James Lewis, director and senior fellow of the Technology and Public Policy Program at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, soberly assessed the risks to national security that lie ahead in cyberspace. “It’s primarily an espionage problem,” he said. “This is the easiest way to be a spy that has ever been invented … there’s zero chance of being caught and prosecuted if you’re smart about it.”
Lewis made that observation speaking on a panel at the International Spy Museum in Washington, D.C., held to draw attention to the growing dangers online as National Cybersecurity Month drew to a close.
Citing cyberattacks on Estonia, Lewis, the project director for the Commission on Cybersecurity for President Obama, said he anticipated more advanced attacks in future cyberwars, either by militaries or by non-state entities in the distant future.“All advanced militaries now include cyberattack capabilities.” As he put it, “you can send missiles, commando teams — or you can send hackers. And hackers are much cheaper.”
Lewis believes that those “attacks are not what we have to worry about,” however – it’s “those that disrupt critical infrastructure” that keep him up at night. “The challenge is that the Internet was built for scientists,” he said, which meant that it was built to assume trust. The U.S. has “built an exceptionally insecure environment that our military and economy now depend on.” As a result, Lewis said, “the U.S. is more vulnerable than any other country” because it has put the Internet to the best use for its economy, politics, research and military.
A central challenge in this new operational environment is that “the old Cold War notion of deterrence doesn’t work,” Lewis said. “We’ve put a lot of effort into the offensive side, but it hasn’t helped us on the cybersecurity side.” Moving forward with improving the nation’s exposure to cybersecurity risks is also challenging because of the traditional approaches to solving problems on a national scale in the U.S. “Do we wait for the market or wait for something that has a larger role for government,” asked Lewis. It’s difficult to discuss, he said, because “our ideology is to talk about a market solution, but we’re facing competitors who aren’t bound by that.”
There are also legal boundaries that must be considered in the context of new threat vectors and technologies. “The laws that we have to protect civil liberties and privacy were written 20 to 30 years ago,” said Lewis. “In the old days, you couldn’t look at traffic without understanding the content.”
Now, as he observed, the question is “How do you involve DHS? Or NSA? Some of this leads back to the FISA debate. To really defend cyberspace, you need better situational awareness. What we need to know for cybersecurity, you need to look at all the traffic coming into the U.S.” When Lewis, however, asked how many in the audience supported such a move from DHS, few hands went up, reflecting the complexity of such electronic filtering.