Cyber Warfare – The Coming Computer Software Storm

Cyber WarfareAs a custom computer software developer and partner in a computer software development firm, the recent reports from Defense Secretary Leon Panetta on the current cyber-war are quite a concern for those of us doing business on the internet.  If you have a website or have any dealings over the internet that is important to your work, your family or your friends, this article is for you.

As a computer programmer, internet service provider and seasoned computer professional, I monitor the news fairly frequently for the latest threats against our nation’s computer systems. What is alarming is since January of this year, multiple articles have appeared detailing sophisticated attacks against our basic information technology infrastructures, and the counter-attacks by this country, in a war that the general public seem to be completely unaware of.

The recent stories of Iran being behind major cyber-attacks on US Banks, the White House, and the Pentagon, not to mention the 30,000 destroyed computers in the oil industries in the Middle East, are at the least disturbing and alarming to me.

Imagine if you will that Iran, China, Russia, or other countries with known cyber warfare centers, begin systematically destroying all your bank and credit card records, and transferring money to various places all over the world, using a software virus that is undetectable.  What would that do to the US economy?  Picture your medical records–that are now going online in medical offices–having their data changed without the awareness of your doctor, pharmacy, or health care practitioners.  These are VERY soft targets that can be easily infiltrated with catastrophic results across the country.  The systems are typically easily accessed by cyberwar experts, and easily manipulated in their current conditions.

This silent but deadly game the United States has engaged in by launching attacks against countries utilizing malicious virus software was bound to get out of control quickly, with more and more alarming economic destruction easily predicted.  More importantly, we are seeing a widespread disinterest concerning this devastating new war, and even more silence throughout the US Citizenry, for what is quickly turning into a global threat to everything we hold dear.

For those that need to catch up a bit, you might want to ponder the following article from the NY Times on two viruses — Stuxnet and Flame — that were leaked into the Iranian Nuclear Program.  The viruses created an over-acceleration of Iranian equipment that caused the entire plant to explode!  They were traced back to Israel and theUnited States governments.  Even more alarming was that through a keydrive or laptop of an Iranian engineer, this malicious and devastating software escaped the Iranian Nuclear program and began propagating all over the world! THE US and Israel had FAKED a Microsoft Windows Update Key and used it to propagate the virus.

Today, terrorists and countries intent on doing harm don’t have to spend years recruiting and training cyber warriors to do their bidding.  Instead, they can invade your home computers or business networks through malicious, undetectable software when you least suspect it, take over your systems, and launch a cyber-strike in seconds.  These vulnerabilities are widespread throughout our country.  Expired Anti-Virus programs, or worse yet, NO virus protection on computer systems, a lack of awareness of personal data, and security of personal information coupled with the fastest growing amount of unsecured information with no security protocols, is a recipe for disaster.

As a custom computer software developer who works with clients in multiple key industries, I would implore you to consider the ramifications of what would happen if your computer, bank accounts, wireless phones, or all those things hooked into the internet, suddenly and unexpectedly were devoured in an enormous lightning strike.  What would the world look like after such a catastrophe? Would you have enough information to manage your day to day life?  Would your family be able to communicate?

With the continued escalation of this war by the United States Government, as well as those outside the US, we can well expect some devastating counter-attacks in the near future.

So what can you do to safeguard yourself in this quickly escalating war?

  • Backup your personal data and websites frequently
  • Change your Passwords on your computers, phones, bank accounts and other important sites monthly
  • Update your computer with all updates
  • Install and keep updated your Virus Protection Software
  • Once a week utilize something like Spybot’s Free Search & Destroy software to scan your systems for malware.
  • Stay alert as to the news about the current cyberwar
  • Create a plan with your family that if your cell phones, websites, internet, electricity and bank accounts suddenly vanish, you will safely be able to locate one another.

My suggestions to us all are to stay informed and continue to ask our government to provide us with reasonable protections prior to creating a never-ending war that could end up literally on our desks and dining room tables.