Cyber Threats to the United States

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Written by Tanner Nelson

 

Cyber warfare[1] is the most dangerous threat America faces today.[2] The U.S. Government has identified three major cyber threats to the American way of life: China, Russia, and Iran.[3] These nations have consistently attacked American industry, threatening the United States’ economic security. These attacks are occurring on a daily basis with the express purpose of “[exploiting] America’s openness in order to undermine our long-term competitive advantage.”[4] America is also vulnerable to non-state actors using cyber capabilities to challenge America’s interests. While no non-state actor has yet to conduct a major cyber attack on the United States, America’s online infrastructure is still vulnerable to attacks from state and non-state actors alike.

Attacks at Sony, Facebook, Equifax, Yahoo, and the WannaCry ransomware attack are just some of the higher profile cyber attacks on the U.S. in the the last few years. The Director of National Intelligence has identified six major industries that are targets of cyber attacks.[5] All but one of the industries are directly related to the U.S. economy, which would be the focus of any future cyber first-strike.

Of the nation-state threats, Russia is the most aggressive perpetrator. Russia has tried to steal American intellectual property since the Cold War, but with the advent of cyber, it is now easier and cheaper for them to do so. U.S. intelligence services concluded in early 2017 that Russia interfered in the 2016 election.[6] Russia has also collected intellectual property from U.S. energy, healthcare, and technology firms. If Russia collected U.S. defense industry information, it would jeopardize America’s strategic edge.

China consistently violates American sovereignty by conducting state-sponsored cyber espionage against American businesses and corporations. China has developed a sophisticated cyber strategy of stealing American information for the benefit of China’s companies. These attacks are carried out by actors ranging from front companies to government intelligence services. The United States has identified China’s strategic goals. They want comprehensive national power, an innovation driven economic growth model, and military modernization.[7]

Iran’s cyber threat against the United States is new, but significant. In the past, Iran mainly focused on their Middle Eastern rivals. However, in 2017 Iran conducted a number of attacks on U.S. systems. They aimed their attacks at U.S. defense, energy, and academic programs in an effort to jumpstart Iranian economic growth.[8]

While foreign intrusions into American systems in the past have focused on stealing economic and industrial information, future attacks could focus on U.S. defense and security networks. The United States is not totally vulnerable to these attacks, however. To defend its interests, the United States has created a Cyber Command within the Air Force structure as well as a cyber security wing in the Department of Homeland Security.

Sources:

[1] For the purposes of this memo, cyber warfare, cyber terrorism, cyber espionage and all other applications of computer technology with mal intent are referred to as “cyber.”

[2] Garamone, Jim, “Cyber Tops List of Threats to U.S., Director of National Intelligence Says,” defense.gov, last modified February 13, 2018, https://dod.defense.gov/News/Article/Article/1440838/cyber-tops-list-of-threats-to-us-director-of-national-intelligence-says/.

[3] “Foreign Economic Espionage in Cyberspace,” National Counterintelligence and Security Center, accessed September 13, 2018. https://www.dni.gov/files/NCSC/documents/news/20180724-economic-espionage-pub.pdf.

[4] “Transcript: Dan Coats Warns The Lights Are ‘Blinking Red’ On Russian Cyberattacks,” NPR, last modified July 18, 2018, https://www.npr.org/2018/07/18/630164914/transcript-dan-coats-warns-of-continuing-russian-cyberattacks.

[5] Ibid.

[6] “Assessing Russian Activites and Intentions in Recent U.S. Elections,” Director of National Intelligence, accessed September 14, 2018. https://www.dni.gov/files/documents/ICA_2017_01.pdf.

[7] “Foreign Economic Espionage in Cyberspace,” National Counterintelligence and Security Center, accessed September 13, 2018. https://www.dni.gov/files/NCSC/documents/news/20180724-economic-espionage-pub.pdf.

[8] Ibid.

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