9/11 panel: ‘History may be repeating itself’

Ten years after releasing a landmark report on the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, the members of a former government commission are raising new alarms about the threat of cyberterrorism. 

Members of the 9/11 Commission said that the country was practically asleep at the wheel when it came to preventing attacks on computer systems, just as intelligence failures left the national vulnerable to terrorist groups like al Qaeda before 2001.

ADVERTISEMENT
“One lesson of the 9/11 story is that, as a nation, Americans did not awaken to the gravity of the terrorist threat until it was too late,” they wrote in a new report on the 10th anniversary of their findings.

“History may be repeating itself in the cyber realm.”

Military and intelligence officials have long been concerned about weak defenses on U.S. systems, which some warn could lead to a “cyber Pearl Harbor.” One unnamed former agency head shared that view in the new report, warning that the U.S. is at “September 10th levels in terms of cyber preparedness.”

Hackers in foreign governments, terrorist groups or criminal networks have shown a willingness to break into U.S. systems and steal information about people, companies and other institutions.

Those attacks already hurt companies’ profits through the theft of billions of dollars worth of business plans and intellectual property, but they could prove devastating if major Wall Street, utility or Pentagon systems were completely compromised by hackers.

“As the country becomes ever more dependent on digital services for the functioning of critical infrastructure, business, education, finances, communications, and social connections, the Internet’s vulnerabilities are outpacing the nation’s ability to secure it,” the commission wrote.

Officials throughout the government have acknowledged that the issue is something they need to confront.

Earlier this year, the Justice Department leveled criminal charges against five members of the Chinese military for spying on American companies, in what was largely seen as the Obama administration showing that it was willing to flex its muscle against the world’s No. 2 economy.

Congress has also begun work on new legislation that would allow companies and government agencies to share information about possible hackers and weaknesses in their cyberdefenses, with the goal of making sure that blind spots aren’t ignored for long.

That legislation is facing opposition from privacy advocates, however, who have warned that it would only empower the National Security Agency and other arms of government to get more personal information about ordinary Americans. 

More in Cybersecurity

Intel panel poised to release new cyber bill

Read more »