January 27, 2012

U.S. Military Plans Army Of “Cyber Warriors”

At a London conference this week that brought together military experts on cyber security from around the world, U.S. Army Lieutenant General Rhett Hernandez spoke of plans to create a “world-class cyber warrior force.” Its purpose, he stated, would be to create a task force of some 10,000 “cyber warriors” to challenge the “growing, evolving and sophisticated” threats to cyber security.

Reporters from the BBC current events program Newsnight were invited to report on the military conference.

According to Newsnight, the Army said it was prepared to bend its usual rules on physical condition and appearance for new recruits. In the realm of cyber prowess, however, slackers would not be tolerated. Members of the hand-picked unit would comprise a “trusted and disciplined” group of “professional elites,” Lt. Gen. Hernandez was quoted as saying.

With the cyber world rapidly becoming integrated into every aspect of life on an increasingly larger scale, Hernandez stated that recruits would be rigorously trained and prepared for a variety of contingencies, from threats to the financial sector or security agencies to attacks on power grids and water supplies.

But according to John Bumgarner, an experienced hacker at the US Cyber Consequences Unit and an 18-year veteran in the intelligence community, the U.S. doesn´t plan to go at it alone.

He explained to Newsnight that he believed the UN needed to start thinking about a forming a joint program for keeping the peace in cyberspace on an international scale.

“We´ve seen cyber incidents between Russia and Georgia, and that´s ongoing. We´ve seen incidents between Pakistan and India and that´s ongoing. We´ve seen stuff between China and India [...] between Israel and other Middle Eastern states,” Bumgarner said.

“The UN needs to figure out how they can deploy peace keepers in the digital borders of a nation, virtual peacekeepers that would protect the peace.”

And London-based attorney Stewart Room, international expert on the jurisprudence of data security, believes that such protection needs to be extended to private Internet corporations in particular. He says companies like Google, Facebook and Twitter should get be protected not punished when they´ve been the target of cyber attacks.

By granting these companies amnesty rather than prosecuting them, Room believes that they would be encouraged to candidly discuss their security issues and work towards mutually beneficial solutions.

When questioned about the current status of personal data security between businesses and customers, Mr. Bumgarner expressed cynicism, stating that web users believe in the security of their data with “blind faith.”

“Really, when you give your information out as a private citizen to a corporation, you´re praying that that corporation will protect your data [...] as much as possible, but they can only do so much,” he told Newsnight.

In the Republican primaries this week, former Speaker of the House and presidential hopeful Newt Gingrich has been trumpeting the issue of cyberwarfare. With security-related issues of all sorts inevitably topping lists of campaigning politicians´ favorite topics, Gingrich reportedly stated that the government should respond to hack-attacks on corporations or state information systems with harsh retaliation, “creat[ing] a level of pain which teaches people not to do it.”

Not everyone, however, believes that the cyber threat is quite as ominous and imminent as politicians and other governments insiders tend to portray it.

Candidly contradicting the exaggerated sense of threat conveyed by his colleagues, Major General Jonathan Shaw of Britain´s Cyber Policy at the Ministry of Defense cautioned the assembled audience against overreacting to cyber threats, whether perceived or real.

“We once thought of AIDS as an existential threat, now we live with it,” he said.

“Our reaction today is similarly out of balance,” he added. “We´re never going to cure it, we have to live with it [“¦] But how much intellectual property will we have left by the time we get it right?”

The question couldn´t be more relevant. And judging by the massive online protests unleashed in the U.S. last week in opposition to web-freedom-curtailing bills SOPA and PIPA, the American public has a conception of the proper balance between Internet freedom and intellectual property that differs markedly from that of most Washington insiders.


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