May 19, 2024

are reading our mail

Today’s Events in Historical Perspective
America’s Longest-Running Column Founded 1932
They are reading our mail
By Douglas Cohn and Eleanor Clift
          WASHINGTON — In 1929, Secretary of State Henry L. Stimson closed the Cyber Bureau, memorably declaring, “Gentlemen do not read each other’s mail.” As Secretary of War during World War II, he changed his mind, and codebreaking proved to be a significant key to Allied victory.
          The U.S. broke the Japanese Purple Code and won the Battle of Midway, the turning point of the war in the Pacific. In Europe, British intelligence got a hold of German cypher machines from Polish intelligence. Known as Enigma, the machines were boxes of rotors that could only be deciphered by identical boxes with the same settings, which would be altered from time to time. Enigma became known as the Ultra Secret, and Gen. Eisenhower, commander of the European Theater of Operations, said it was decisive in the Allied victory.
          America had come a long way from Stimson’s naïve pronouncement. Today, however, America has once again reversed course, not out of misguided morality, but out of hubris. Budgetary constraints have led political leaders to foolishly listen to experts who tell them our communications are secure.
          Now, criminal hackers known as “Dark Side” have done us a favor by disrupting gasoline supplies in the Southeast for several days. People panicked, causing long lines at gas stations and forcing President Biden and his Secretaries of Energy and Transportation to reassure the country the Colonial Pipeline was back in service and shortages would be temporary.
          It could have been much worse — and will be in the future — if significant cyber-protection steps are not taken. We have known for some time that our systems are vulnerable, and if some hacker trying to make a dishonest buck can casually derail a 5,500 mile long pipeline that delivers three million barrels of fuel every day, just imagine what Russia and China are doing.
          Dark Side is headquartered in Russia, but there is no evidence of a direct connection between its nefarious activities and the Russian government. Even so, Biden said he would discuss the matter with Russian President Putin during their expected summit in June.
          It’s well and good to raise it with Putin, but the more critical conversation Biden needs to have is with our national security and intelligence community – and with the Congress. The cyberattack on Colonial Pipeline should serve as a warning of what can happen if we don’t take steps quickly to upgrade and harden our cyber protections.
          This was a criminal attack designed to make money, not to disrupt society, Dark Side said in a statement posted on its website. But the blueprint is there for others to follow, and the political backlash can be significant when gasoline is scarce even for one week.
          That’s why Dark Side did us a favor by alerting the country and the politicians to what we face, especially at a time when the definition of infrastructure is at the center of the political debate on Capitol Hill. Biden wants an expansive view of infrastructure that goes beyond roads and bridges to broadband and, yes, cyber security, while Republicans want it narrowly focused on traditional concrete structures.
          Now is the time for Biden to make the case that cyber protection is as critical to protecting our pipelines and our methods of production in the 21st century as cyber awareness was during World War II.
          The Chinese have been hacking us for years, stealing government and trade secrets and advancing their own industries on the strength of American ingenuity. They have proven very adept at copying, replicating, and generating entire industries out of one stolen concept.
          We are in the infancy of cyber warfare, and a major investment in protecting our grids and our resources must be made. It took a tremendous effort by America and her allies to win World War II, and now more than 70 years later, human intelligence alone is not enough to win in cyberspace. It requires major resources to upgrade computer capabilities to operate, compute, and compete in the 21st century.
          Douglas Cohn’s latest books are World War 4: Nine Scenarios (endorsed by seven flag officers) and The President’s First Year: The Only School for Presidents Is the Presidency.
          Twitter:  @douglas_cohn
          © 2021 U.S. News Syndicate, Inc.
          Distributed by U.S. News Syndicate, Inc.

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