WASHINGTON – There is cyberwar going on over cyberhype.
After years of government warnings about a “cyber Pearl Harbor,” some people took one look at the Defense Department’s cyberstrategy released this month and began dismissing the cyberhype as useless, vague and misdirected.
The real threat, they say, is not the possibility of cyberwarfare shutting down the entire electric grid or taking out NORAD's valued Santa Claus tracker. It is the existing problem of cybercrime that Danger Room Editor Noah Shachtman likened to modern-day piracy, in a column this weekend.
“The scare talk … is misplaced,” he said.
The phrase “cyber hype” is not new – here it is mentioned in 2011, in 2009 and way back in 2002 -- but as long as the federal government remains painfully vague about what cyber can do to stop alleged cyberthreats – including attack them before they reach U.S. cyberboundaries, there will be all kinds of skeptics.
Industry groups, who mostly want to keep federal hands out of their code, called DOD’s plan of attack “ineffective at best,” and said it “could potentially weaken” some businesses.
Even Vice Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. James Cartwright pre-empted DOD’s strategy rollout by a few hours when he called U.S. cyberdefenses “way too predictable” and advocated for more cyberweapons that can attack hackers.
It’s unlikely the Pentagon ever will opt to do less about cyberthreats. And that’s not what it appears many critics want. They’re just carefully eyeing what DOD says it plans to do at all.
Meanwhile, the opposite ends of Pennsylvania Avenue still are arguing. Congress wants to exert at least some semblance of oversight over the cyber Temple of Doom, while the White House and Pentagon this year have said they have all the authorities they need – for now.
In the latest pushback piece, Susan Crawford, Cardozo School of Law professor, in Bloomberg View, bemoans Congress for “the drumbeat in support of government monitoring and control over private networks,” led by Sens. Susan Collins, R-Maine, and Joe Lieberman, I-Conn., under the guise of security. But she gives credit to White House cybersecurity coordinator Howard Schmidt, because he “doesn’t buy the hype.”
The real threats may be much more analog. Like when the West Wing lost all e-mail connectivity for hours one day this February because of an off-target tree-trimmer.
“A single, careless scissor snip had compromised the center of the most powerful government in the world,” Crawford said.
On Monday, the Pentagon unveiled an entire Web site to highlight its cyberspace operations, which face "more destructive" threats each day.
Finding real security, Crawford said, may require, “calmer approaches.”