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A Growing and Evolving Cyber Threat

posted onDecember 28, 2017
by l33tdawg

By: Adam Edmond

As new technologies are developed, the DOD(Department of Defense) must continually re-evaluate the opportunities and threats these technologies create and adjust its strategy accordingly. Current trends in the development and democratization of digital technology call for such re-evaluation.

This has been done, in part, by DOD's Third Offset, which will exploit the potential of learning machines to improve warfighting capability across the spectrum of military operations. 7 Recent developments in the field of machine learning and autonomy make this a prudent choice.

However, the Third Offset does not address a probable adversary strategy against smart machines, which is to covertly manipulate the data these machine agents will use for analysis and decision making. Nor does the Third Offset address other significant technology trends that directly threaten not only smart machines but also the blockchain for cyber security strategy needed to protect them.

These trends include the increase in nations with cyber forces, the exponential increase in the number and variety of malware, and the exponential increase in the number of personal computing devices throughout the world. In view of these trends, an analysis of cyber defense strategy is both timely and worthwhile. The purpose of this section is to evaluate DOD cyber defense strategy in view of the threats highlighted above. It begins with a discussion on the evolution of weaponized information technology and the strategic calculus data manipulation.

This is followed by a brief history and analysis of contemporary cyber defense strategy and a critique of why this strategy is inadequate to address future threats. This section closes with a strategy prescription for cyber defense
      
The cyber threat is not just growing; it is growing in three distinct ways. In the future, the US military will face an array of cyber forces that are more numerous, more capable, and better resourced than those it faces today. The number of devices projected to become part of the "internet of things" (IoT) is staggering. In 2006, there were two billion internet-enabled devices in use or 0.3 devices for every person on Earth.

By 2020, Cisco and Intel project that number could grow to 50-200 billion devices, respectively, or 6.5-26 devices per person.  As digital innovation continues, even low-cost consumer devices will have considerable computing power. In a recent interview with Time Magazine, Tim Cook, the president of Apple Computers, stated that even a device as common as the iPhone could be used to disable an electrical grid. As of November 2015, Apple has sold more than 850 million iPhones.

The generation of malware exhibits a similar trend to computing devices. The number of distinct malware signatures increased from 7 million in 2007 to 100 million in 2012, with 200,000 more being registered each day with the US Cyber Emergency Repose Team (US-CERT).

Finally, state sponsorship of cyber activities will continue to grow. Today, 29 countries have acknowledged having offensive cyber forces, and 49 have procured software for hacking.

Given the relatively low cost of entry into the cyber competition, more countries will follow. These three trends – computing devices, malware generation, and state sponsorship – will have a force multiplying effect, creating a far more pervasive and effective cyber threat than what is seen today.

 

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