Three top FBI cybersecurity officials announced they are leaving the bureau. Their departures come at a time of rising cybersecurity anxieties around a potential major cyber event that some fear could be tantamount to the 9/11 terrorist attacks.
While an FBI spokesperson says that many senior officials are now hitting an age where they qualify for pensions, it’s hard to ignore the fact that the FBI has been enduring morale issues. The friction between the Trump administration and many at the bureau, has been well documented, as has a seeming lack of appetite to make cybersecurity a priority.
“Senior U.S. intelligence officials warn that the country is at a ‘critical point’ facing unprecedented cyberthreats, including Russia’s ongoing attacks on the American political system,” reports The Wall Street Journal. “The retirements also come as the FBI is facing regular criticism from President Donald Trump and his supporters, and is working to attract and retain top cyber talent.”
Last week, Slate reports, National Intelligence Director Dan Coats warned of the possibility of a “Cyber 9/11” attack in the near future. Referring to daily cyber strikes on federal, state, and local government networks, as well as on US corporations and academic institutions, Coats likens the buildup of activity with the levels of terrorist activity that U.S. intelligence agencies saw before the September 11 attacks. “The system was blinking red. Here we are nearly two decades later and I’m here to say the warning lights are blinking red again,” he said.
Coats didn’t get into the specifics of what a cyberattack of this sort might look like, but cyber security experts at Fortune’s Brainstorm Tech conference painted a grim picture.
“My scary scenario is non-state actors getting hold of [powerful hacking tools], and attacking the air traffic control system and the energy system,” said Jen Esterly, cybersecurity leader at Morgan Stanley and former Obama counter-terrorism advisor. Esterly also pointed to the possibility of terrorists targeting the international banking system to create financial instability. Others have theorized about the possibility of terrorists hitting energy grids and water systems.
These are scary scenarios, for sure. But we’re already facing mega attacks, that though preventable, can lead to catastrophic consequences. The current generation—fifth generation—of threats is able to succeed because most organizations are relying on outdated systems and infrastructure. Worse, those systems, are typically composed of third-generation disparate technologies that don’t fully integrate. Citing a report from Dimensional Research, a Check Point infographic shows that only 23 percent believe their systems are fully up to date.
As Josephine Wolff writes in Slate, “Constantly invoking the threat of a looming Sept. 11-like attack detracts attention and resources from addressing the persistent and growing number of smaller strikes by suggesting there’s one bigger, scarier thing right around the corner.
Wolff’s view is spot-on. There’s plenty of opportunity to address present-day cybersecurity challenges. Doing so can harden your infrastructure so you’re that much more prepared.
Get the full story at Slate.