The United States may get a taste of cyber warfare at home the next time the country goes to war abroad as enemy leaders lash out by commanding computers to shut down U.S. electricity supplies or send household appliances haywire, a leading information systems security expert said Monday.
“The next time there is a threat of impending war somewhere in the world, there will be a cyber component to that,” said Mandiant Corp. founder Kevin Mandia, whose company investigates corporate computer attacks. “There’s no doubt in my mind, it will reach consumer space the next time we have aggression.”
That could mean remotely controlling building thermostats or attacking communications networks — whatever soft targets hackers sent into action by an unfriendly government can reach, said Mandia, who appeared with National Security Agency director Adm. Mike Rogers on a panel at North Carolina State University’s Emerging Issues Forum.
There’s already been a prelude, Mandia said: When Syrian government forces used chemical weapons in 2013 against the country’s citizens in defiance of a warning by President Barack Obama, the U.S. threatened airstrikes. A hacker organization calling itself the Syrian Electronic Army responded by launching attacks on websites and Twitter feeds for The Associated Press and other news media outlets that the organization characterized as being friendly to the country’s rebel forces.
Mandia, the NSA’s Rogers and former U.S. House Intelligence Committee Chairman Mike Rogers said the reality is that unfriendly foreign governments and criminal gangs are launching virtual attacks on America’s financial system and stealing intellectual property from companies at a breathtaking pace.
The crippling hacking attacks on Sony Entertainment late last year carried one of the most comprehensive impacts of any online act involving a corporation, the NSA’s Rogers said.
The attack, blamed on North Korea, stole some films that were Sony’s intellectual property, took personal employee identification, disclosed how much some people were being paid, manipulated some data within the company’s network and wiped clean and destroyed other information, Rogers said.
“Of all the things that I have looked at, it (the Sony attack) had the broadest dimensions to it,” Rogers said.
With the hope of deterring similar raids, Obama announced penalties against Pyongyang, beginning with financial sanctions, Rogers said.
Deterring cyberattacks is more likely if “you lead them to believe that even if they are successful that ultimately the price they will pay is too high and it doesn’t warrant the effort,” Rogers said. “We had very high confidence in exactly who this was, how they did it and why they did it.”
Pyongyang denied it was involved and has vowed to retaliate.
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