East Penn Press

Tuesday, April 23, 2019

Cybersecurity expert links technology and politics

Thursday, April 11, 2019 by Stephen ALthouse Special to The Press in Local News

Is technology facilitating the rise of China and Russia? The answer is complex, even to an expert like Joseph Walsh.

The director of the Masters of Arts Criminal Justice program and instructor of computer science and criminal justice at DeSales University knows a thing or two about computers. He spent more than 15 years working with computers, the majority of them as a police officer and as a detective investigating crimes involving technology and cyber security. He offered a presentation recently on “Cyber Conflict and Geo Politics” at Kirkland Village in Bethlehem as part of the “Great Decisions Foreign Policy Lecture Series.”

But back to the original question – the answer is yes and it has been for a long, long time.

“We’re their targets,” Walsh said simply.

For example, the 2003 Northeast Power Outage was not an accident, according to Walsh, but rather a planned and wisely executed cyberattack. Walsh said the government “didn’t think the people could handle that” at the time, and concocted another story. The blackout resulted in losses of more than $6 billion and 11 deaths.

You might say “big deal” and shrug your shoulders.

Walsh has more examples.

In 2017, hackers nefariously targeted the Wolf Creek Nuclear Operating Corporation, which runs a nuclear power plant near Burlington, Kan. While the strategy or scope of the attack is still not completely known, Department of Homeland Security officials said the attacks targeted people - industrial control engineers who had direct access to systems that - if damaged - could have led to explosion, fire or spills of dangerous materials. Walsh said the Russians were the likely if not certain perpetrators.

Still not concerned? Walsh was just getting warmed up.

He discussed the time when seven Iranian hackers chose to penetrate on their country’s behalf the controls of the Bowman Avenue Dam in Westchester County, N.Y. Any attempt to remotely invade and manipulate the dam and flood the nearby region didn’t work, Walsh said. Why?

“Because it wasn’t working at the time, it was under repair,” Walsh said deadpan.

The sheer scope of cyberattacks and breaches is stunning, according to Walsh. There are destructive attacks, indiscriminate attacks, stolen email and login information, stolen credit card and financial information, in addition to corporate espionage and politically motivated destructive attacks aimed at sabotage and espionage. One of the worst historic examples in that latter category include the 2008 cyberattack on the United States, “considered the worst breach of U.S. military computers in history.”

“We’re just not as safe as we should be,” he said.

The answer as to why starts with the Internet itself. While a modern marvel, “the web” is being used in ways for which it was never designed. Specifically, the Internet was never designed to be a secure system. Rather, Walsh said, it was created to be an open and fault-tolerant system and its founders concentrated on its promise and didn’t foresee users attacking one another. Hence, contemplating the web’s dark side was not a priority.

“There are many things on the Internet that should have never been placed on the Internet,” he said. Just one example is banking. Given the possibility of higher profits and lower expenditures, banking online was a natural move for the financial services industry. However, Walsh explained the security to protect that information is not nearly adequate to the technology being developed to attack it.

“At some point, we have to stop connecting everything to the Internet,” Walsh noted. “That’s because the Internet was not designed for security.”

In lieu of that, Walsh advocated for increased cybersecurity and for individuals to take seriously what they put and do not put onto the Internet.