In a recent poll conducted by Pace University, a group of 850 Americans of varying age were asked about cyberterrorism. The question specifically was “do you believe a technology-based terrorist threat is likely to occur within the next 3-5 years?” This poll is the latest in a series of media (e.g. Gallup) and academic probings that seek to understand the public view of cyber national security.
The results of the Pace poll were interesting to say the least. There was a clear division between age groups of just how great a threat cyberterrorism is. For participants under 30, roughly 58 percent believed in an imminent cyberterrorist threat, whereas participants over the age of 65 polled much higher at 85 percent. The ultimate takeaway from this particular poll is that a sizeable majority of Americans recognize the reality of cyberterrorism.
What are the implications here? Firstly, it proves that the concept of cyberwar has fully imprinted itself on the American consciousness. It took a long time to get to this point, but with forced transparency via whistleblowers, American citizens are finally comprehending the downside to an interconnected cyberworld. The more that devices of all kinds link up with each other, the more likely they are to all be affected in a major hack. Additionally, revelations about government incompetence with regards to cybersecurity, especially in areas vital to national security, have left U.S. citizens slightly paranoid about their safety.
To qualify as cyberterrorism, threat actors must seek to harm innocent lives via attacks on infrastructure or personal safety. Nation-states, such as in the Stuxnet nuclear facility attack or the U.K. railway system hacks, have clearly engaged in what I consider to be cyberterrorism. Additionally, as I’ve reported, malicious hackers have gone after petrochemical plants, engineering companies, government data centers, and many others.
With awareness growing of the true threat that cyberterrorism brings, the next steps are crucial. As more individuals become educated about cyber threats to their safety, it is vital that the populous demands more from its leaders. At all levels of the American government, prominent individuals and entire departments have dropped the ball on cybersecurity.
As I said in a previous article, “if the U.S. political sphere does not adapt and continues on its road of not employing a significant amount of outside help, I can confidently say we are not prepared to face a nation-state hack or other serious threat.” These words are never more true than they are right at this moment. As Americans, no matter the political affiliation, we must demand more from our leaders. We must demand prominent focus on cybersecurity comprehension and efficiency rather than giving simple lip service to it.
Our future depends on it.
Photo credit: Mike Herbst