Vladimir Putin’s cyber war threat to America–and the world–is real. The Russian leader has been trying to weaken and discredit democratic governments throughout the world. For a while, he didn’t have the technology to do it. Now, he does, and we would be foolish not to take him seriously.
Russian hackers can cripple American factories and power plants.
Russian hackers have the ability to cripple U.S. factories and power plants, and could use cyber attacks to cause a power outage or factory shutdown as a means of retaliation for sanctions imposed by Washington.
A cyber attack on an industrial facility could lead to “catastrophic effects,” said Robert Lee, CEO of Dragos Security, who has been studying Russia’s capabilities in this area for years.
“I don’t think we’ve seen anything like this before,” Lee told NBC News’ Cynthia McFadden in an exclusive interview that aired Friday night on Dateline after she traveled to Estonia with him last month.
A Russian cyber war attack on America could be catastrophic.
Imagine what would happen if a Russian cyber attack on a critical civilian facility caused a catastrophic failure. What if it happened in Washington, D.C., or Chicago, or New York? What if it happened to the U.S. electrical grid and all the lights went out in major cities across America? How would we respond?
Imagine what would happen if a Russian cyber attack on a critical civilian facility caused a catastrophic failure in one of our major cities like San Francisco or Boston or Atlanta. Imagine what would happen if hospitals were suddenly shut down because of Russia cyber attacks against their electronic medical records system. Imagine what would happen if air traffic control systems crashed because of Russia cyber attacks against them—and all flights into and out of those airports stopped until they could get their systems back up again (if they ever did).
Russian hackers could hijack American airliners.
The capabilities of Russian hackers are not limited to electoral interference or political embarrassments. They have the capacity to interfere with the flight control systems of American airliners and crash them into buildings, bridges and other targets.
Russian hackers have already taken over the flight controls of a civilian airliner in Russia. As they wrote on their blog: “We can say that it will be possible [for us] to intercept any aircraft flying in any country at any time.”
The ability of Russian hackers to take over American airliners is likely being developed as we speak—and it’s only a matter of time before disaster strikes again.
Russian hackers have the capacity to attack US infrastructure.
Russian hackers have the capacity to attack infrastructure, airline and power plants, factories and water supply. All of this can be done from afar.
Russian hackers have been caught attacking the US many times in recent years.
This is only one example of how Russia can launch an attack on US infrastructure without ever stepping foot inside America’s borders or shooting at anyone with guns or bombs
The Putin regime has no interest in negotiating a cyber arms treaty with Washington.
The Putin regime has no interest in negotiating a cyber arms treaty with Washington or any other Western nation. The Kremlin does not see itself as being on the same side as America or Europe. It sees these powers as hostile, and it intends to use every means at its disposal to weaken them before they can threaten Russia’s core interests again. This includes cyber weapons and other tools that were used during the 2016 presidential campaigns (and continue to be used).
In fact, Moscow is likely to increase its commitment to developing offensive capabilities if Washington fails to take action against Russian aggression now by imposing sanctions on those responsible for election meddling or providing assistance to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s chemical attacks against civilians in Douma this past April.
That’s because Russia is still interested in weakening NATO countries by undermining their confidence in democratic institutions and values—including democracy itself—to prevent similar opposition movements from emerging there.
There is little the United States can do to stop or respond to a Russian cyber attack on critical civilian facilities.
If you’re like me, you probably don’t think about the United States’ vulnerability to cyber warfare nearly enough. If a Russian hacker were to launch an attack on our critical civilian facilities—the power grid, nuclear plants and other industrial sites—it could cause massive harm without ever leaving an airbase or submarine in Moscow. The problem is that there’s not much we can do about it.
The reason for this is simple: it’s incredibly difficult to stop a cyber attack once it has begun. It’s also hard for us to respond even if we know who launched the attack (which isn’t always easy). And even when we do know who attacked us and where they are located, international law doesn’t really offer any clear options for how we might retaliate against them.
As bad as this sounds though, there is some good news here: while it may be hard for us to defend ourselves against Russian cyber attacks, we do have some options available that might make these kinds of attacks less likely in the future…
The overall picture painted by these examples, and others like them, is one of an increasingly unstable world. The arms race between the United States and Russia has entered a new era, one in which both sides have developed capabilities that could potentially inflict considerable damage on each other’s populations. If we take seriously Secretary Clinton’s argument that cyber attacks are “a direct threat to the security of Americans,” then it seems clear that there must be some way for the United States and other countries to respond to this phenomenon in ways other than through traditional military means. Whether or not such a response would involve retaliation is still unclear at this time. In any case, the international community will need to come up with its own way of dealing with these attacks before they become more commonplace.