Most of what we do as a nation—our banking and finance, our electrical power, our telecommunications, our defense, our transportation systems—depend upon computers and computer-controlled systems. By definition, such systems are potentially vulnerable to destruction through new cracker tools and techniques.”
A response to the info-war aspects of the World Trade Center attacks? No, the above quote came in a speech before the American Bar Association in 1998. But while the timing of the speech came years before the WTC attacks, the message and the person providing that message remain as current as this weeks news. Richard Clarke, the speaker before the bar association in 1998 and currently the head of U.S. cyberspace security, last week called on high-tech companies to help build a supersecure GovNet.
The idea behind GovNet is to create a secure networking infrastructure independent of the Internet and impenetrable to the hackers, crackers and digital terrorists of our interconnected world. While Clarke has been issuing warnings of cyber-war since at least the Reagan administration, now is the time for people to pay attention.
The last several years saw a huge amount of time, energy, intellect and money being poured into developing the Internet and business associated with the Net. By now, we know that many of those ideas were either too early, too far-fetched or too costly to become a real part of the economic fabric. But it would be a huge mistake to see that brainpower walk away from technology at this critical juncture in the nations history.
Clarkes GovNet suggestion is a good example of where some intellectual capital should be expended. Do we really need another physical network? Or can we take all that unused fiber, new filtering technologies and hardened firewalls and build a subnetwork equal to the most diabolical cyber-hacker? My thought is that we surely can build as tough a network as we need with the tools at hand. But we need a forum where the technological issues and procedural questions can be addressed in a real hands-on atmosphere, rather than in an academic world where theoretical throat clearing can overtake common sense.
That we need to protect our digital assets with the same fervor that we are protecting our physical infrastructure and preparing to defend ourselves from bio or chemical threats is a given. We live in a world of information systems, and we have come to rely on that information being timely, accurate and replaceable.
Last week, Clarke was appointed special adviser to the president on cyberspace security. One of his first messages was a call to the high-tech community for help. The government, through its funding of the aerospace effort and defense projects, gave us the Internet upon which many of our companies are now building their businesses. It seems only fair to help our government in its time of need.