There are four cyber-security stories that have cropped up recently to which everyone should be paying close attention:
This past week, DMV offices all over California had their computer systems shut down by what was apparently a hardware failure. There’s evidently no reason to suspect the DMV’s systems were attacked, but the incident shows off the frailty of government computer systems, the ease with which the whole edifice can collapse when a single brick is smashed (accidentally or intentionally).
That is exactly what happened to large swaths of the Internet two weeks ago, when Dyn, one of the U.S.’s major DNS hosts, was flooded by a tidal wave of artificial internet traffic. It tried to convert addresses for so many fake browsing requests that it was unable to respond to the real ones, like a bartender getting 10,000 orders for Banana Daiquiris just before you try to order a beer. With their DNS host overwhelmed, sites such as Twitter, CNN, Paypal, Reddit, Spotify, and Netflix stopped working.
One week before that, WikiLeaks began publishing John Podesta’s e-mails, and the Clinton campaign decided that it would try to redirect the story toward Russia, which they say is responsible for stealing Podesta’s email. That might not be true; it’s certainly possible that it is — various intelligence agencies seem to think so. There is no doubt that Russia would like to tamper with our elections, or, short of that, to appear to be tampering with them. Because the Obama administration has a more or less established policy of non-response to cyber-attacks — from Russia, from China, from North Korea, from Iran — the Kremlin no doubt felt comfortable giving it a try.
But it turns out there is a line in the sand that, being crossed, can get President Obama to treat a foreign power as hostile, and that’s exposing the corruption of the Democratic party. Now, suddenly, Obama has found a belligerent tone for Putin.
However, a week before the WikiLeaks dumps began — and over the strong objections of congressional Republicans — Obama relinquished American control of ICANN, the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers. ICANN is the body that is ultimately responsible for the internet’s DNS system-at-large, and could in theory stop access to any website it wanted. Now, instead of the U.S. having ultimate control over its policies, ICANN will be a private corporation advised by an international committee that includes China, Iran, and Russia.
If there’s one thing a month of cyber-panic can tell us, it’s that foreign dictatorships can be trusted not abuse that power.
— Josh Gelernter writes weekly for NRO and is a regular contributor to The Weekly Standard. He is a founder of the tech startup Dittach.