America: Be Prepared for Massive Cyber Attack

Imagine a scenario where a person sitting in a small village in far-off China could, ” for example, derail passenger trains or even more dangerous, derail trains loaded with lethal chemicals. They could contaminate the water supply on major cities or shut down the power grid across large parts of the country. The most destructive scenarios involve cyber actors launching several attacks on our critical infrastructure at one time, in combination with a physical attack on our country. Attackers could also seek to disable or degrade critical Military Systems and Communication networks.”
It’s an incredible scenario, one that almost seems fanciful: For the first time in history, computer geeks have the means—if not the motive—to inflict catastrophic damage on an entire nation! And this was the scenario outlined by the then Secretary of Defense Panetta. Today, the situation is still more pitiable.
US claiming to be super-power is unable to protect itself. The United States is being burgled. While Uncle Sam does all he can to board up his home and set the alarm, thieves continue to break in and help themselves to his merchandise. Military and industrial secrets are being hefted at an alarming scale. Thoughts, ideas and identities are also being snatched up in the process.
The hacking of the sites relating to Pentagon and CIA were glossed over and then came the classic case of Sony.
Of course, the thieves aren’t hefting fighter jets in duffel bags or breaking into company offices to snatch paperwork. The thieves are using what continues to prove itself as America’s unlocked door: the cyber-world. And while the cyber-door swings wide for many thieves, the most consistent burglars are the Chinese. It doesn’t have to be government websites. Some of the most lucrative steals are made by targeting companies and subcontractors.
Hacking is routine across the Pacific. While President Barack Obama was quick to call out the North Koreans for breaking into Sony’s e-mails, Chinese fingerprints are often traced in hacks that cost America billions upon billions of dollars in damages and stolen technology and information.
Reports have been released on China’s cyber-espionage, revealing a veritable army of hackers that puts the North Koreans to shame. In one report, over 20 groups were tracked, ranging from a dozen to multiple thousands of hackers per group. These groups even compete with one another for the favor of the Chinese Ministry of State Secrecy. It is from this shady government branch that assignments and targets are allocated, often with multiple groups targeting the one corporation.
And it’s not only government websites targeted. Some of the most lucrative steals are made by targeting companies and subcontractors. A manufacturer or design company is far less prepared for a breach than a government organization. The Department of Defense can protect itself, but what about the companies it uses build and design its weapons? By the time many companies realize they have been robbed of information, the thieves are long gone.
The size and scope of China’s thieving is almost as staggering as the bounty itself. For years the Chinese have carried out cyber attacks aimed at stealing United States’ secrets. In 2013, two dozen major weapons systems were stolen in a single attack. This was one of the largest breaches in American military history. According to reports leaked by Edward Snowden, the Chinese have information on the B-2 Stealth Bomber, the F-22 Raptor, nuclear submarines and missile systems.
Even the identities of U.S. soldiers are stolen. China has tens of thousands of records on U.S. military personnel. China not only steals the weapons’ plans, it can steal or attack even those who operate them!
The designs of an advanced Patriot missile system, an anti-ballistic missile defense system, and the Navy’s Aegis ballistic missile defense system all fell into Chinese hands.
China’s rapidly growing navy may not be nearly as advanced as that of the United States, but its growth has largely come at America’s expense. Plans for the U.S. Navy’s latest littoral combat ships have fallen into Chinese hands. As a result, ensuing Chinese combat ships will likely experience significant upgrades—a great advantage for China in its territorial disputes in and around the South China Sea.
Also carted out by Chinese hackers has been what the Washington Post described as the “backbone of the Pentagon’s regional missile defense for Asia, Europe and the Persian Gulf.” The designs of an advanced Patriot missile system, an anti-ballistic missile defense system, and the Navy’s Aegis ballistic missile defense system have all fallen into Chinese hands.
These missile systems are the first line of defense against the bristling missile systems already established in nations such as China, Russia and Iran. And now China has the blueprints to that shield. They know its strengths—and its vulnerabilities.
In 2007, China got away with the most expensive weapons technology heist in human history: the design for the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter. Estimated to cost the U.S. $1.4 trillion to design and manufacture, the F-35 was supposed to cement U.S. air dominance. And it only cost China the wages of a few hackers to get the designs that took America years to create.
In 2007, China got away with an estimated $1.4 trillion weapons technology heist: the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter, which was supposed to cement U.S. air dominance.China’s new model fighter jets are looking awfully similar to the new F-35. China’s Chengdu J-20 and Shenyang J-31 are textbook examples of Chinese-made, American-influenced weaponry. These thefts undermine America’s military superiority and compromise the security of any nation within China’s considerable sphere of influence. Australia, for instance, plans to buy 72 F-35s. What Prime Minister Tony Abbott has called “a vital contribution to our national security” could now become a vital contribution to Chinese efforts to establish itself as the dominant power bloc in the East and threaten the military might of the West.
The scope widens still. Even in the Middle East, China’s hackers can be found with their hands on other nations’ property. The plans for Israel’s Iron Dome system—its means of protecting itself from missile barrages—have been captured by China. The Chinese are gathering information and technology from all over the globe. These items are not just being fenced to the highest bidder; China is using what it takes.
