Cyber-Defenses Wont Compromise Privacy

By Wayne Rash  |  Posted 2011-07-15 Print this article Print

In his speech, Lynn is, in effect, acknowledging that the DOD and the country's top cyber cop, the National Security Agency, can't possibly monitor all the traffic that passes through networks in the U.S., but that it can watch for patterns of activities that can signal cyber-attacks. By analyzing these attacks, the company being attacked can, not only prevent the attack from proceeding, but it can also prevent future attacks.

While it's not clear just how widespread the DIB Cyber Pilot program is, certainly, it's already in use and meeting with some success. It's also clearly not intended (or even able) to monitor individual communications. This, of course, makes a great deal of sense. Preventing an area-wide power-grid collapse, preventing interference with rail transportation or air-traffic control involves no personal data at all. But such an attack could cripple the U.S.

Perhaps you remember early in the summer of 2011 when the computer booking systems at two major airlines went offline and created chaos for days for travelers around the world. While there's no public indication that these computer outages were the work of cyber-attackers, think of what might happen if attackers were to take out the operations systems of several major airlines.

Or think what might happen if someone took out the air-traffic control system in the U.S. The entire civil aviation industry in the U.S. would be grounded, and even military flights (which depend on civilian controllers on most cases) would be seriously compromised.

A similar attack on the computerized control centers for major railroads would stall freight delivery across the U.S. An attack on the power-grid control systems could cause broad regional power outages. Pair these with some other type of attack, and these systems could be down for many hours or days. What's worse is that the computer systems that manage power grids, railroad dispatching or airline bookings were never designed to withstand a cyber-attack. They're only now being updated to include security in their designs.

The real concern shouldn't be about an intrusion into private life by the military, but rather how your private life can be protected from cyber-attacks as it is from physical attacks. This is clearly a function for which the military is well suited, as is the NSA.  


Wayne Rash Wayne Rash is a Senior Analyst for eWEEK Labs and runs the magazineÔÇÖs Washington Bureau. Prior to joining eWEEK as a Senior Writer on wireless technology, he was a Senior Contributing Editor and previously a Senior Analyst in the InfoWorld Test Center. He was also a reviewer for Federal Computer Week and Information Security Magazine. Previously, he ran the reviews and events departments at CMP's InternetWeek.

He is a retired naval officer, a former principal at American Management Systems and a long-time columnist for Byte Magazine. He is a regular contributor to Plane & Pilot Magazine and The Washington Post.

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