July 20, 2015

Cyber Threats Series Explores Dark Side of the Web

By Iain Whitaker, Assistant Director, Leadership Programs


Former US Defense Secretary and CIA Director Leon Panetta in conversation with Council President Ivo Daalder on March 19, 2015.

Nearly 7 out of 10 Americans think cyber attacks pose a leading threat to US security—matching their concerns regarding terrorism and surpassing their concerns about Iran’s nuclear program—according to 2015 Chicago Council Survey results. To better understand the public’s concerns, the Council hosted a series of programs this past spring that examined how digital infrastructure vulnerabilities are undermining traditional notions of security and privacy.
 
During his March 9 remarks at the Council, Marc Goodman, Future Crimes Institute founder and cyber advisor to the FBI and INTERPOL, shared many startling statistics and predictions; cyber crime costs the global economy $400 billion per year, he stated, and 75 percent of Fortune 500 companies can be hacked in under 15 minutes. Given the exponential growth of computing power, the scope for such criminality is expanding beyond the ability of law enforcement to respond; Moore’s law, Goodman quipped, has given us “Moore’s outlaws.” Worse still, the burgeoning “internet of things” is creating a smorgasbord of opportunities for technological mischief and government snooping in a dystopian world of hackable pacemakers and eavesdropping dishwashers.
 
Governments are as vulnerable as citizens and corporations. Speaking to the Council’s Young Professionals on April 2, WIRED senior staff reporter Kim Zetter gave a gripping account of the development of the world’s first digital weapon: Stuxnet. This sophisticated computer worm wreaked havoc with centrifuges at Iran’s Natanz nuclear plant before its discovery in 2010, and offered a glimpse into a future where malicious code is created, not simply to steal information, but to destroy physical infrastructure.
 
The extent of official concern regarding cyber weapons was evident in the remarks of former US defense secretary and CIA director Leon Panetta, who visited the Council on March 19. Referencing the Shamoon virus, which destroyed 30,000 computers belonging to Saudi oil company ARAMCO, Panetta described such an attack on US infrastructure as his greatest fear. With such technology in the hands of terrorists, he said, they could “cripple our country” without setting foot on US soil.
 
“Privacy is not dead,” claimed Michelle Dennedy during her May 12 program at the Council, “but it does need a reboot.” As chief privacy officer at internet security firm McAfee, Dennedy expressed serious concerns about the ways hacking and the collection and sharing of personal data online have eroded traditional notions of privacy, but she also stressed that citizens can take simple but powerful steps to protect themselves. Using a memorable underwear analogy, Dennedy described how simple online hygiene practices, such as setting “exotic” passwords, keeping them under wraps, and changing them often, will at least mean hackers have to work for their loot, and will probably target someone else.
 
Dennedy also stressed the need to hold to account those who create software and handle data. Ultimately consumers have the power of choice, she reminded the Council’s audience, which they can leverage to demand higher standards of data management from corporations and service providers. Similarly, software developers need to be held liable for the vulnerabilities of their products, Goodman argued.
 
Fear sells, and a silver lining to the crisis of privacy in the digital age is that the market is now responding to public concerns. Silicon Valley’s venture capitalists are rushing into the cyber security space, and insurance company actuaries are scrambling to value this novel form of business risk. Data breaches may not yet have seriously dented corporate share prices, but, Dennedy asserts, executive’s attitudes are slowly changing. Certainly, the fate of Target’s former CEO, who resigned following the retailer’s massive 2013 data breach, has focused boardroom attention on the need to build the financial and reputational costs of data loss into their business plans.
 
Illuminating and unnerving in equal measure, the Council’s cyber threats series generated as many questions as it answered. “We live in exponential times,” Goodman emphasized, and the scope of changes to our political, economic, and social systems resulting from technological advancements are so rapid that, in many areas, our responses have yet to be debated, legislated, or coded. In the realm of cyber warfare the outlook is particularly bleak. A lack of intergovernmental clarity over how international law applies to digital weapons leaves the door open for widespread mischief, and worse, Zetter suggested.
 
