Cyberattacks soon will destroy infrastructure and kill people. And that might be what it takes for policy leaders to prepare for what’s coming, experts said.
A panel of four experts from military, finance, cyber and strategy laid out frightening scenarios at the New America Future of War conference Monday that are not far-off possibilities but things that are happening now.
Peter W. Singer, author of the novel “Ghost Fleet: A Novel of the Next World War,” and New America senior fellow, told the audience in Washington, D.C., that data breaches, cyber probes and power shutdowns in other countries haven’t been given the attention they truly need. And the enemy is watching that lack of response.
“We will see kinetic attacks on the Internet of Things that will break things and kill people,” Singer said.
Robert M. Lee, a former National Security Agency cyber expert and current CEO of Dragos Inc., pointed to a new development that is a first in cyber attacks.
A piece of malware called Trisis was used to sabotage an industrial control system of an electric company. But it was more than just an attack on electric power.
“It was the first piece of malware specifically designed to kill people,” Lee said.
The malware would allow hackers to access controls that could cause leaks or explosions, rather than simply switching off power to parts of the grid.
But both in that incident and ones preceding it in recent years the actual events garnered little public acknowledgement by government leaders nor responses that would help deter such attacks.
That’s causing a major problem.
“We’re setting a precedence that these attacks are a great investment because they don’t come with the baggage that other attacks do,” Lee said.
At the same time, non-kinetic attacks could have real consequences for troops on the battlefield. Software being used both in research labs and the pornography industry can alter the face of a person on a different body or even use recordings and physical data from online videos to create a speech that never happened.
Such videos and images could be used and have been used in crude ways to alter battlefield footage that distorts what actually happened on the ground.
Singer called it the melding of the fake and real.
“Weapon will be used against U.S. democracy and U.S. military,” Singer said. “We need to do research and development on how to rapidly ID and debunk.”
Todd South has written about crime, courts, government and the military for multiple publications since 2004 and was named a 2014 Pulitzer finalist for a co-written project on witness intimidation. Todd is a Marine veteran of the Iraq War.