America is at war.
It doesn’t entail “boots on the ground.” Nor deployment of aircraft carriers and stealth bombers and Abrams tanks. Our enemies will not be defeated by cruise missiles or joint direct attack munitions or cannon-fired guided projectiles.
That’s because we’re not in a “hot” war, like the two World Wars, like Korea and Vietnam, like Afghanistan and Iraq. Nor are we in a “cold” war, such as that which we waged with the former Soviet Union over much of the latter half of the previous century.
No, we’re in a cyberwar. And it took the state-sponsored computer hacking attack on Sony Pictures to thrust this digital-age conflict into the consciousness of the American people.
It’s not that most of us knew nothing about hacking. Indeed, it seems that hardly a week goes by without the revelation that customers of some company or another have had information stolen.
But the Sony hack is different. It’s not driven by avarice. And the culprits are not some online band of Merry Pranksters who delight in infiltrating supposedly secure computer networks.
No, this hack is the work of the North Korean government, which was not amused by Sony’s planned release this month of an inane new film – “The Interview” – about a U.S.-sponsored assassination attempt on leader Kim Jong Un.
That Pyongyang took offense to the motion picture was both predictable and understandable. Indeed, even those of us who are not fans of Barack Obama would take umbrage if some foreign filmmaker released a movie jokingly depicting an assassination attempt on our president.
But the North Koreans have taken their offense, their umbrage to a level on a par with the Austro-Hungarian response to the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand, which set off World War I.
Not only have Pyongyang’s state-sponsored hackers infiltrated Sony’s computer system, publicly releasing thousands of confidential emails, not to mention proprietary documents, they’ve also gone so far as to threaten terror attacks against U.S. theaters that dared to screen “The Interview.”
Rather than risk further wrath from North Korea, Sony this week bowed to the threats. And, in so doing, the studio almost certainly encouraged state-sponsored hacking against U.S. businesses and institutions.
Indeed, not only do our enemies in Pyongyang have a hacking infrastructure capable of bringing a company like Sony to its knees, our rivals in Beijing and Moscow boast similar capabilities.
Just last month, in fact, the Department of Homeland Security confirmed that a “Trojan Horse” malware program, the work of hackers sponsored by the Russian government, had been inserted in software that controls much of this nation’s most critical infrastructure.
According to ABC News, that includes “oil and gas pipelines, power transmission grids, water distribution and filtration systems, wind turbines and even some nuclear plants.”
In October, the FBI said that hackers backed by the Chinese government were targeting U.S. makers of microchips, computer networking equipment and data storage systems. And, in May, the U.S. government indicted in absentia five Chinese military officials on charges of stealing the trade secrets of U.S. companies.
State-sponsored cyberattacks are tantamount to acts of war. And those attacks will continue unless the U.S. takes them far more seriously than it has until North Korea turned its reported hacker army on Sony.
If America was in a conventional war, we would bring to bear our vast military arsenal to rout our enemies. But we’re in a cyberwar and that requires entirely different tactics.
What we need is an army of hackers that can effectively counter the North Koreans, Russians and Chinese. We also should be first to develop an electromagnetic pulse weapon as a warning to unfriendly nations that, if they sow the wind, they will reap the whirlwind.