US should prepare for Russian cyber warfare

Historically, “national defense” meant uniformed soldiers and sailors and pilots in tanks, ships and planes. But in warding off Moscow’s coming blows against the U.S. as the West lays on punishing sanctions on Vladimir Putin and Russia for gobbling up parts of Ukraine, our “defense” will fall as much to people in button-up shirts and jeans armed with computer keyboards and mice across America. These are the “troops” running IT and back-end digital systems for thousands of banks, power plants, dams, hospitals, communications networks and other pieces of critical U.S. financial and physical infrastructure.

When the Kremlin warns of “a strong response that is not necessarily symmetrical, but finely tuned and painful to the American side,” it’s not referring to Russian tanks crashing into NATO bases or submarines surfacing in New York Harbor. Instead, it’s a threat to wage cyberwar, striking with data packets instead of missiles at vital institutions.


First, Washington must sternly remind Putin that an attack is still an attack and will invite a severe response. On the homefront, there are relatively simple steps that can be taken to hugely boost our position, starting with IT departments committing to distributing software updates as soon as they’re available, changing default passwords, reporting exploits as soon as they’re discovered, and keeping employees aware of phishing, among other things.

And this national defense shouldn’t be voluntary. Regulated institutions, from banks to utilities, should be required to harden their firewalls. Advance precautions could make the difference between a dam falling instantly to outside control or holding out long enough to shut down the possibility of an intrusion. The federal government should make it its business to train and assist private entities as much as possible in further fortifying systems, just as it would if it believed U.S. infrastructure might be bombed by Russian jets.

It’s also likely that Putin will ramp up disinformation campaigns on social media.

The solution here is less technological than social: Americans should be aware of the coming propaganda and think critically about the media they’re consuming.

— New York Daily News

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