Is the battlefield moving online?

WASHINGTON – With hackers attacking organizations from Sony to the Defense Department’s Central Command, cyber warfare is shaking America’s Internet security and people’s confidence in how safe they are while surfing the web.

Cyber security recently grabbed the nation’s attention when hackers threatened to bomb movie theaters last year if Sony released “The Interview,” a satirical movie about a U.S. plot to assassinate North Korean President Kim Jong Un. The FBI claims the North Korean government was behind the attack, with some Internet security experts agreeing and others proposing it was more likely the work of a Sony insider.

“The recent destructive cyber attacks on Sony and related threats of violence on American moviegoers are deeply disturbing. Whether the perpetrator is North Korea or another bad actor, the United States takes these actions seriously,” Sen. Tom Carper of Delaware, the top Democrat on (the Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs, said in a statement after the incident.

House Cybersecurity Subcomittee Chairman John Ratcliffe, R-Texas, had a similar reaction. “Any response by the United States must be swift and must send a message that there will be serious consequences for cyberattacks. We cannot encourage cyber terrorists or cyberattacks from nation-states such as North Korea, Iran, or China with a weak response.”

After major theater chains refused to show the film, it was later released at specific theaters and online.

The second major cyber attack came on Monday when hackers apparently linked to the Islamic State (IS) took over U.S. Central Command’s Twitter and YouTube accounts, releasing documents allegedly showing government scenarios on China and North Korea. Both accounts were taken down later that day.

Obviously physical attacks from groups such as al-Qaida and the Islamic State are ever-present threats. The recent attacks in Paris and Nigeria proved that. However, we may see the Internet developing as a new battleground in conflicts with terrorist organizations and foreign governments.

Stewart Baker, former assistant secretary of Homeland Security and a keynote speaker at Cyber Security Summit 2014, is convinced that North Korea was behind the Sony hack.

“The Sony attack is a very troubling new development in which foreign governments have gone from stealing our secrets to trying to get us to say things they like and stop saying things they don’t like…” he said. “That’s a development that goes beyond exposing personal data to actually forcing Americans to dance to foreign governments’ tunes.”

Baker argues that many Americans are vulnerable to cyber attacks, but the real threat is from foreign governments attempting to influence national policy.

“We’re facing the prospect that foreign governments are going to be stealing American intellectual property, bankrupting companies, extorting behavior that will have an effect on how our democracy functions…” he said.

Emphasizing the danger of such attacks, Carper issued a statement this week praising the passing of four bills on cyber security last year and demanding further cooperation and action to deal with this growing threat.

However, Baker expects to see more cyber attacks and is not convinced that America’s defenses against cyber attacks are strong enough.

“[North Korea] didn’t prevent the movie from being shown. But they came close. I think the fact that they came close will encourage them to try it again,” he said. “And others who are watching the events are likely to draw the same conclusion, because the U.S. has not yet found a way to retaliate in a fashion that will deter these kinds of attacks.”

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