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In Potomac Officers Club talk, Richard Clarke calls cyber war next big security threat

In Potomac Officers Club talk, Richard Clarke calls cyber war next big security threat - top government contractors - best government contracting event
In Potomac Officers Club talk, Richard Clarke calls cyber war next big security threat - top government contractors - best government contracting event
Richard Clarke and Microsoft's Scott Miller

He warned us once. Now he's warning us again.

Less than a year before the attacks of September 11, Richard Clarke issued a memo urging government officials to discuss the growing al-Qaeda threat. Today, Clarke is sounding another alarm. This time, about cybersecurity.

And once again, the US government is doing “little to nothing“ about it. That was Clarke's unsparing assessment in a talk before Potomac Officers Club the other day. Clarke had some choice words, for the Pentagon especially.

“The Pentagon has not articulated a national strategy for cybersecurity “” nothing I've seen deserves the word, “˜strategy.' Even if you have a security clearance, I challenge you to find [that strategy],“ said Clarke, who served under Presidents Reagan, George H.W. Bush, and Bill Clinton, and is author of the recent book, Cyber War.

Heightened concerns

Clarke's words come on the heels of a particularly tough last few weeks.

On October 1, the FBI arrested more than 39 people in an international cyber crime network that stole $70 million from more than 300 victims in the United States alone, including mid-sized companies, towns, and churches.

Many of the individuals arrested were in the US on student visas “” the “lowest [level] of the cartel,“ said Clarke.

Clarke called the fraud scheme, which employed the use of malware known as “Zeus Trojan,“ a “small example“ of what goes on every day. US banks and credit card companies are among the prime targets, which then pass on the cost of the loss to consumers.

Then there was the news out of Iran: an admission that 30,000 of the country's computers had been contaminated with the Stuxnet worm. Those developments effectively spell a new reality: the age of cyberwar has arrived “” and what happened in Iran could also happen here.

But, as Clarke sees it, the most immediate danger facing the United States is intellectual property theft now experienced by the private sector.

Every CEO and CIO whom Clarke has talked to has admitted, off the record, that their company has been victimized, he said. And that theft comes with relative ease “” no clandestine meetings ala Robert Hanssen “” but with the click of a mouse, from thousands of miles away. Terabytes of information “” the equivalent of whole Libraries of Congress “” have been stolen. Meanwhile, the difference between such cyber espionage activities and actual cyber war represents just a “few keystrokes,” said Clarke.

Ways to respond

It's time for a “paradigm shift,“ said Clarke. That shift needs to go from just playing defense, to offense. Because, he added, industry can't respond alone; its own set of answers, from antivirus software to firewalls, aren't enough to address the full scope of the challenge ahead.

What's needed, most crucially, is a national conversation. Clarke likened it to an AA meeting “” everyone, from government to industry, has to admit there really is a problem. Clarke said he just hopes it’s addressed before it’s too late. Again.

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