Since the very beginning, the U.S. has had to engage in counterspy activities to prevent vital information from falling into the hands of its enemies. In the modern world, this has escalated to include massive agencies across multiple levels of government meant to protect classified secrets.
Over the past few years, homeland security has taken a variety of different steps to improve cyber security. Digital information is one of the primary targets in modern espionage, with just about everything stored or backed up on a computer. However, James Clapper, director of U.S. intelligence has an entirely different concern about digital security. He is not as worried about what spies and hackers are able to take from the U.S. as he is about what they might leave behind.
Last week, Clapper warned lawmakers on the House Intelligence Committee that a “cyber Armageddon,” in which physical programs and infrastructure could be damaged by cyber attacks could become a reality. Films like The Italian Job dramatize this, showing scenes of hackers breaking into traffic control’s computers and turning signal lights from red to green to create a getaway route. However, Clapper’s fears are much less dramatic and much more insidious.
The goal is no longer necessarily to steal information, though classified information still needs theft prevention measures. Instead it is the altering, deletion, and corruption of data that U.S. officials rely on to do their jobs. According to Clapper, by manipulating or outright destroying data subtly, a hacker could undermine the confidence that businesses and government agencies have in their data and prevent them from acting confidently. They could manipulate certain agencies to acting in a manner that makes things easier for those who would wish to do harm to U.S. citizens.
As the U.S. continues to develop its policies and procedures based around conducting and engaging in digital warfare, it would do well to consider the impact that manipulated information could have on public safety.