If you need any evidence that cybersecurity is a big, growing problem, just do a quick search of the news. I’ve been interested in the topic since hearing former CIA and NSA Director General Michael Hayden speak at the MAPI Executive Summit last month, and it seems every day since I’ve seen reports about yet another hacker discovery.
Or you can just listen to General Hayden, who declared at the Summit: Cybersecurity is “… probably the biggest deal since the European discovery of the western hemisphere.”
But hear him out, and you may turn into a believer. He noted that then and now were periods of dramatic globalization.
Think back, he encouraged the audience, to how big a difference the earlier discovery made in every aspect of life.
To help, he quoted a display at the Maritime Museum of San Diego, which described the era, along with the critical technology that prompted it:
“… a worldwide migration of plants, animals, people, germs, genes, languages, products, currency treasure, technology, information, belief systems, and concepts of government."
“For more than 40,000 years, great branches of humanity developed independently separated by impassable bodies of water. Then 500 years ago, they suddenly came into contact. The result was the greatest period of change in human history. The sailing ship is the genesis of the modern world. Fire, domestication of animals, agriculture, metallurgy, writing, moveable type--all crucial technical developments, but none of them were capable of linking the world and bringing all of its cultures into contact. And with the following wind, that’s coming into contact at 12 knots an hour.”
Then he drew the parallel between what our ancestors experienced then, and what we’re experiencing now in the cyber domain.
“You and I are now [coming into contact] at 186,000 miles a second,” Hayden asserted.
Noting that the previous era spawned “dark forces” of global slave trade and high-seas piracy, he added:
“That era of globalization jammed together the strong and the weak and the good and the bad in more tight linkages than had existed before.” Today, we’ve similarly been “jammed together in new and unusual ways in which the good and the bad and the strong and the weak are now into more intimate contact than they had ever been before, and that’s why this new domain, this cyber thing is really a big deal.
“It permeates everything we do.”
Why the Internet is Vulnerable
As if that weren’t enough, General Hayden pointed out that the technology that drives our cyber era—the internet—was built without systems to defend against unwanted intruders. He explained that the original architecture, built to fulfil a statement of work from ARPA (Advanced Research Projects Agency) was roughly as follows: “I want to be able to move large volumes of data quickly and easily between and among a limited number of nodes all of whom I know and all of whom I trust.”
“We didn’t know it was going to catch on the way it did.
“But here’s the scary line: That’s still the arch of the world-wide web. That’s still how it’s wired. There is implicit trust. There are no natural defensive features … around which you can organize defense, so all advantage goes to the offense.
“It’s very difficult to protect yourself in the cyber domain because that’s the way it was built.
“It made no more sense to bake defense into [the] first design than it would be for you to put a locked door between your kitchen and your dining room.”
There’s a reason, he noted, why we call the things we do to defend ourselves “patches.”