The United States remains involved across the globe in making the world safer for Americans and global citizens. But there’s another massive conflict that continues to grow in size and importance — cyberwarfare and international cyber crime are playing a bigger and bigger role in how we relate to other nations across the globe. They are issues that affect governments, militaries and economies and no doubt remain on the minds of U.S. officials.
U.S. Cyber Command: America’s Global Cyber Arm
In June of 2009, Secretary of Defense Robert Gates directed the creation of U.S. Cyber Command, which would house all cyberwarfare infrastructure for the military. Six years later, Cyber Command is the most important cyber effort in the federal government and is beginning to play a large role in the global space.
Budget and Growth
In 2015, Cyber Command received $509 million and is building a massive state-of-the-art joint operations center outside of Fort Meade in Maryland. A report from Defense News described the new cyber strategy announced in early 2015 that this growing unit will rest upon. “The strategy emphasizes deterrence and sets up a reliance on the commercial technology sector, hinging on a push to strengthen ties between Silicon Valley and the Pentagon,” Defense News said.
The Quest for Effective Deterrence
The main issue that Cyber Command currently faces is that it is both trying to build its operation and protect from cyberattacks simultaneously. Admiral Michael Rogers, the leader of Cyber Command, told the Senate Armed Services Committee in March that the group needed to get to the “point of deterrence.” This was a confirmation that the operation was not yet fully equipped to handle the overload of cyberattacks on government targets.
An attack on the Office of Personnel Management in April left four million current and former federal employees exposed. The intrusion was an ideal example of the type of attack the Cyber Command hopes to protect against as it grows. There is little doubt that the continued prominence of the group will have an impact on international relations with cyber aggressors like China, North Korea and other states.
International Cyber Crime and Foreign Policy
As cyberwarfare has become a larger part of international relations, the U.S. has had to incorporate it into specific relations with other countries. This has become especially important with nations whose relations with the U.S. have become strained and contentious.
According to Norse Security, the U.S. receives over 5,000 cyberattacks an hour, with most originating from China. This outpouring in attacks from the Far East has become a big point of contention between the White House and Beijing. President Obama stated in September that sanctions are on the table if the attacks continue in a meeting with Chinese President Xi Jinping.
The reality is that the scope of Chinese attacks on American targets is absolutely massive. In 2010, Google was among the first to report that Chinese hackers were targeting attacks on its cyber infrastructure. Since then, several companies have reported attacks, including Northrop Grumman, Symantec, Yahoo, Dow Chemical and Adobe Systems. These attacks are focused on both military and commercial interests and tend to focus on sectors in which the Chinese lag behind the U.S.
The continuing hacks were a major part of September’s summit between the two sides, especially after the recent hack of the Office of Personnel Management was attributed to the Chinese by American officials. Obama and Jinping reached a consensus on cybersecurity after two days of talks. However, it remains to be seen if the Chinese will back up their words with actions.
Although much of the current tension between Russia and the U.S. is focused on conflict in Ukraine and Syria, the Russians are also involved in many of the cyberattacks on U.S. cybersystems. Cybersecurity firm CrowdStrike told The Hill in April that over 10,000 Russian intrusions worldwide had been recorded in just four months.
The Russians have appeared to increase their attacks since President Obama imposed sanctions over the intervention in Ukraine. The Hill reports that this new wave of cyberattacks is hitting “the highest levels of the U.S. government.” This is an increase from the limited scale of attacks America has seen from the Kremlin in the past.
As with the Chinese, Obama is pressing the Russians on their widespread attacks. A Reuters report in September said that the U.S. is strongly considering sanctions against the Russians for the attacks. This was the first time that the U.S. had considered Russia for this type of sanctions. It’s widely known that Obama and Russian President Vladimir Putin have a frosty relationship, so it remains to be seen if the U.S. can convince Moscow to back down.
Many of the cyberattacks on the U.S. do not originate from a state, but rather from terrorist groups. There has long been talk of threats from various terrorist groups using cyberwarfare, but recently, the threats appear far more present.
Hackers associated with the Islamic State group have made a couple public attacks on social media. In early 2015, these hackers claimed the profiles of Newsweek, the International Business Times and several other media outlets. They even gained control of the United States Central Command and the account of Taylor Swift. They used these platforms to display their messages of promotion for the Islamic State group and Islamic extremism.
Although cyberterrorists do not have the capacity and level of organization that state-sponsored cyberattacks have, they are a serious threat that U.S. officials are constantly watching. With groups like the Islamic State group continuing to gain steam, the cyberattacks may continue.
International Cybersecurity Initiatives
Much of the cybersecurity activity on the international level occurs between more than two countries. International groups have developed cybersecurity initiatives to keep member states on the same page and help improve global cybersecurity.
The International Criminal Police Organization, or Interpol, is the primary intergovernmental organization facilitating the cooperation of police groups across borders. Interpol has a fast-growing cyber crime office headquartered in Singapore. There, Interpol works largely as a resource helping professionals across the globe develop sophisticated cyber crime efforts. Interpol’s three main initiatives are harmonization of investigations, capacity building, and operational and forensic support.
The North Atlantic Treaty Organization, or NATO, also operates in the cyber defense space. As a founding member, the U.S. is committed to helping members participate in cyber defense. NATO approved its first cyber defense policy in January of 2008 and has since grown its operations. NATO has worked to ensure that its communications networks are compatible with the infrastructure of other member states and is committed to the protection of those systems.
The Future of International Relations and Cybersecurity
Cybersecurity will have an incredible impact on the future of international relations. It is sure to affect how the U.S. and other countries interact on all levels of diplomacy. We will certainly need highly-trained professionals versed in the field of cybersecurity to help carry out the U.S. cyber defense policy. At Point Park University, we offer students the knowledge and credentials they need to enter this growing field with our fully online Master of Arts in Intelligence and Global Security.
Learn more about how to begin your career in this exciting field with the help of Point Park University today.