Colorado Springs will be a key player in fighting the world’s emerging cybersecurity threat, with the Air Force academy and local cybersecurity firms grooming an Internet police force to stop cybercrime “before it happens.”
Iranian nuclear facilities, shown here, were disrupted in 2010 by the Stuxnet virus. America is suspected of launching the attack. (United Nations photo)
Though stopping cyberattacks requires a high-tech battle plan, the primary weapon that will be developed in Colorado Springs is the human being.
The Air Force and cybersecurity firms here will groom an Internet police force to guard computer networks by trying to stop hackers before they strike. To understand why those human guards are needed, it’s helpful to look at the threats.
In a report released last summer, the Government Accountability Office said “information security incidents” involving federal computers increased twelvefold over nine years, with 67,168 attacks in fiscal year 2014. The Department of Defense issued a report last year that said anyone with a laptop can be a cyber enemy.
In a Colorado Springs conference, Eric Stride with Colorado Springs cybersecurity firm root9B demonstrated how easily a hacker can penetrate a network.
“Anyone in mom and dad’s basement can download it and exploit it,” he said.
What can those hackers do once they get inside a computer network?
The most common thing is theft. Businesses can lose customer data, banks can lose cash, and websurfers can lose their identities. A newer online attack called ransomware encrypts a user’s computer data until they pay to regain control. Those attacks have hit home computers and large corporations.
The military fears losing secrets; industry is wary of losing blueprints.
Cybercrime is expected to cost as much as $2 trillion to battle hackers and cover losses around the globe this year.
But cyberattacks can also make things go boom.
The Stuxnet attack that hit Iran in 2010 destroyed machinery for that nation’s nuclear weapons program. Newer computer hacks have targeted dams, power facilities and manufacturing plants. Those could bring havoc and be used in conjunction with ground troops or terrorists to cause even more damage.
“It’s our belief that cyber represents the most significant security threat to the United States of America,” root9B CEO Eric Hipkins said.
Technology has been slow to keep up with the threats, but Colorado Springs could be on the leading edge of catching up.
The Air Force Academy is building a Cyber Innovation Center. Colorado Springs is getting the state-sponsored National Cyber Intelligence Center, which will teach the Internet police force the latest hacker tricks.
Leaders say Colorado Springs is a natural fit for the new world of active cybersecurity. Many of the workers who leaders say will fill civilian cybersecurity jobs are soldiers and airmen from local bases who have learned to defend military networks. The security force could number in the thousands. The average pay for these new cybersecurity workers is estimated at $116,000 per year.
They’ll work in operations centers around the region where they can monitor far-away networks and spot trouble. Once they see a security breach, they can move quickly to block hacking.
“Our model would be stopping crime before it happens,” said professor Martin Carlisle, who trains future cyberwarfare officers at the Air Force Academy.