, even more dependent upon computer network technology.” And for him this is bad news as he contends this provides a window of opportunity to Chinese, Russian or even North Korean hackers who could switch off the US power supply.

The challenges Kissinger and Clarke identify are true. In essence, they see the Internet as an inherently unsafe network. Ironically, the Internet is one of the products of the Cold War: a decentralized network of networks designed to survive a devastating nuclear attack and continue communicating, not necessarily in the most secure manner. It turned out to be far more successful than anybody could have envisioned at its inception, but its decentralized nature prevents an easy establishment of “order.”

Cyber warriors are deeply uncomfortable with the Internet. They know how offensive capabilities can be built, but struggle to see how to protect their governments, businesses and civilian populations from attack. Hence, they are on the “attack” against the expansion of the Internet of Things.

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