Whatever you may believe took place in regards to the 2016 presidential campaign, cybersecurity is no longer a topic we can ignore.
Throwing out politics, there is no doubt private information was stolen and released to the public, and that information did have an effect on this election.
The fact that someone was able to have that kind of influence on our political process is alarming, if not necessarily all that surprising. But from a national security standpoint, we should not be pooh-poohing this as fodder for sore losers.
Because the risk is real. The existence of the United States Cyber Command is all the proof we need. This year’s National Defense Authorization Act seeks to lift it a full combatant command.
Russia, China, North Korea and Iran routinely use cyberwarfare. China’s theft of the plans to the F-35 directly led to their own version of the fighter. How quickly we forget North Korea’s hack of Sony. Countries all over the globe, the United States included, have long used all the tools at their disposal to destabilize foreign powers.
So there should be no doubt that if the Russians thought a President Trump would be more acceptable to their expansionist, anti-NATO agenda than a President Clinton, they would use their long established cyberwarfare apparatus to their best advantage.
What should be most alarming is the relative ease it appears they had in hacking into the DNC. But really, should we be that surprised?
A Forbes.com article on the top 10 hacks of 2015 lists among the victims Experian (in regards to T-Mobile accounts), Anthem, Premera BlueCross/BlueShield and CareFirst BlueCross/BlueShield. It also included cybersecurity firm Kaspersky and password management company LastPass. And, of course, The United States Office of Personnel Management (OPM). Yes, the government.
Just days ago, Yahoo acknowledged a breach effecting more than 1 billion user accounts, breaking the previous record of 500 million. The previous record holder? Yahoo.
I have had a Yahoo Mail account for close to 20 years. I’m a fairly vigilant user. My passwords tend to be 15 or more characters. I don’t click on rogue links. I had 13 years of routine, annual cybersecurity training from the Department of Defense. Yet my email has been hacked at least three times over the last five years. I am by no means flawless, but I have to think that wasn’t operator error.
This final breach is the straw. I am in the midst of the arduous process of moving my email to a more secure operation, and let me confirm for you, it is no easy task.The email address is tied to all sorts of other accounts. Subscriptions. Money. Job sites. And each and every one will require updating. Twenty-years worth. Not to mention all of the personal and professional contacts that need to be updated.
I’m guessing that many of us are in the same boat.
I was also an early adopter of online shopping. Several times in the last five years I have been contacted by companies I’ve done business with claiming my information was compromised in a security breach. The usual perk is a year of free credit reports, from a company like Experian. In fact, last year OPM picked up the bill. A side benefit of having worked for the government.
And twice in the last five years my debit card info was swiped. At a store, restaurant, gas pump or ATM? Who knows. Can you say, beyond a shadow of a doubt, where your information is safe?
The simple fact is we live in an electronic world. Our money. Our Social Security numbers. Our health records. Our tax records. Our addresses, our families. Everything. I used to tell people the only way to keep yourself completely safe is to go off the grid. But even then, the government has your info. And all of that is stored in servers vulnerable to cyberattack.
Thus, we, as individuals, must remain vigilant and use every tool at our disposal to protect our electronic information. Turn on two-step verification on your email. Make passwords complex and change them often. Suspect email messages asking for your password. Report suspicious activity to your provider.
In my mind, there really is no doubt foreign powers, terrorists and criminals are trying to hack us all the time. To bury our heads in the sand would be at best, naïve, and at worst, negligent.
Chris Six is Managing Editor of the Fauquier Times, Gainesville Times and Prince William Times. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org and follow him on twitter @christophersix1