Mark Twain’s Cyber Perspective

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DoD photo / Cherie Cullen

So the response to Tuesday’s Washington Post story that computer hackers had stolen secrets associated with U.S. weapons was Pavlovian. Within hours, it was all over the internet that China had hacked into the designs of U.S. weapons systems and emasculated our edge. It was featured on the evening news.

The weapons so violated allegedly include an advanced Patriot missile system, the Army’s Terminal High Altitude Area Defense, and the Navy’s Aegis ballistic-missile defense system. Other systems supposedly hacked included the Navy’s F-18 fighter, the Marine’s V-22 Osprey tilt-rotor and the Army’s UH-60 Black Hawk helicopter.

It’s depressing, after so many years following this script, to have to take note the following:

Point 1. Hackers of all stripes plumb the secrets we’re stupid enough to hide in plain sight on our Internetted computer networks.

Point 2. We do the same to them, and the rest of the world’s potential foes…and allies, truth be told.

Point 3. If not, why are we spending $75 billion annually on intelligence? What do you think that pays for? Subscriptions to Aviation Week?

Point 4. The crown jewels of U.S. military technology are never put on a network where they can be plundered by outsiders. If it’s that vital, it’s kept on a network not connected to the Internet. If it’s posted by mistake, shame on those who put it there. Ditto for those insiders who use flash drives that can plant malware on such systems.

Point 5. The Defense Science Board, the source of the latest report, isn’t a disinterested band of observers. Most of its members have spent their careers worst-casing the threats facing the U.S., toiling away for defense contractors and other institutions that depend on threats in order to thrive. That’s a valuable role, but it’s not necessarily gospel. Beyond that, the DSB didn’t come out and accuse the Chinese government of pilfering American cyber-secrets, but there were plenty of Pentagon officials willing to point accusing fingers at Beijing.

Point 6. Return to Point 1.

It’s also worth noting that the Defense Department officially reacted to the story midday Tuesday, in an emailed statement from Pentagon press secretary George Little:

We maintain full confidence in our weapons platforms. The Department of Defense takes the threat of cyber espionage and cyber security very seriously, which is why we have taken a number of steps to increase funding to strengthen our capabilities, harden our networks, and work with the defense industrial base to achieve greater visibility into the threats our industrial partners are facing. Suggestions that cyber intrusions have somehow led to the erosion of our capabilities or technological edge are incorrect.

Which only reminds us of the quote attributed to Mark Twain:

A lie can travel halfway around the world, while the truth is putting on its shoes.