Obama’s new cybersecurity czar doesn’t much like the term “cyberwar,” calling it a “terrible metaphor” and a “terrible concept.” But just in case his dislike of the term didn’t get through, Howard Schmidt flat-out stated that “there is no cyberwar” during a Wired interview at the RSA Security Conference in San Francisco.
Schmidt noted that the real cybersecurity threats are online crime and espionage. His words seem to stand in contradiction to a statement last week by Michael McConnell, former director of national intelligence, who told Congress that the U.S. was already in the midst of losing a cyberwar. Schmidt seemed more than willing to downplay McConnell’s Cold War mentality.
The notion of a cyberwar has proved a hot topic because of prior instances where supposedly state-sanctioned hackers have launched cyberattacks on official government websites. But recent events have pointed to a less black-and-white threat under the broader umbrella of cybersecurity issues, such as the murky cyberattacks on Google and other U.S. companies which originated somewhere in China.
The Chinese government said it had responded in part by taking down a hacker training camp accused of training thousands of Chinese Internet users. And as the U.S. intelligence community has realized, the real threat may come from those thousands of shadowy individuals or organizations unaffiliated with any national government. Google has teamed up with the National Security Agency (NSA) in an effort to pinpoint the source of its attackers.
A think tank also conducted a worst-case cyberattack simulation in February, where a number of war-game factors unrelated to cyberattacks helped contribute to the collapse of the U.S. power grid. But Schmidt suggested in the Wired interview that hacking the power grid is not a realistic threat. He named education, information sharing and better defense systems as his own top priorities.
The cybersecurity czar acts as a coordinator among federal agencies, but lacks control over budgets or policy. Still, Schmidt could do a great deal alone by simply bringing together quarreling agencies such as the military’s NSA and the civilian Department of Homeland Security.
In any case, DARPA’s new Cyber Genome Project that would give a boost to digital forensics seems more timely than ever.