Austin Bay

A reliable system passing accurate locations and weapons effects data would greatly lower the risk of "friendly fire" striking friendly units. However, can cyber security protecting such a complex "battlefield wi-fi" fend off enemy hackers employing armies of digital worms and Trojan horses?

"App mania" (use of computer applications in digital devices) afflicts every community on the planet with a cell tower and Internet connection. People download billions of applications each year. Despite antivirus software, each download risks viral infection. According to thetechherald.com, in September 2009 the Zeus Trojan "family of Malware" infected 3.6 million personal computers in the U.S., and Zeus viruses target "banking related information."

A calculated cyber-attack that disrupts or destroys the civilian Internet would have immense financial consequences. Disrupting military digital communications and targeting systems at a critical moment in war could be catastrophic.

Cyber-security experts I have interviewed on background tell me they fear that America's ability to protect its digital systems from cyber-assault has deteriorated, despite spending hundreds of billions for digital defense (to include "hard defense" like protected cabling for fiber optics networks and sophisticated firewalls).

There are a number of reasons. China and other potential adversaries employ cyber-warfare battalions -- the hackers' techniques have improved. Modern software itself is complex and sometimes difficult to troubleshoot. Constant patching and updating creates vulnerabilities. Attacks can also be launched from inside an organization, by a "cyber-saboteur." Defense and intelligence agencies take the cyber-traitor scenario quite seriously.

Last month, the Obama administration appointed Howard Schmidt as "cyber-czar." Schmidt has an impressive resume, with civilian and governmental cyber-security experience. His portfolio could extend through all federal civilian, intelligence and military agencies -- and perhaps it should. He will coordinate both Pentagon and Homeland Security cyber-operations.

Schmidt must use his clout to develop new security tools and systems that will protect America's digital devices and networks. The challenge, however, is immense. The Center for Strategic and International Studies report "Securing Cyberspace for the 44th Presidency" (dated December 2008) said the U.S. needs a "comprehensive national security strategy for cyber-space." Achieving that goal should be on Schmidt's agenda.


Austin Bay

Austin Bay is the author of three novels. His third novel, The Wrong Side of Brightness, was published by Putnam/Jove in June 2003. He has also co-authored four non-fiction books, to include A Quick and Dirty Guide to War: Third Edition (with James Dunnigan, Morrow, 1996).
 
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