Part I of a series for Writers With No Borders
I’m not a philosopher, a scientist, politician, or deep thinker. I’m a guy from middle America who likes beer, pretzels, Sunday football, and naps.
On one specific topic, I’m a fellow who has plenty in common with the observation Butch Cassidy made when he announced to the Sundance Kid: “Boy, I got vision, and the rest of the world wears bifocals.”
My vision: We’re in World War III and most Americans don’t know or care. The few average Americans aware of the global conflict don’t know what to do. This isn’t a war where we enlist, donate blood, or manufacture tanks, cannons and ships.
This war is being fought with computers instead of guns. Combatants rely on the sophisticated technology of bytes, bots, worms, Trojans, malware, viruses, and 010101s, the coding upon which computer language is based. Most Americans don’t even begin to understand the crucial inner workings of such technology.
During the last few years, the Internet has been crammed with news articles and opinion columns focusing on “when” or “if” World War III ever comes about. The general consensus: the war will be cyber attacks on such infrastructures as power grids, banking and financial systems, communication networks, voting systems, airlines—you know, the stuff of the culture and lifestyles in America and the countries of our allies.
While issuing such predictions, almost every expert qualifies statements by couching their thoughts in the future tense, as if they believe a cyber war may or may not happen in the future. Bifocals they wear; the war is here.
We have yet to witness a cyber Pearl Harbor or a cyber event with the magnitude of the assassination of an archduke that set off World War I. This is a war we’ve slipped into mostly unnoticed by Americans. We continue on with our lives in a state of denial or the bliss of ignorance, save for the inconvenience of having to change passwords now and then.
Some leaders are playing politics at a critical time when wisdom and action are needed much more. The most recent example occurred June 13 when Attorney General Jeff Sessions told the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence about the extent of his knowledge of Russia’s intrusion into the 2016 presidential election: “I know nothing but what I’ve read in the paper.”
Does anyone really believe that ignorance constitutes a valid excuse from our nation’s top prosecutor? My opinion: Sessions pirouetted away from the issue because his boss is under investigation in the matter of Russian cyber warfare. Even Sessions himself is under suspicion.
Cyber attacks come almost daily: hacks that steal millions of IDs and supposedly protected information from banks, credit card companies, Yahoo, political parties, hospitals, and even the CIA and Department of Justice. The list is long, detailed and depressing.
The newest revelation came June 13 with the news that Russia’s incursion into the 2016 election was more widespread than previously believed. The attack targeted voter data bases in 39 states, twice as many and more viciously waged than initially identified. The attack upon Illinois, for instance, attempted to delete or alter voter data. These were attacks on the basic core of democracy, on our way of life. Not a single gunshot was fired or bomb exploded.
The cyber weapons reflect the evolution of warfare. World War I had its new technology: tanks and airplanes. World War II: jet propulsion; self-propelled missiles and nuclear bombs. The weapon now is intellect, the ability to arrange a mass of electrons so they go forth in an almost magical way to cause havoc and destruction.
Today’s combatants aren’t the 400-pound guys sitting on their beds, as Donald Trump proclaimed in trying to lay blame for the 2016 hack of the Democratic Party’s computer records. Rather, the combatants are Russia, North Korea, England, France, Iran, China, the Baltic countries, and other nations, including the U.S.
We must not forget ISIS. We frequently see TV news footage of bloodied ISIS battlegrounds. Yet, seldom do we hear that ISIS has a covert “hacking wing” which has the potential to be more dangerous than any other cyber warriors.
The basic purpose of World War III’s technology: espionage and sabotage. They—whoever they are—are trying to take us down. We—our computer geeks—are trying to stop and take them down. Sound familiar? Opponent against opponent. Warrior against warrior. It’s a war scenario.
At the risk of sounding like a hopeless doomsayer, I think what we witness now is tame compared to what we’ll see in the future. The current flexing of cyber warfare muscles is merely a toning and strengthening—like young athletes training for the Olympics. The gold medal represents a discernable shift in the order of the world.
Next in this series: Ted Koppel and the darkness.