It seems we’ve entered a war of attrition between those who would infiltrate our computers with malware to make money and those trying to stop them. The latest ransomware attacks are petty theft on a grand scale that has again exposed the vulnerability of our online infrastructure.
The Trump administration earns credit for reacting quickly and with apparent force to track down the perpetrators of the latest global attacks and to muster defenses against future incursions. But as we’ve seen in the last decade, cybervillains are resourceful and will seek ways to work around defenses and mount new attacks. The war against them will be fought on two fronts: one that aims to identify them and prosecute their offenses and another that builds defenses and increases preparedness. On that home front, defense begins literally in the home. We are already seeing a spike in subscriptions to services that offer anti-virus software and various patches to guard against infiltration.
The subject of proper preparedness is one Utahns are familiar with. Journalist Ted Koppel, in his campaign to warn against the cataclysmic potential of cyberwarfare, spoke about the cultural inclination in Utah to plan for the effects of catastrophic events. Koppel outlines the potential for an attack on the electric grid, causing extended blackouts — a kind of apocalyptic event for which preparation involves power generators and food supplies. For the kind of attacks aimed directly at our laptops, preparedness is more about building walls of protection and keeping an eye out for cyberintruders.
While average people work to protect their hard drives, the government must focus on making sure that our larger infrastructure is safeguarded against terrorism waged with software. It must also prioritize efforts to identify and apprehend perpetrators and create deterrents against future attacks. And, importantly, it must guard against its own weapons of cyberwar leaking into the wrong hands, as apparently happened with the malware used in the latest incidents, which was developed by the NSA but stolen by a shadowy network of hackers. The failure to sequester such malware is more than an embarrassment for the agency; it’s dereliction of duty. Efforts need to be taken to make sure it won’t be repeated.
The technological revolution has brought us to a point in which so much commerce is conducted online that we are exposed to all manner of disruption from the dangerous to the annoying. Worrying about and guarding against attacks has become a part of everyday life. While technological innovation has allowed for the development of online weaponry, it should also allow us to mount effective defenses and provide ways to thwart malicious hackers and scammers. The latest attacks reinforce the need to be vigilant in building defenses against cyberassaults and vigorous in shutting down those who mount them.