Panelists: Cyber threats are here to stay |

Panelists: Cyber threats are here to stay

Isabelle Chapman
Special to the Aspen Times

Not all wars of the future will require soldiers. Soon, bank robbers might not need to use guns to instill fear in their victims. Instead, war and theft could play out on an entirely different battleground — online.

Friday afternoon at the Greenwald Pavilion, Michael McConnell, a former vice admiral in the U.S. Navy, and Tim Pawlenty, president and CEO of Financial Services Roundtable and former governor of Minnesota, discussed what this issue means to America’s changing society and government.

The two participated in a discussion called “The Cyber Threat to America’s Economy, Infrastructure, and Security,” as a part of the Aspen Ideas Festival.

Kevin Delaney, editor-in-chief of Quartz, an Atlantic Media business website, mediated Friday’s discussion and began the talk with a question: Is the magnitude of cyber threats so great that Americans should lie awake at night in fear?

“It is accelerating. The magnitude is large, and the consequences are serious.”
Tim Pawlenty
Former Minnesota governor

It soon became clear — the answer is “yes.” McConnell and Pawlenty, though from vastly different backgrounds, did agree that America should be scared.

Delaney quickly established that every major organization in the United States has been a victim of espionage via Internet — this includes Fortune 500 firms, health companies and food distributors, among others.

So what’s the motivation for this kind of warfare?

“Money,” Pawlenty said. “It could range from still-struggling-with-acne teenagers who are messing around in their parents’ basement; it could be Ukrainian mobsters … their motives could be simply money … or it could be folks who have more mischievous motives.”

However, money is not the only thing that can be gained through hacking.

Technology is a part of virtually every company or organization in the United States. And because of this, theft actually could be low on the list of America’s worries in terms of cyberwarfare.

For example, technology is a part of processing food. So a hacker potentially could change an enzyme that goes into a food — cheese, for example — and poison massive numbers of people through what Delaney called “deadly cheddar.”

Pawlenty agreed with Delaney on the importance of the issue of cyberwarfare.

“The point is that this is a very significant threat,” Pawlenty said. “It is accelerating. The magnitude is large, and the consequences are serious.”

McConnell said that perhaps those who are best at protecting their companies from cyberwarfare are financial services in the private sector.

“They have money, criminals want it, so they’re forced to address this issue,” McConnell said.

But perhaps the scariest thing of all is the lack of notice that is an inevitable part of cyberwarfare.

“If there’s a missile attack you have some time. … But the kinds of attacks that will happen through cyberwarfare, those could happen in two seconds,” Pawlenty said.

By the end of the discussion, Delaney spoke for perhaps every person in the pavilion when he told the two speakers, “You’ve scared us sufficiently,” before asking what can be done.

McConnell and Pawlenty seemed to agree that for an individual, there isn’t much that can be done, except to beg government representatives to make the growing issue a priority.

Isabelle Chapman is a summer intern working for The Aspen Times through July.

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