Has The Threat Of Cyber War Been Overstated?

Set aside several minutes of your afternoon to read Seymour Hersh’s latest article in the New Yorker entitled “The Online Threat.” It’s a long, long yarn on the dangers of cyber war. It begins with the United Stats’ utter lack of respect for the technological capabilities of China, and then goes on to address a larger question: is the U.S. prepared for any sort of cyber attack?

I’m not going to sit here and go over every single one of the article’s point, but I will present a sort of highlight reel:

• There’s a difference between cyber war and cyber espionage. Cyber war is the active penetration of networks to cause trouble. Cyber espionage is merely the covert collection of data for intelligence purposes. Big security firms like to blur the line between the two in order to get fat government contracts. Shocking, I know.

• The “cartoonish view that a hacker pressing a button could cause the lights to go out across the country is simply wrong. There is no national power grid in the United States.”

• The “the very openness of the Internet serves as a deterrent against the use of cyber weapons.”

• President Obama has said that it’s “been estimated that last year alone cyber criminals stole intellectual property from businesses worldwide worth up to one trillion dollars.” Serious cash. I wonder if they include people pirating regular software—your Photoshops of the world—in that assessment?

• There is surprising unanimity among cyber-security experts on one issue: that the immediate cyber threat does not come from traditional terrorist groups like Al Qaeda, at least, not for the moment.

So, yeah, it’s long, but it’s certainly better than watching 15 minutes worth of silly YouTube videos.