Valley News – Column: Data is immensely powerful, and it creates immense vulnerabilities

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America created cyberspace in its own image — free, open, decentralized, distributed and self-governing. If the internet had been created in China or Russia, its architecture would have been very different. Unfortunately, its very openness and freedom have become the source of its vulnerabilities.

Authoritarian nations find the freedom of cyberspace very threatening. They build firewalls to protect their societies from freedom. For geopolitical reasons, they also use cyber weapons to attack others.

A most attractive feature of cyberspace is that its entrance threshold is so low that an ingenious, self-taught person can create apps and new platforms and become rich; or become a hacker and get into infrastructure, financial or military systems without leaving a trace. Rogue states and well-organized digital terrorist groups use footloose hackers to steal intellectual property and pry into diplomatic and strategic plans.

Cybersecurity attacks are stealthy and insidious. There are no rules of the road to protect cyberspace, the domain in which all our activities — military, economic, commercial, political and cultural — are being done now. Power grids, financial systems and defense networks could be brought down, not only by hostile states but also by nonstate actors, alone or in collusion with their governments. Last October, a cyberattack shut down the electrical grid of Mumbai, India’s financial capital, plunging millions into darkness. The New York Times suggested that it was a Chinese cyberattack — a warning that China could not only fight India in the Himalayas, but also in its financial hub.

The May 7 ransomware attack on Colonial Pipeline, one of America’s largest fuel suppliers, was carried out by affiliates of a criminal hacking group, DarkSide. The attack crippled Colonial’s computer system, for which it had to pay the ransom in cryptocurrency — 75 bitcoins, or nearly $5 million, according media reports. Cryptocurrency based on blockchain technology is a possible future for global finance. Ransom in cryptocurrency cannot be traced at present.

One of America’s most precious assets, intellectual property, is under constant threat. Chinese hackers have been…

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