Cyber-Security: There’s No Disputin’ that Old Vlad Putin
Recently we’ve heard a lot of loose talk about how the November election was “hacked” by the Russians. If one Googles “election,” “hack,” and “Russians” without quotation marks, one is liable to get 20,100,000 hits. So, the president ordered up an investigation, and our intelligence agencies have assured us that there is “no evidence” that vote tallies were affected. These are the same agencies that assured us that the existence of WMD in Iraq was a “slam dunk.”
But Russian hacks of the Democratic National Committee’s computer and John Podesta’s email account are insignificant when compared to other targets of cyberattacks, such as those against our electric grid, banking, hospitals, and so on. In “Cyberattacks Against the US Government Up 1,300% Since 2006” on June 22 last year at The Fiscal Times, Suman Bhattacharyya wrote:
Eighteen agencies identified as having “high-impact systems” -- those that hold information that, if lost, could cause “catastrophic harm” to individuals, the government or the country -- said that cyberattacks from other nations (think China and Russia, for example) are the most serious and most common threat they see. Phishing was the most frequent type of attack, and email was the most frequent vehicle. “During fiscal year 2014, 11 of the 18 agencies reported 2,267 incidents affecting their high-impact systems, with almost 500 of the incidents involving the installation of malicious code,” the report says.
If that’s not enough to disturb your serenity, then consider Rebecca Smith’s “Cyberattacks Raise Alarm for U.S. Power Grid” in The Wall Street Journal on Dec. 30. Or look at this Cyber Timeline put out by Nato Review magazine all the way back in 2013. Here are monthly timelines for cyberattacks at Hackmageddon. Another day, another hack attack, what’s the big deal.
It’s been said that for someone with a hammer, everything looks like a nail. If that human frailty can also apply to fixing our cybersecurity, then to an encryption expert everything may look like it needs to be encrypted. Perhaps we need to try and think “outside the box.” I mydamnself took a stab at that last year with regards to hacking elections. Although the idea I floated was by no means a complete solution to insuring election integrity, I think it’s worth considering. It involves a “physical” wall to hacking.
(By the way, if you’re interested in hacking, you might try the fourth Lisbeth Salander novel, The Girl in the Spider’s Web (2015) by David Lagercrantz. In it, the NSA is hacked. I also mention it because I ran across a familiar name in Chapter 16 (p. 210): “It was a sophisticated RSA encryption, named after the originators Rivest, Shamir, and Adleman.” I had quoted MIT guy Ron Rivest in my article, and subsequently had a few email exchanges with him. Here’s a bit about RSA encryption; seems rather cryptic.)
Clearly, America -- her government, her businesses, and her people -- is under siege by computer-savvy malefactors, which include governments, terrorists, criminal gangs, and individuals, even precocious kids. Even so, mainstream media hacks have spun the recent revelations for politics. If you want a more measured assessment from a non-hack, here’s Sean Hannity’s Jan. 6 monologue.
If Hillary had won the election would we even be discussing these cybersecurity threats? It’s nice that Mr. Obama is throwing some attention on this vital national issue, even if it’s at the end of his presidency. But he had no problem with his Sec. of State operating a private server for four years. And not only that, other State Department functionaries knew about it and did nothing. Obama seems to want to hold old Vladimir Putin to a higher standard than his own employees.
Because America is so vulnerable to cyberattack, president-elect Trump should reopen the investigation into Mrs. Clinton’s server-email scandal. For the sake of appearance, Trump should hand this off to his A.G. or special prosecutor, and then have nothing else to do with it. But it is necessary to show that in America no one is above the law, not even a former First Lady. It would be an “object lesson.” After Mrs. Clinton goes through the judicial system, President Trump could pardon her if she showed sufficient contrition.
Jon N. Hall is a programmer/analyst from Kansas City.