The West "will lose" the cyber war
April 20th, 2012
12:51 PM ET

The West "will lose" the cyber war

By Jill Dougherty

On April 27, 2007, the tiny Baltic nation of Estonia - one of the most wired countries in the world - was hit with a massive cyberattack. Websites for banks, government ministries, newspapers, Parliament and media outlets were paralyzed, swamped by a distributed denial of service attack.

"We were frankly shocked when this happened," said Estonian President Toomas Hendrik Ilves. "Botnets attacked all aspects of society."

He contends it was "political act" in which Russia, angered over Estonia's decision to move a Soviet-era statue dedicated to a World War II Russian soldier in Tallinn, tried to shut down the country. Russia has always denied the charge.

But as bad as the attack on Estonia was, the next generation of cyberattacks could be much worse, Ilves said in a speech this month on "E-Governance and Cyber-Security" at Washington's Center for Strategic and International Studies. Distributed denial of service attacks are so "yesterday," he said. "... We can get around them."

Today, he warns, a new and more dangerous world of virus attacks threatens developed Western countries. "It's beginning to look ugly, and very ugly," he said.

These new viruses target the very DNA of modern life: SCADA (supervisory control and data acquisition) computer systems that monitor and control industrial processes, infrastructure like water purification, oil and gas pipelines, electrical power transmission, even supermarkets and cars.

"Our focus is too much on the military side of this," Ilves warns, "but, as someone once said, 'It's the economy, stupid.'"

Cyberattacks like these can be launched by countries as a form of warfare, with hired criminal gangs playing the role of armies carrying out the attack.

"It's not just students in dormitories in Beijing," Ilves said. "You can rent them and target someone."

The Estonian president says it's the intellectual property of Western countries that is being targeted, "the stuff that makes advanced Western societies function."

But the "bad guys" have an advantage over governments. In some countries there is no distinction between public and private. In others, the government utilizes what Ilves refers to as "public/private partnerships:" enlisting criminal cyber gangs in the service of the state.

In most Western countries there is a bright line separating public and private. "That Western model doesn't work anymore," Ilves stated, "and if it continues we're going to lose."

He believes it crucial for Western countries to "rethink" how they defend against that threat while, at the same time, maintaining that firewall. But most countries can't afford to hire all the people needed to do that. "All the geniuses in Silicon Valley" he said, "earn millions."

So, in addition to its own military and government information technology defenses, Estonia has created a "cyber National Guard" - approximately 100 volunteer "white-hatted hackers" he said - from start-ups and established IT businesses in the country who spend a certain amount of time, for free, protecting the country from cyberattacks.

"Making a lot of money becomes boring after a while," he laughed.

Cyberattacks are no laughing matter for NATO, which Estonia joined in 2004. NATO has a cyberdefense research center in Tallinn.

Ilves said NATO needs to get moving on the threat. "It's flagging," he said. "Too many in NATO are in the 'so-what?' phase."

Cuts in defense spending are hurting, too, he says, and so is the "intelligence" model of dealing with threats.

"Cyberattacks will come from outside your borders and you need to cooperate with your allies," he said. Too often, however, NATO's members, as well as member nations of the European Union, he said, "don't talk with each other."

There's no time to lose, Ilves warned. "Cyberattacks will change dramatically our thinking about war and warfare."

soundoff (29 Responses)
  1. seo tools

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    March 2, 2013 at 11:20 am | Reply
  2. Jason Kendle

    I had no idea this was the insane extremist chat room.
    You crazy people are boring me!

    April 23, 2012 at 12:44 pm | Reply
  3. Osiris

    And israel will triumph in this new warzone
    What stupid Americans seem not to understand, is that Jews are chosen people.

    We will reap the rewards of our faithful service to Yahweh.

    The goyim of this world should be happy to fight over the scraps that we Jews throw from table.

    Israel will reign supreme over earth, and anybody challenging that assertion will be conquered, with the help of US military.

    You people may not like us Jews, but you WILL learn to fear us.

    If a few of you must die to save a few of us....that's a bargain I can live with. Your own nations agree with me on this.

    Your sacrafices are necessary to ensure the survival of the only democracy in the middle east. Be happy.

    Long may Israel reign.

    April 22, 2012 at 9:54 pm | Reply
    • Jason Kendle

      I have nothing against Jews, but I sure will not learn to fear them you crazy SOB!

      April 23, 2012 at 12:41 pm | Reply
    • J

      Muslim trolling at its finest. You're pouring it on a little thick there, Habib.

      April 25, 2012 at 7:26 pm | Reply
  4. J

    It might be typical of smaller countries to believe that the West is incapable of defense along the lines of cyber secuity and even the potential of cyber "warfare". That, though, is a highly divisive belief. There exists more than enough proof that Western systems are defensible. Working anti-hack programs are effectively preventing severe damage to computers using the Internet, and, except for a few PC virus attacks, to mainline systems involving immense amounts of consumer data, for instance.

