Editorial: WikiLeaks sounds alarm about cybersecurity
The WikiLeaks dumps of Hillary Clinton campaign emails have ranged from titillating insider gossip to more disturbing revelations about the abuse of influence. For her opponents, they’ve been something of a treasure.
But beyond partisan politics, everyone should be concerned by what the leaks say about the holes in American cybersecurity and the shifting rules of engagement with Russia.
WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange is allied with Russian Premier Vladimir Putin, and U.S. intelligence agencies widely believe it was the Russians who hacked into Clinton campaign accounts.
That amounts to a nation state using the power of its intelligence apparatus to influence an American election.
And that’s scary stuff, particularly if Putin takes it to the next level of disrupting voting and vote counts.
“They can’t do it wholesale,” says former Congressman Mike Rogers, a Brighton Republican who now hosts a TV show and consults with cybersecurity startups. “But if they can create enough doubt in the integrity of an election, they can cause a problem.
“They don’t want one candidate over another. They want confusion.”
Rogers sees in the WikiLeaks a “big and dangerous” change in Russian policy. Previously, the Russians behaved rationally toward the United States, he says; meddling in elections brings unpredictability to the relationship.
“Messing with the U.S. political system is not the attitude of a rational actor,” Rogers says. “This tells me they’re pushing the envelope.”
For decades, Russia has meddled in elections in Latin American and Eastern Block nations. But it has not dared to do so in this country.
The Russians are our technological rival, with sophisticated cyber ability. If they get serious about this game, they could cut off power to parts of the country, create chaos in financial institutions and ruin the credibility of elections.
Vice President Joe Biden made the mistake of warning the Central Intelligence Agency is planning a “covert” response to Russia’s hacking. It would have been much more covert had Biden not blabbed about it, and compromised CIA deniability to boot.
Still, the United States must respond. And it must do more to protect itself by finding ways to keep Russia and others out of our networks.
The National Security Agency is shackled by a public worried that it would turn its cyber eye on average citizens. It now needs more freedom to catch hacking attempts overseas. That requires the ability to share in real-time evidence of malicious source coding and other suspicious activity.
Currently, it takes four days to get the information through Homeland Security, in most cases. By that time it’s often too late to stop a hack.
The NSA also must be able to work more cooperatively with the private sector, which controls 85 percent of the computer networks. Most of those private networks, Rogers says, are vulnerable to hacking.
“We know the Russians’ capability, because they’ve already done these things elsewhere,” Rogers says. “We are not ready for it here. Politically or policy-wise, we are not ready.”
Now that Putin has demonstrated a willingness to disrupt America’s sacred democratic process, we need to get ready, and quickly.