(INDIANAPOLIS) – You’re already the victim of more cyberattacks than you realize. That’s the message from NATO’s former commanding general.
Former Democratic presidential candidate Wesley Clark told a global cybersecurity conference in Indianapolis the attempts by Russia to hack U-S elections represent a serious threat to democracy, stretching from attempts to hack voter rolls and counting machines to bots and trolls spreading false information on social media. He notes Russia’s also been implicated in attempts to attack elections in France and Britain.
But Clark says election interference is just one “attack vector” in what he warns is a “new domain of warfare” in cyberspace. He suggests it’s no coincidence that this month’s New York blackout was on the anniversary of a previous blackout, nor that the four major airlines have had reservation-system outages in the last year.
Clark says the financial sector has had the resources and incentive to erect strong protections against hackers. And he says electric utilities have made significant headway since a 2015 wake-up call in the form of a Russian cyberattack on Ukraine’s power grid. But Clark says water utilities, oil and chemical companies, and the transportation industry still need to beef up their defenses.
Clark says Russia has exploited the openness of Western society to attack elections, repurposing a well-documented playbook from the Soviet era for the digital age. He says it’s a strategy of persuading unwitting targets to do what you want, using bots and trolls to flood the zone with information, some of it false, and pitting groups against one another to create chaos.
Clark warns the threat isn’t limited to elections, nor to Russia. He says any software or hardware from China is suspect. And he notes hackers will probe for any opening, working their way down the supply chain and organization chart of a company they’re trying to penetrate.
And Clark says the nature of the digital age makes data an open treasure chest for hackers who want it. He says Saudi officials once told him directly they’d instantly downloaded all the contacts from his smartphone the moment he turned it on at the airport.
Gen. Wesley Clark (Photo: Taylor Hill/FilmMagic via Getty Images)