Since July 20, Internet security experts have been tracking coordinated cyber attacks on Georgia’s Internet infrastructure. It is still unclear to what extent the Russian military directly carried out these attacks, but two things are known for sure: 1) the traffic patterns and servers used in the attack are “overwhelmingly coming out of Russia” and 2) the attacks coincided with conventional Russian military action. Military experts believe the Georgian conflict is the first time cyber warfare has been used alongside a conventional war.

This is not the first time Russia has been accused of practicing cyber warfare against one of its former imperial possessions. In 2007, a massive Russia-based assault disrupted public and private Estonian information networks with massive denial-of-service attacks. An extremely simple and cheap tactic that can be launched by virtually anybody after downloading instructions and tools online, denial-of-service attacks can shut down servers that run sites by bombarding them with electronic requests for information.

Even more worrisome is the sophisticated and professional cyber espionage programs deployed by China. Chinese cyberwarriors in 2004 identified network vulnerabilities in scores of Pentagon systems, including the critically important computers at the Defense Information Systems Agency, Naval Ocean Systems Center and Army Space and Strategic Defense Command. A bipartisan report in 2007 by the U.S.-China Economic and Security Review Commission concluded: “Chinese espionage activities in the United States are so extensive that they comprise the single greatest risk to the security of American technologies.”

Since technology evolves so quickly, there will be no quick fix or “silver bullet” solution that will make America safe. Heritage senior research fellow James Carafano recommends: “What is called for is dynamic, informed national leadership in the public and private sector that understands how to compete in the cyber-strategic environment.” Carafano suggests Congress can help develop this new leadership by:

  • Establishing educational institutions specifically designed to teach the technical and interagency skills necessary protect, defend, and respond to evolving cyber threats.
  • Identify or create interagency assignments that can provide individuals the practice needed to hone their skills.
  • Ensure that leaders selected for critical (non-politically appointed) positions in national and homeland security have the necessary cyber warfare skills.

The rise of China’s cyber warfare capabilities and the first use of cyber warfare alongside conventional military action should serve as a wake-up call to Congress. America’s Internet infrastructure vulnerabilities must be better protected.

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