opinion   |  column

COLUMN: Security breaches tarnish reputation of U.S. cybersecurity



Over the past year, the National Security Agency has been failing to maintain the cybersecurity of our nation, a failure that calls into question how our government and corporations utilize technology. 

The biggest issues in cybersecurity our nation faces are the sheer volume of data being generated and stored and the increased incorporation of computer systems into everyday infrastructure. 

If the United States is to maintain its cybersecurity, the government must invest in education at professional and public levels, as well as investigate the viability of bureaucratic processes that are not computer-reliant. 

North Korea’s nuclear capabilities are obviously frightening, but its ability to wreak havoc through electronic means can be equally damaging. This ability has been demonstrated much more successfully than any missile launch. 

North Korean hackers have successfully used ransomware attacks to cripple health care systems and have demonstrated the ability to steal millions of dollars from American accounts and have been accused of hacking large media companies like Sony Entertainment. 

Sanctions are ineffective against a country that can pilfer $81 million from a single digital attack. 

Meanwhile, President Trump has been contemplating lessening Russia’s sanctions, even after the country has been undoubtedly linked to other hacking incidents involving American electoral infrastructure. 

The NSA has been equally harmed by hacking organizations currently unlinked to any specific nation-state, such as the Shadow Brokers, which leaked various software exploits and hacking tools stolen from NSA materials. 

This group has exposed various vulnerabilities in commonly used software and hardware, such as Microsoft Windows operating systems and Cisco routers. Some of these exploits have been taken advantage of to stage ransomware attacks which cost businesses millions of dollars. 

Our phones, homes and cars may all be vulnerable to these kinds of incursions that not only take away our privacy, but also put us at risk of property damage, injury or death.

Last year, the FDA recall of 500,000 pacemakers, due to the devices’ vulnerability to cyberattacks, demonstrated even our hospitals and medical equipment could be targeted by hackers.

One potential solution may be to go back to the basics— systems that don’t rely on any form of internet connection or remotely accessible software. 

There’s no malware that can attack paper,” explains pioneer IBM computer scientist Barbara Simons, who has been advocating for the return of paper ballots for nearly two decades. 

Until new cybersecurity systems can be developed and put into place, these analog methods may be our best defense against data breaches and foreign meddling. 

Oftentimes, the biggest vulnerability in these cyberinfrastructures is the humans interacting with them

Phishing attacks and other forms of malware are usually dependent on a person’s inability to recognize an inauthentic link or website, and a simple stolen USB drive can physically bypass hundreds of software failsafes and encryptions. 

Educating the general public on how to detect these digital warning signs can add an extra line of defense against the scams and viruses that may leave entire companies vulnerable to cyberattacks. 

If we are to continue to live in a technologically advanced society, we must first ensure the reliance on these technologies does not make us vulnerable to new forms of attack and espionage. 

The NSA has encountered a series of setbacks and scandals over the past decade, but the cybersecurity it provides is incredibly necessary and important and should receive continued funding from our government.

jhoffer@indiana.edu
@jhoffer17

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