But even Goodman, who likened modern society to a “technological house of cards,” is ultimately hopeful. In calling for a Manhattan Project for cyber security to mobilize the public and private sector in a common fight, the former LAPD street cop reminded the audience that defeating the cyber criminals is a good old-fashioned question of garnering the will and the resources.
 
Join the Council this fall as we explore how empowered citizens, chastened corporations, and digitally diligent governments are redefining security in the cyber age.

About the Author

Iain Whitaker joined the Chicago Council on Global Affairs in 2014 and is the assistant director, leadership programs. Prior to joining the Council, Whitaker worked in KPMG's Trade and Customs Services practice. He was also previously the legislative assistant to a UK member of parliament at the House of Commons in London. He received an MA in modern history from the University of St. Andrews (UK), and an MSc in international security from the University of Bristol (UK).

About

The Chicago Council on Global Affairs is an independent, nonpartisan organization that provides insight – and influences the public discourse – on critical global issues. We convene leading global voices and conduct independent research to bring clarity and offer solutions to challenges and opportunities across the globe. The Council is committed to engaging the public and raising global awareness of issues that transcend borders and transform how people, business, and governments engage the world.

The Chicago Council on Global Affairs is an independent, nonpartisan organization. All statements of fact and expressions of opinion in blog posts are the sole responsibility of the individual author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the views of the Council.

Archive


| By Richard C. Longworth

Landslide Cities and 2016's Big Sort

While losing the Electoral College vote, Hillary Clinton matched or even exceeded Barack Obama’s landslide margins in major cities in the two previous elections, Richard Longworth finds. It is all part of what Texas author Bill Bishop called “the big sort” – the dramatic grouping of America into geographical enclaves where the overwhelming majority thinks and votes alike.



| By Kris Hartley

National Elections and the New American City-State

As the country splinters along geographic and ideological lines, post-election divisions could portend the rise of a new American city-state movement, with mayors and city councils likely to intensify efforts to independently pursue progressive local agendas. 


| By Brian Hanson, Michael A. Nutter

Deep Dish: You Wanted Workers, You Got People

For some, social integration is a new challenge caused by globalization and cultural change. For others, inequality and segregation have long been strains on civil society. In this episode, Michael Nutter, former mayor of Philadelphia, and Kamal Al-Solaylee, journalist and author of Brown: What Being Brown in the World Today Means (To Everyone), discuss social inclusion in the 21st century with Deep Dish host Brian T. Hanson. 


One More Question with Moshe Ya'alon

Former Defense Minister of Israel Moshe Ya’alon visited the Council on December 7, 2016. We asked him: What is your priority for US-Israel relations under the next administration? See what he said.


| By Karl Friedhoff

South Korea: Stepping Toward the Wilderness?

With the South Korean president impeached, the potential ascent of the opposition party could portend serious consequences both for US foreign policy in Northeast Asia and for Korea’s relations with the United States and Japan. 


| By Brian Hanson, Craig Kafura

Deep Dish: Bullish on Trump in the China Shop

Anything that surprises people about President-elect Trump shouldn’t surprise them too much, says Chinese entrepreneur and 2016 Scholl Fellow Victor Yuan. In the latest Deep Dish podcast, Yuan talks with Council experts about the potential points of conflict and consensus between the next US administration and China.

 


| By Ivo H. Daalder

This Week's Reads - Consecutive Political Earthquakes

Earlier this week, we witnessed the third “Brexit” moment of 2016 with the failure of Matteo Renzi's constitutional reforms in Italy. This Week's Reads focus on the breakdown of the post-World War II liberal order and the emergence of a new global disorder. 



What to Watch in US-China Relations

US-China relations have been remarkably stable for the past four decades, but two recent “firsts” – Trump's Taiwan call and Xi's upcoming visit to Davos – have the potential to shake things up, writes Jon Macha.



One More Question with Laura Alonso

Argentina's Anti-Corruption Officer, Laura Alonso, came to the Council September 22. We asked her what one question she wished she was asked that day. See what she said.


| By Ivo H. Daalder

This Week's Reads - Dealing with Russia

Are we headed toward a new détente with Russia? This Week's Reads focus on the challenges posed by Putin’s Russia and show the global political landscape in which these challenges must be dealt.