Drone and Cyber Technology : Moral, Legal, and Privacy Issues _ Part II

Part I of this series dealt with America’s use of unmanned drones as weapons against terrorism abroad and plans to use them for surveillance here at home. Today we will look at how our government is using cyber technology as a weapon and the fear that this technology can be used against America and there for the need for our government to police the internet and invade our privacy for reasons of national security.

How do we know our government is using cyber attacks as a weapon? We know for the same reason we know about the President’s hit list for drone attacks: intentional administration leaks designed to bolster Obama’s reelection chances. This will be the topic of tomorrow’s post.

For those like me who are not cyber geeks, let’s start  with answering the question of what is a cyber attack. Here are a couple of simple definitions:

Cyber Attacks: computer-to-computer attack that undermines the confidentiality, integrity, or availability of a computer or information resident on it. (Source)

A cyberattack is an attempt to undermine or compromise the function of a computer-based system, or attempt to track the online movements of individuals without their permission.  Attacks of this type may be undetectable to the end user or network administrator, or lead to such a total disruption of the network that none of the users can perform even the most rudimentary of tasks. (Source)

Computers can be infected with spyware and malware; such as , viruses and worms. Google these term if you wish to learn more.

This past Sunday the New York Times ran an article titled Mutually Assured Cyberdestruction?  . The author of the article presents an interesting analogy of the internal debates our government has gone through  in arriving at a consensus of under what condition they would consider using a nuclear weapon and then more recently on a much smaller scale the conditions for using predator drones; and now:

And now we know that President Obama, for the past three years, has been going through a similar process about how America should use another innovative weapon — one whose destructive powers are only beginning to be understood. In a secret program called “Olympic Games,” which dates from the last years of the George W. Bush administration, the United States has mounted repeated attacks with the most sophisticated cyberweapons ever developed. Like drones, these weapons cross national boundaries at will; in the case of Olympic Games they invaded the computer controllers that run Iran’s nuclear centrifuges, spinning them wildly out of control.

Later, the author raises some pertinent questions :

Does the United States want to legitimize the use of cyberweapons as a covert tool? Or is it something we want to hold in reserve for extreme cases? Will we reach the point — as we did with chemical weapons, and the rest of the world did with land mines — that we want treaties to ban their use? Or is that exactly the wrong analogy, in a world in which young hackers, maybe working on their own or maybe hired by the Chinese People’s Liberation Army or the Russian mob, can launch attacks themselves?

Cyber attacks can run from the serious to the very serious:

The Chinese are believed to attack America’s computer systems daily, but mostly to scoop up corporate and Pentagon secrets. (Mr. Obama, one aide said, got a quick lesson in the scope of the problem when an attack on his 2008 campaign’s computers was traced back to China, a foretaste of what happened to Google the following year.) The United States often does the same: the Iranians reported last week that they had been hit by another cyberattack, called “Flame,” that appeared to harvest data from selected laptop computers, presumably those of Iranian leaders and scientists. Its origins are unclear.


IN March the White House invited all the members of the Senate to a classified simulation on Capitol Hill demonstrating what might happen if a dedicated hacker — or an enemy state — decided to turn off the lights in New York City. In the simulation, a worker for the power company clicked on what he thought was an e-mail from a friend; that “spear phishing” attack started a cascade of calamities in which the cyberinvader made his way into the computer systems that run New York’s electric grid. The city was plunged into darkness; no one could find the problem, much less fix it. Chaos, and deaths, followed.

It is clear then that our infrastructure; power grids, gas distribution systems, financial systems, are vulnerable to cyber attacks. American Thinker interviewed former Homeland Security Director Michael  Chertoff, former CIA Director Michael Hayden, former FBI Executive Assistant  Director Shawn Henry, and Congressman Mike Rogers (R-MI), chairman of the House  Intelligence Committee, to get their thoughts on this new and dangerous threat. No surprise. They all concur that the treat is very real. The AT article informs us:

Two  bills are being considered to deal with the cyber-threat: the Lieberman-Collins  Cyber Security Act and the Cyber Intelligence Sharing and Protection Act  (CISPA), authored by Congressman Rogers and passed this past April.  The  Cyber Security Act involves the security of systems that control the essential  services: power, water, and transportation.  Among the requirements: the  Department of Homeland Security will assess the risks and vulnerabilities of  critical infrastructure systems, working with the owners/operators to develop  risk-based performance requirements and to verify that the requirements are  being met.  There would also be information-sharing between the private  sector and the federal government regarding threats, incidents, best practices,  and fixes.

The bottom line, dear readers, is because there is a strong case that national security is at risk from cyber attacks, we will have cyber police sooner or later. Our government, with the cooperation of the Googles and the Yahoos, be able to access any computer and read and copy any file and share it with whom ever they wish. It is going to happen and we will probably have nothing to say about it. Will there be any controls over the cyber police? Why shouldn’t they have to get a court order to invade our privacy? Do we need a new type of “cyber judges” who instead of having a legal background are instead computer geeks which have been train in the Fourth Amendment rights against unreasonable search and seizure as well as the principles of probable cause? Is that too much to ask?

With advances in technology in the form of drones flying overhead with spy capabilities and cyber police probing our computers,  the principle of a reasonable expectation of privacy is becoming a think of the past.

Well, that’s what I’m thinking. What are your thoughts?

14 thoughts on “Drone and Cyber Technology : Moral, Legal, and Privacy Issues _ Part II

  1. Where is the outrage? The concern? No one seems to be able to connect the dots and get where this is going to lead to.

  2. Yet another complication stemming from the Information Age!

    I find myself in agreement with Silverfiddle. The potential for tyranny is significant via these cyber weapons.

  3. Personally, I never pretend that what I search, visit or write on the web isn’t open to scrutiny. Nothing is private.

  4. This is the real reason behind the FCC trying to regulate the internet and this is the real reason why Obama wants that internet kill switch. He wants to know exactly what we are up to and he knows there is no way we will know he is watching what we are doing online.

    1. It is going to happen, Steve, whether we like it or not. I read recently that Warren Buffet has recently bought 26 community newspapers on the cheap and he is planning to but a bunch more. What does he know that we don’t? Why would he expect a renaissance in print news?

  5. It is inescapable. Any feeling of online privacy has been false for a long time. No matter what server you use for email, there is a server somewhere with a copy of everything you send. That is the nature of electronic communications and you have to get used to the idea.

    The Electronic Frontier Foundation (https://www.eff.org/) tries to protect individual freedoms, but the fight is tough.

    As far as cyber attacks go, I have never understood why utilities, government entities, and such are connected to the internet. When I was an engineer at a utility, the national grid was all interconnected, but designed to keep the separate islands intact when one went down. All controls were via dedicated control lines. There was no such thing as an internet. System computer control was just being considered, but in those comparative stone age technological days, we didn’t worry about losing the national grid, or even local systems because of meddling.

    As engineers we used to spend coffee breaks trying to come up with ways to dump the system. It was really pretty hard to do.

    Is it wise to have interconnected systems?

    1. “All controls were via dedicated control lines.”

      Exactly! It is not wise to have inter connected systems for the national grid. Unfortunately, I don’t know what could be done about the inerconnected financial system.

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