Increases in the cyber capabilities of Iran and China have caused not only cyber espionage but "silent wars" between those countries and the United States, former Department of Homeland Security Assistant Secretary for International Affairs Paul Rosenzweig said on Tuesday.
"It touches all of us," Rosenzweig, author of Cyber Warfare, said at a Heritage Foundation event.
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Rosenzweig warned that the dynamic, rapid spread of the Internet makes the future challenging to predict. He cited the fact that the average cell phone now has as much computing power as a 1980s supercomputer used for nuclear testing by the government.
This rapid increase in computing power makes predicting future attackers and their capabilities nearly impossible.
"In three years it will be so different we can’t even begin to predict what we’re going to need," said Rosenzweig, who is a visiting fellow at Heritage.
Although the media have reported cyber espionage by Chinese hackers and non-state actors such as "Anonymous," there has been an increase in cyber attacks between countries, sparking what Rosenzweig called cyber "cold wars."
The cyber cold war between the United States and Iran has lasted five years and shows no sign of ending. The United States and Israel are believed to have attacked Iran with Stuxnet and Flame, computer viruses designed to destroy parts of Iran’s nuclear facilities. Iran has retaliated with cyber attacks on U.S. businesses.
Experts estimate the cyber attacks have slowed Iran’s nuclear program by two years.
However, cyber relations between China and the United States pose the greatest threat, Rosenzweig said.
The Chinese group "Unit 61398," which is similar in structure to the National Security Agency, is suspected of stealing trillions of terabytes of data from U.S. companies and the government. It would take semi-trucks spanning the Pentagon to the port of Baltimore to physically steal that much data, Rosenzweig said.
While there is a "potential advantage, so long as we have superior technology," that may not be the case in five or 10 years, Rosenzweig said.
He suggested strategies such as the "gamification of counter intelligence," which utilizes private sector hackers around the world to target specific companies profiting from stolen information.
Instead of imposing sanctions on a country,which Rosenzweig said would be slow and hierarchical, the U.S. could impose sanctions on specific companies.
Rosenzweig also suggested the U.S. begin targeting China’s firewall in order to "let a thousand tweets bloom."
Rosenzweig also warned of a cyber cold war becoming hot, causing enough physical destruction from power grids and computer systems to start a shooting war. While this is possible, Rosenzweig sees it as unlikely.
"Instead of mutually assured disaster, we have mutually assured disruption," Rosenzweig said.