America cybersecurity: Are we falling behind?

America cybersecurity: Are we falling behind?

By Ellen Ratner   
"Second place might as well be last place,," Air Force Lt. Gen. VeraLinn Jamieson said last week, referring to the U.S. lagging behind other superpowers when it comes to artificial intelligence.(File photo: Staff Sgt. Laura R. McFarlane/U.S. Air Force)

David Sanger, a well-known New York Times reporter, has just written a well-researched book on cybersecurity entitled “The Perfect Weapon: War, Sabotage, and Fear in the Cyber Age.”

We know attempts were made to hack into our 2016 elections. The CIA has been trying to influence elections in other countries at least since President Eisenhower. However they may not be up to speed in this era of cyber warfare. Last week, Talk Media News reported on two issues related to cyber warfare. One was what Sen. Claire McCaskill (D-Mo.) said, and the other was from a top official in the Air Force.

Talk Media News’ Bryan Renbaum reported:

Sen. Claire McCaskill is pledging to hold Russia accountable following the publication of a report that said Russian hackers attempted to target her Senate computer network. She said on Thursday, “While this attack was not successful, it is outrageous that they think they can get away with this. I will not be intimidated. I’ve said it before and I will say it again, Putin is a thug and a bully.”

The Daily Beast reported Thursday that the GRU, Russia’s largest foreign intelligence agency, attempted to breach the senator’s computer network last August. The Daily Beast conducted a forensic analysis of Microsoft records that were made public in court proceedings.

The attack involved attempts to steal passwords vis-a-vis fraudulent emails and notifications to staffers, according to the Daily Beast.

Also, Talk Media News’ Tom Squitieri reported last week:

A top Air Force intelligence official added her voice of concern to the chorus warning that the U.S. needs to act now to avoid falling behind adversaries in the race to achieve prowess in artificial intelligence.

“The forerunners (in artificial intelligence superiority) will be in control of tools that will analyze more information in more ways than we ever thought possible,” Lt. Gen. VeraLinn Jamieson, deputy chief of staff for intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance, said at an Air Force Association event Thursday. “Second place might as well be last place.”

Jamieson underscored a mantra increasingly sounded by military leaders this year – that the U.S. focus on fighting terrorism has sidetracked other needed military developments such as artificial intelligence. That has permitted major adversaries Russia and China to catch up and, in some cases, take the lead in some technological areas, she and others have said.

Jamieson said the Pentagon must shift from focusing on a manpower-intensive force to a more rapid, agile machine-learning-intensive force.

The Air Force has started efforts to move forward on AI development and to integrate new analytics with existing ways of doing things. Most notably, it established the Kessel Run Experimentation Lab, a group of industry and service personnel in Boston that concentrates on new capabilities for air operations centers. Now the Air Force must up the pace of finding and hiring software talent to move quicker to catch up to adversaries, officials said.

So, the U.S. is clearly behind China and Russia in cyber warfare. In “The Perfect Weapon,” Sanger goes back to the Blitz of London during WWII. He says we have not seen the equivalent of the Blitz in the cyber world and the current damages are limited.

Sanger states, “Yet we clearly are not prepared for the day when each American action in cyberspace triggers an escalating response.” He says in the nuclear era, “deterrence worked well” and suggests the first step is to “recognize the folly of going on offense unless we have a good defense.” Sanger also suggests we let other nations know some things are “off limits” and says we need a playbook for responding to attacks. He recommends America convene a “cyber action group” since there is not much mystery left – our adversaries have a pretty complete picture of “how the United States breaks into the darkest corners of cyberspace.”

As David Sanger said so eloquently, “We are living in a gray zone, one of constant digital conflict … to survive it, we must make some fundamental decisions.” Sanger says we made those fundamental decisions before and after the invention of the airplane and the atomic bomb.

If we are to protect ourselves and our citizens, then we must do what Jamieson of the Air Force suggested last week. We need to up the pace of finding and hiring software talent to move quicker to catch up to our adversaries.

We know who the adversaries are. Now let’s put our resources where we need them.

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