It’s a Small World After All – Crimea, Critical Infrastructure, and Cyber Attacks

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Worlds away from a quiet ride at a popular amusement park, the world’s eyes are focused on Eastern Europe where a new government has taken over the Ukraine and Crimea is the prize in a fierce geopolitical tug of war. What was less known until recently is that the new government of the Ukraine has faced cyber-attacks during this crisis.

These revelations mostly came to public light during the nomination hearing of Vice Admiral Michael Rogers, USN to be the next chief of the National Security Agency and National Cyber Command. Admiral Rogers noted that the use of cyber-attacks in geopolitical disputes is increasingly becoming the norm.  He told the committee, “Clearly, cyber will be an element of almost any crisis we’re going to see in the future … . It has been in the past; I believe we see it today in the Ukraine, we’ve seen it in Syria, Georgia — it is increasingly becoming a norm.” While Crimea and the Ukraine are approximately 5,200 miles away from Washington, D.C., this information hits close to home.

The use of cyber-attacks in geopolitical crises has the potential to affect portions (maybe even significant portions) of a country’s  population including the U.S. To some degree, we already realize this. These revelations come on the heels of the February 12, 2014 release of the long-awaited “Framework for Improving Critical Infrastructure Cybersecurity Version 1.0” (Framework) by the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST).  The Framework is designed to assist the public and private entities which own and/or operate critical infrastructure facilities to evaluate and create appropriate responses in the event that the U.S. faces a cyber-attack.

However, critical infrastructure is only the tip of the iceberg.  The Mandiant Report, released in February 2013, highlighted the vulnerable state of private companies which are regularly infiltrated by individuals and groups overseas (with whom we may or may not have the best of relations) for the purpose of gathering information.

The long and short is that with cyber, the traditional barriers that used to isolate geopolitical disputes don’t work anymore  because, thanks to technology, <cue the music> “It’s a small world after all.”