Targeted cyber sabotage can bring Russia and China to their knees

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Right now, our time and attention seem focused on the growing threat to our nation from within. The constant tearing at the fabric of our democracy that some have described as a “Cold Civil War.”

But let us not forget the alarming, relentless and emerging threat from our old “Cold War” adversary Russia.

We ignore it at our peril. 

Russia recently tested a new anti-satellite missile that destroyed one of its own old, outdated satellites by shooting it and thereby creating thousands of pieces of debris. The threat that it poses to American satellites in orbit is obvious. 

The missile test comes as Russian troops continue to build up along the border of Ukraine amid rising fears of an all-out invasion.

There’s also the construction of a new gas pipeline between Russia and our European allies that could make them as dependent on Russia as an addict to a drug dealer.

Are Americans aware and ready for armed conflict with Russia, and are we prepared to send our sons and daughters to fight in it? We’ve gotten terrific over the last 20-years at launching drones to rid ourselves of terrorists hiding out in Afghanistan, Iraq and Syria. But there’s no way for a drone to deal with rising threats in many emerging conflicts.

Is there a way to make Russia think twice about Ukraine or, for that matter, messing with our elections, pipelines, etc., without firing a shot?

I’m not a politician. I’m not a military leader. I don’t want to be second-guessing their decisions. I want to provide decision-makers with options.

I’m talking about arming our political and military leaders with “less than lethal options.” What does that mean: options tied to technology.

For instance, the Russians and Chinese are testing hypersonic ballistic missiles. Missiles so fast we might not have time to respond.

 But even the most sophisticated technology is still controlled by computer chips, and if there’s a chip inside, it can be hacked. We know how to hack, and that’s what I mean by less than lethal.

Let me put it another way. You’re a bad guy with the intent to harm civilians to make a political point. I see you’re going into a hotel. I certainly can’t drone strike the hotel. But with a few clicks of a keyboard, I can get your credit card declined. Then, when you walk back to your car in disgust, I can prevent the engine from starting. Cars have chips too. You can’t seem to grab a taxi to the airport. If you do get there somehow, your flight reservation has been canceled. Disrupt, disorient, and disarm without firing a shot.

I’m not sending in the troops. But I’m getting the job done.

The reality of conflict has changed, and we need to adapt. The problem is we aren’t educating our next generation of thinkers to think about the next generation of conflict.

Some of the brightest young minds in the country are in our colleges and universities, studying and preparing for their future careers. But we’re not empowering them to think about this. Do we want to be teaching our engineering students how to wage war by other means, you ask? Is that ethical?

It beats the heck out of sending them to fight a war in Eastern Europe.

I’m filling a talent pipeline of innovative young engineers and computer scientists who will one day replace us, and we’re not teaching them how to engage in the new face of conflict. I propose developing talented minds who can design and implement less than lethal options that give the president and military leaders something else to consider, and it’s not a novel concept.

In 2010, Israel used a malicious computer worm, Stuxnet, to attack Iran’s nuclear program. The worm targeted the control systems of an estimated 1000 gas centrifuges crippling Iran’s nuclear program. That’s a less-than-lethal option to the genuine threat of a nuclear-armed Iran.

I’m not saying less-than-lethal options can altogether replace troops, missiles, aircraft carriers, submarines and even a Space Force to defend us against conventional or future threats and forms of warfare. I’m saying the battleground has already changed, and we haven’t done nearly enough to change with it. Tactically we have rocked the world, but strategically we are lacking in vision and execution.

Over the last 20-years, we’ve sacrificed too many of our sons and daughters in battle. We’ve taken too many collateral lives because of the fallibility of our drone strike technology. It’s time we unleash our most powerful weapons in defense of our country — the brilliant young minds of our brightest students. We need to empower them with the less-than-lethal ways of dealing with threats to our nation in a manner that avoids the kind of warfare that could consume us all.

Dr. Robert Bishop is the dean of the University of South Florida School of Engineering and founder, president, & CEO of the Institute of Applied Engineering. 

Tags Cyberwarfare Cyberwarfare in the United States Nuclear energy in Iran Stuxnet

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