    April 22, 2012 at 2:37 am | Reply
    • J

      You completely missed an important angle of the article which, incidentally, provides an example of the ignorance and thus vulnerability in the economic sector's wired realm. Many of these systems are not connected to the internet, so the article points out how traditional sneaker nets can be used to infiltrate systems conceptually ruled as impervious to internet attack. And then of course there is espionage.

      Anyway, I think that overall this is really a good chance for America to look at the Department of Homeland Security and analyze how they are wasting millions protecting us from non-threats, meanwhile our collective infrastructure sits like a golden egg to be crushed or stolen.

      April 22, 2012 at 1:01 pm | Reply
  5. why we fight

    in the bible it says new disease will kill many.are these the computer viruses that hackers use?maybe we should all go back to a life of 70 years ago because as an american if things dont change we are going to be there soon enough.

    April 22, 2012 at 12:42 am | Reply
    • Fatty

      The computer is convenient, but not absolutely necessary, in fact, they waste more time than they save.

      April 22, 2012 at 12:00 pm | Reply
  6. The R.O.T.P.

    indigence is what they have....the jew shall serve the arab..

    April 22, 2012 at 12:10 am | Reply
  7. The R.O.T.P.

    they can't fight back.....

    April 22, 2012 at 12:09 am | Reply
  8. The R.O.T.P.

    jews chosen for destruction... once again..

    April 21, 2012 at 11:58 pm | Reply
  9. Rabbi

    What stupid Americans seem not to understand, is that Jews are chosen people.

    We will reap the rewards of our faithful service to Yahweh.

    The goyim of this world should be happy to fight over the scraps that we Jews throw from table.

    Israel will reign supreme over earth, and anybody challenging that assertion will be conquered, with the help of US military.

    You people may not like us Jews, but you WILL learn to fear us.

    If a few of you must die to save a few of us....that's a bargain I can live with. Your own nations agree with me on this.

    Long may Israel reign.

    April 21, 2012 at 11:26 pm | Reply
    • why we fight

      hey thankx for your appreciation as we fought in ww2 to save people like your ancestors from nazi tyrrany.gave you back the holy land and jerusalem so go speak as you want but people like you create world tyranny and the us,nato & the rest of the world have to come back and save you again.only thing i can say is if something bad happens then we all go out of the spotlight together. so good luck my selfish one.

      April 22, 2012 at 12:57 am | Reply
    • Jason Kendle

      Still Not Afraid of Jews. Keep trying though....

      April 23, 2012 at 12:42 pm | Reply
  10. willy idol

    just watch the movie escape from LA, you will get the picture, thanks alot hollywood for spoiling it.

    April 21, 2012 at 10:06 pm | Reply
  11. matt in NW

    China has massive state funded cyber war agencies devoted to cracking the west's com systems. But people are acting like only they are capable of this, that only their weapons will work in a war.....

    we have been kind enough (for the most part) to play nice thus far.....from this cyber war to real war fighting capability to economic concerns .......does China really want to see how nasty we can be?

    April 20, 2012 at 11:45 pm | Reply
  12. Osiris

    Don't mention Israel selling American trade secrets, to the Chinese......

    Don't mention stuxnet....

    April 20, 2012 at 6:11 pm | Reply
  13. virus leading the way

    if obama is re-elected we will not be free of the virus of no jobs and our foes taunting us world wide as they throw afghanistan in our faces.

    the deworming will come this november. hip hip hooray !

    April 20, 2012 at 4:02 pm | Reply
    • IsThatYou

      Ted Nugent.....Is that you?

      April 20, 2012 at 4:10 pm | Reply
    • ibn Franko

      Sorry. The sheer sad state and ineptitude of the GOP all but ensures that Obama will get a 2nd term. After all, its not as if Obama has anything to fear from the current crop of amoral chickenhawk Republicans.

      April 20, 2012 at 6:37 pm | Reply

        TO; ibn Franko
        the use of the profane language on here in past post IDs you as less then intelligent.

        April 20, 2012 at 7:07 pm |
      • ibn Franko

        What can I say – bullshitters and chickenhawks drive me nuts. Oh, well.

        April 20, 2012 at 7:25 pm |
  14. Hahahahahaha

    No the west won't lose. We haven't released OUR virus' yet. Hahahahahahaha.

    April 20, 2012 at 1:52 pm | Reply
    • Heeheeheeheehee

      Does that mean you're still in a cage? Heeheeheeheehee.

      April 20, 2012 at 2:12 pm | Reply
    • trooollll

      your virus i already made an antivirus stupid terrorist scum.

      April 20, 2012 at 3:06 pm | Reply

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