I have been saying for a while that cyber terrorism is a real threat, and one with which we will need to grapple TODAY. Others, some frankly with far more eminence than I have, disagree. I have always acknowledged their position and have tried to portray it accurately when I speak and write. I have even tried to understand how they drew their conclusions. They simply feel that either cyber terrorism is an insignificant threat, or it does not even exist. Well, I still think they are wrong.
Why do I title this “Vindicated?” Because Cofer Black, the counter terrorism expert who lead the CIA’s efforts against Al Qaeda for President George W. Bush, has joined “my side” of the debate.
At the prestigious BlackHat conference, Black was a keynote speaker. He made the point that cyber terrorism is real and must be recognized as such. He said: “Going forward, cyberspace will be the primary realm used by nations and terrorists to engage with enemies.”
Black is the head of Total Intelligence Solutions, a subsidiary of Blackwater Worldwide. He also pointed to last year’s Stuxnet attacks against Iran’s nuclear infrastructure as an exemplar of future cyber operations. “Stuxnet is the Rubicon of our future,” he said.
Cyber has grown from a simple enabler of processes to a powerful means of conducting all sorts of critical activities. Bad guys figured out they could affect the digital world with digital means and steal/corrupt/confuse data. They can shut down key websites for just the right amount of time to accomplish their goals. Now they can, through attacks on industrial control systems, have actual effects on the physical realm as well.
Given the low cost of entry, and the potential to execute targeted operations with limited numbers of cyber operators, all this adds up to a very attractive set of targets for cyber terror. We need to recognize it, acknowledge it and figure out how we plan to counter it. We have done too little thus far.
Cofer Black is no Propeller-Headed Geek; he is a hardcore practitioner who has fought terrorists his entire career. He knows how they think, act and believe, and he acknowledges cyber terror as an issue.
I guess I am in good company.