There are abundant examples of China building weapons that hold a startling similarity to U.S. technologies. Just take a look at the most modern planes on the Chinese tarmacs or ships in the docks. They all have the hallmarks of stolen ideas. But that isn’t the most concerning issue.
What is more dangerous is the likelihood that China is learning how to exploit these technologies. We should not expect China to merely take advantage of the strengths it finds in U.S. weaponry. We must also consider the high likelihood that China will find ways to exploit our weaknesses.
Consider the advanced targeting systems of the F-35. China is no doubt just as interested in working out how to sidestep that system as it is in developing the same. What about the missile defenses of the United States? Surely China doesn’t just want the same technology. Beijing would want systems capable of getting past such barriers. We cannot expect China to merely take advantage of the strengths it finds in U.S. weaponry. We must also consider the likelihood that China is finding ways to exploit the weaknesses.
The Chinese are clearly using what they take. Every stolen secret will be leveraged to China’s gain. Yes, all nations spy on one another. But what we see from China is not the same as, say, the U.S. spying on China.
The U.S. is militarily superior. It has little to gain in technological advancements. Its spying is more to understand what China is doing. China does the same to the United States, but it also learns from the U.S. China piggybacks on American advancements, seizing technology through espionage at a fraction of the cost it takes America to develop in the first place.
It is only a matter of time before these constant attacks are felt outside of the affected corporations and industries that are targeted. China—empowered with U.S. weaponry—constitutes a major threat to the Western world. Yet few accept or acknowledge the hits being made on the cyber-battlefield and their dramatic correlation to a coming physical battlefield!
Hacking is itself a declaration of war and can bring deadly results. But the acquisition of plans for advanced weaponry increases the threat posed by enemies of the West. Being an American used to be fun, easy and safe. Not anymore. Today every American faces danger and uncertainty on every side: The nation’s debt (public and private) is fatally high, millions upon millions are out of work, the cost of living is ever rising, racial and social tensions are intensifying. Meanwhile, much of the rest of the world, including powerful players like China, Russia, Iran, al Qaeda and its radical Islamist allies, resent and even despise the U.S. and are actively working to bring it down.
And these are only the dangers American’s are somewhat cognizant of. There is a whole host of other fatal threats, ones we don’t often read about or see on CNN.
Speaking to business leaders in New York City , Leon Panetta, the then U.S. Secretary of Defense, delivered a dramatic warning about one of the less publicized dangers creeping up on America: Cyber-warfare. During his speech Panetta drew attention to some recent cyber-attacks on U.S. financial institutions. The tactics used by the attackers weren’t new, he explained, but “ the scale and speed with which it happened was unprecedented”. The potential for cyber-attacks to inflict damage on a large scale is quickly increasing, he explained, and a “cyber-attack perpetrated by nation states or violent extremists groups could be as destructive as the terrorist attack on 9/11.”
Panetta described a recent cyber assault on a Saudi Arabian state-run oil company that destroyed 30,000 computers. A few days later a similarly destructive and expensive attack occurred against RasGas, an Qatar-based energy company. “Imagine the impact an attack like that would have on your company or your business,” he said.
But the threat posed to U.S. businesses and institutions and the people they serve is only half the story. Panetta continued: “We know that foreign cyber actors are probing America’s critical infrastructure networks. They are targeting the computer control systems that operate chemical, electricity and water plants and those that guide transportation throughout this country…. We also know that they are seeking to create advanced tools to attack these systems and cause panic and destruction and even the loss of life.”
Remember, this was the U.S. Secretary of Defense. And if he says so, there is cause to worry. Panetta then delivered a script that would make Steven Spielberg salivate: :Let me explain how this could unfold. An aggressor nation or extremist group could use these kinds of cyber tools to gain control of critical switches. They could, for example, derail passenger trains or even more dangerous, derail trains loaded with lethal chemicals. They could contaminate the water supply on major cities or shut down the power grid across large parts of the country. The most destructive scenarios involve cyber actors launching several attacks on our critical infrastructure at one time, in combination with a physical attack on our country. Attackers could also seek to disable or degrade critical Military Systems and Communication networks.”
It’s an incredible scenario, one that almost seems fanciful: For the first time in history, computer geeks have the means—if not the motive—to inflict catastrophic damage on an entire nation! Panetta concluded his scenario with a stark and dramatic warning, one that hasn’t received nearly the attention it commands: “The collective result of these kinds of attacks could be a Cyber Pearl Harbor; an attack that would cause physical destruction and the loss of life. In fact, it would paralyze and shock the nation and create a new, profound sense of vulnerability.”
America is likely to be a victim of massive cyber attack. An attack so deadly it destroys vital U.S. infrastructure, making it impossible to muster the military and sustain trade and commerce, and ultimately thrusting the nation into chaos and anarchy? Twenty years ago such a scenario would have been surreal, impossible, the plot line of an epic science fiction movie. Yet here we are in 2015 visualizing seriously and candidly about the potential of a catastrophic cyber attack on the United States. Gone are the days when it was fun and easy being American.

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