Analysis & Opinions - The National Interest

War From Cyberspace

| Oct. 27, 2009

The United States thinks that its cyber warriors are the best at offense, with the capability of shutting down enemy air defenses, electric-power grids, rail systems and telephony. The United States has probably already penetrated many such networks and laced them with trap doors (ways to get back in easily) and logic bombs (software that would wipe out everything on a network).

Such offensive prowess does nothing to defend our own networks from similar attacks, however, and the current U.S. defense systems protect only parts of the federal government, and not civilian or private-sector infrastructure. No nation is as dependent on cyber systems and networks for the operation of its infrastructure, economy and military as the United States. Yet, few national governments have less control over what goes on in its cyberspace than Washington. And these major lapses in our defense present a threat we ignore at extremely high cost.

The possibility of an electric-power grid being hit by a cyber attack is less far-fetched than one might think. A CIA official has admitted that at least one blackout outside the United States was already caused by a cyber attack. An Energy Department laboratory determined that a cyber attack from the Internet could weave its way into the digital control system of a generator and cause the device to self-destruct. Officials have privately confirmed media accounts that logic bombs have already been placed in America's power-grid control systems, presumably by foreign cyber warriors.

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For more information on this publication: Belfer Communications Office
For Academic Citation: Clarke, Richard.“War From Cyberspace.” The National Interest, October 27, 2009.

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