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The US must not lose the cyberwar with Russia

The US must not lose the cyberwar with Russia

Russia’s reported interference in the 2016 and 2020 presidential elections is child’s play compared to its ability to upend our transportation, energy, financial and communication systems and bring life to a halt. Should this trend continue, Russia could become the dominant force on the world stage, despite its small army and an economy smaller than Italy’s. The U.S. had better wake up.

The U.S. won the Cold War against the Soviet bloc in1990 but is losing the cyberwar. The 1990s economic restructuring humiliated Russia and impoverished many of its citizens, thanks to U.S. demands that it quickly privatize its state enterprises. Under the leadership of Vladimir PutinVladimir Vladimirovich PutinRussian vessel threatens to ram US warship in disputed waters in Sea of Japan Biden leans on foreign policy establishment to build team Biden rolls out national security team MORE, a spy himself, Russia chose to deploy low-cost, high-impact digital weapons against the U.S. and other countries in order to reclaim its role on the world stage. 

Any country with decent internet expertise can readily develop and deploy digital power in cyberwars. Examples include China, North Korea, Saudi Arabia and Israel. In such a war there is no need for a big defense budget, or a big army, and there is no need to stockpile arms. Furthermore, cyberwar technology advantage can augment a country’s conventional arms by, for example, providing it with early warning of an imminent attack.   

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The goals and tactics of cyberwars are not different from those of the Cold War’s. Even the main players stayed the same: Russia and the U.S., or more generally East and West blocs.  

Russia has the relative advantage in this ongoing war between the two blocs. Its conventional army weak, Russia can deploy its internet technology and use big data and numerous social media platforms to attack the U.S. in broad daylight. Russia can target any political candidate, party and voter group and influence their behavior more accurately than a sharp-shooter. And it could wreck havoc on the U.S. financial, transportation, health and energy systems and bring American lives to a halt. 

Russia’s overall goal is to undermine the democratic way of life in the western world and especially in the U.S. It has already demonstrated that it can interfere with American social and political fabrics and sow hatred and divisiveness among its social and political groups. And there is plenty of evidence that it has tried to do the same in Britain, France, Germany and other countries.

The U.S. must wake up and take a measured response.  

First, it must fully acknowledge that this cyberwar is no less dangerous than the Cold War.

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Second, it must mobilize its technological might – including help from the internet private industry – to stop the Russian offensive. Such an effort may already be in place, but it must be scaled way up and be given the urgency it deserves.

Third, the U.S. must mount a counterattack against Russia’s cyberwar infrastructure.

Fourth, the U.S. must retaliate and interfere with the functioning of Russia’s society and its foreign policy — eye for an eye, byte for a byte.

Finally, the U.S. should consider building a coalition with other countries – akin to NATO – which have been invaded digitally by Russia to stop its cyber offensives.

These measures could also help the U.S. blunt Russia’s conventional successes in the Middle East, Ukraine, Eastern Europe and the Baltic states.  

The U.S. has all the expertise needed to take these measures, but it has not been willing to bite the bullet. The U.S. won the Cold War. So far, it’s losing the cyberwar against Russia. This must not happen.

Avraham Shama is the former dean of the College of Business at the University of Texas, The Pan-American. He is a professor emeritus at the Anderson School of Management at the University of New Mexico. He has published a book and many articles about Russia’s economy. His new book, “The Dawn of Cyberwars,” is forthcoming.