Tuesday, December 9, 2008

China winning Cyberwar

According to the Guardian, Telegraph, and other sources, China is currently engaged in, and winning, a Cyberwar against the United States. Not only is China allegedly targeting US industrial and commercial capacity, committing corporate espionage and undermining US businesses, but it is also already in position to disrupt deployment of high-tech US troops. Given China's laggard deployment of high-end military technology itself, this superiority in the area of hacking is intended as a bulwark against our otherwise superior deployment capabilities. If the Chinese can interrupt our military networks, they can use this technique to prevent us from deploying rapidly, or to throw our deployments into chaos by sending incorrect orders and generaly causing problems in our command and control structures.

As someone generally opposed to war in all but the most extreme of circumstances, I am not particularly excited about the idea of a war with China to begin with, but this situation would make it far worse by giving China's conventional forces an opportunity to make use of their superior numbers by decreasing our technical advantages. Russia is said to be pursing a similar strategy. What the US needs to do, and this is true whether or not the military finally gets its act together and does a far better job of (understanding and) securing its networks, is to take seriously cyberwar and cybercrime and put money into training, deploying, and supporting our own cyberwarriors and cybercops. This, much like cleanup of the environment, AI R&D, and R&D into life extension medicine, needs a Manhattan Project or Space Program style investment in order to really achieve its goals.

We should be concerned that China and Russia targeting our military computing systems, but we should be just as concerned that gangs (and especially Chinese and Russian ones, allegedly in collusion with their militaries) are targeting our online economic and business activity. The losses from cybercrime are estimated at around $240 Million, which while a drop in the bucket compared to bailing out Wall Street, is still significant criminal activity. The US, Europe and Japan need to get their acts together and protect our militaries and economies from being undermined by technologies that we created, and therefore we should be able to exploit just as well as the others.

If we're willing to make engineering and science careers seem fashionable again, rather than promoting only sports and entertainment, we can entice more younger people into those disciplines and generate enough qualified people to attack a variety of problems: cybercrime, environmental issues, health care, and so on. The first big step is, as a society, wanting to do it.

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