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This is why the US must win the 'Cyberspace Race'

The cyber threat is now our greatest national security challenge, a 21st Century "weapon of mass destruction" that is currently having serious impacts on America and is getting worse – militarily and economically – across public and private sectors, and socially across all segments of society.


Our adversaries around the globe, from rivals like Russia and China to belligerents including ISIS, Iran, and North Korea, have developed significant cyber capabilities.  This "global cyber proliferation" is serious and growing worse by the minute.  In the late 1950s and early 1960s, the emerging Cold War's battlefront included the Space Race with the Russians, and eventually a symbolic American on the moon. Today, we have a similar situation: A "Cyber Space Race" which will represent the dominant high ground for decades to come.

Louisiana Army National Guard photo by Spc. Garrett L. Dipuma

We are being hacked and attacked every day in America. Our personal accounts and lives, our critical infrastructures, and there are undoubtedly many serious incursions that we have not detected or have gone unreported.  A few recent examples illustrate this point: State-backed Iranian hackers conducted a denial of service attack against US banks to attack United States infrastructure, and not just the banks themselves.

Russian-backed hackers sought to influence elections in the United StatesFrance, and throughout Europe.  The Chinese military has carried out cyber-espionage attacks against US companies, hacking intellectual property from US public and private entities, including sensitive military IP worth billions. North Korea foreshadowed their cyber capabilities when hacking Sony Pictures, but has recently demonstrated a far more robust cyber arsenal, an alarming threat to the public and private sectors of America and its allies. Equally alarming is the Islamic State's recruiting of jihadists who are then connected to encrypted sites for further radicalization and operational instructions.

The worst-case scenario is a potential "Cyber Pearl Harbor" or a "Cyber 9/11." While once found only in doomsday thrillers, a massive cyber threat is now very real.

Related: Get hacking! America's cyber warfare force is now operational

While America's public and private sector cyber defenses have grown since the mid-1990s, the threat to all elements of national power has grown even more rapidly. America is at high risk. Of particular concern is our soft commercial-sector underbelly, which comprises 85% of Internet use in the United States.  Cyber breaches present an unprecedented and often disastrous risk to the value of commercial entities.

Consider the Target, Home Depot, Sony, and Equifax cyber intrusions. Each cost the companies billions in market valuation, lost revenue, employee productivity, reputation, and expenses. While it is harder to quantify than a stock price, companies and institutions are successful in large part due to trust. An individual company violating that trust with their customers can have devastating effects for that company, but the magnitude of recent data breeches strikes fear in the hearts of all Americans and undermines trust in the fundamental institutions of our society.

Cadets, pay attention — our future could be in your hands. (U.S. AF photo by Raymond McCoy)

Just as techniques and technology developed in America's space program resulted in innovations benefitting the full range of American life, so, too, can military-grade cyber capabilities be leveraged to harden vulnerable government and commercial entities. Techniques and technologies such as the commercial sector onboarding of military-grade technologies, implementing network segmentation to protect sensitive information, applying advanced encryption techniques to protect large databases, ensuring protection from insider threats, and using advanced analytics to uncover risks to commercial internal or external networks.

America must win the 21st Century "Cyber Space Race." We must mobilize the entire spectrum of American enterprise, from the cyber education of our children to the highest levels of academia, business, and government. The US commercial sector must do everything possible to protect themselves, their customers, and this nation. This includes using military-grade cyber defense capabilities to ensure commercial viability, thus securing America's increasingly vulnerable economic engine.