The White House has called the North Korean cyber-attack on Sony an act of vandalism. This entirely misses the point. Vandalism is typically limited to relatively minor property damage. This attack was not merely a teenager spray painting the side of an old building. This was not merely some college-aged nerd sitting in his dimly lit bedroom in the basement of his parent’s house trying to hack into someone’s website. Yet, the administration appears to be treating it lightly.
When it comes to terrorism — missing the point invites future attacks that will grow in scope, size and frequency. In the 1990s, terrorist made more than one failed attempt to bring down the World Trade Center. Early attempts didn’t come close to toppling either tower. The Administration at that time also dismissed and minimized those early attacks and opted to treat them as merely law enforcement issues — as if someone had tried to rob a liquor store. That failure to see the early attacks for what they were, eventually lead to the stunning attacks now known as 9-11.
Are we making the same mistake again?
Some want to cast the attack as an attack on Sony. But this too misses the point. It was an attack on America and Americans. That is why the threats of death and bombing were made against American men, American women and American children who went to theaters showing a film that the attackers deemed offensive.
With respect to the 9-11attacks, nobody suffers from the illusion that the perpetrators were acting against the owners of the World Trade Center or even the businesses whose offices were located in the Twin Towers. That was an attack on America, Americans and our values and institutions. Likewise, this most recent cyber attack was not an attack on Sony or Hollywood. It was an attack on America and its values, including free speech, and its people.
Many of our adversaries are hacking daily into our nation’s computer infrastructure. They have stolen highly sensitive stealth technology, they have allegedly determined vulnerabilities within our electrical grid, and they plan to use this new form of warfare to attack us and harm us. They are not merely vandals spray painting on a fence surrounding our property. They are probing, and testing and preparing for large scale assault.
We can either pretend that they are the equivalent of annoying teenage vandals and be caught by surprise as we were on 9-11, or we can honestly face the facts and thereby begin to protect ourselves from the coming attacks.
It is naïve to refuse to see that there are bad people out there who intend to do bad things. These evil doers are sophisticated and realize that they cannot simply attack us head on. They grasp that the must use a variety of tools to attack and weaken us. Part of their plan is that they believe we will do nothing about the early attacks just as we have before. They are banking on that and hoping that the final attack will inflict enough damage that we will not be able to defeat them it will be too late. We play into their plans when we dismiss their efforts as vandalism or simply an attack on a single company or industry.
This most recent attack was, and is, a national security issue. We must treat it as such. Pretending that it is anything less only increases the coming dangers. Likewise, facing these realities puts us in the best position to defend ourselves and prevent future attacks.
Misreading Putin has increased the dangers in the world. Misreading the Iranian Mullahs has made the world less safe. Misreading various terrorist groups in Libya, Syria, Iraq, Pakistan, and Afghanistan has only made things worse. The bottom line is that misreading these most recent threats — dismissing them and minimizing them — will only make things worse and put more Americans at risk.
Cyber-terrorism is terrorism. Sometimes a computer is better than a pressure cooker or homemade bomb. Our enemies see the possibilities. We need to wake up.