New study shows key government and industry leaders now fear a cyber assault as much as a missile attack as professionals in information assurance careers are in short supply.
In a telling example of the changing landscape of national security and international relations, Internet security provider McAfee has released a report chronicling the attitudes of more than 250 government officials, business leaders, Internet observers and academics toward the current state of cybersecurity in an increasingly connected world. The conclusions are profound: many of the respondents believe cyber attacks now pose as much, if not more, danger to the people of the world than attacks by traditional military weapons.
The key issue, according to the survey participants, is two-fold. First, critical infrastructure systems – the same distribution mechanisms of energy, information and food and water that are historically the targets of military strikes – are now so dependent on network connectivity that a well-executed cyber attack can easily mimic the nationwide effects of a destructive assault by missiles or bombs. Secondly, while the last 30+ years have seen tremendous progress in multi-national arms control and international demilitarization, there is currently no global framework to combat cyber-terrorism, giving hackers an advantage in the fight against an otherwise disorganized global adversary.
When asked about the relative threats of cyber attacks vs. military strikes, those surveyed in the McAfee report were split almost precisely down the middle. A full 36% of those polled said cybersecurity was more important than missile defense to the security of their country. Only 38% believed defense priorities should be the other way around. Perhaps most significantly, the remaining 26% of respondents couldn’t decide which security threat, hackers or missiles, was most important.
Even national security issues that have garnered tremendous recent attention in the news failed to outweigh fears about cybersecurity in the minds of McAfee’s 250 study subjects. When compared to border security, 45% of those included in the survey said cybersecurity was just as important. Only 35% rated border security a higher priority, while 20% believed it was more important to keep out hackers than men and women who might physically enter a country with illegal intentions.
Based on these findings, the report makes a series of recommendations about how governments can better work together and work with their constituents to combat cyber-terrorism. Information sharing and the adoption of international cybersecurity standards are high on the list of McAfee’s suggestions. The report specifically highlighted the public/private partnership model in the Netherlands that is bringing government agencies and private businesses in that country together to keep digital assets safe.
Above all, the need for more professionals trained in the science of cybersecurity and Information Assurance rang loud and clear throughout the report. More than half of those polled said their country faced a critical shortage of skilled professionals in a cyber security career, and the need for more men and women on the digital front lines is only expected to increase as the threat of cyber attacks continues to grow.