Will the Upcoming Election Launch a Cyberwar?

For many people, the term cyberwar sounds like something out of a movie. In many ways it is; the popular 1983 film “WarGames” brought the idea into the collective consciousness and reminded us of the risks involved with massive computer mainframes as a teenager managed to hack his way into a central military computer and almost start World War III.

Since then, this idea of cyberwarfare has shown up in countless films and television, and we often hear about cyberattacks in the news. However, the complicated nature of this type of tech makes many of us dismiss the threat as nothing more than Hollywood nonsense. But still, we should ask, can it actually happen?

The truth is cyberwarfare has been going on for years. In fact, China has made countless attacks against the U.S. and U.S. companies in the past years, despite an agreement between the two countries and continuous denial from the Chinese government.

For the most part, these attacks haven’t affected the lives of the average person beyond not being able to log into their online accounts. However, these attacks are now becoming more prevalent. In 2013, hackers breached Target’s systems and obtained credit card information from its 40 million customers. While there are ways to protect your information online, if hackers compromise the vendor’s systems, there isn’t too much you can do about it.

The upcoming elections have also brought cyberwarfare and cybersecurity to the forefront. In fact, in June 2016, cybersecurity professionals traced the breach of the Democratic National Committee (DNC) servers to the Russian operatives. While Russia has formally denied any involvement with the hackers, many believe the government did so to influence the upcoming presidential election. What’s more, a week after this news, Donald Trump encouraged Russian hackers to find Hillary’s missing emails in a speech. Sarcastic or not, it opened the door for further scrutiny of Trump’s close ties with Putin.

With that said, this isn’t the first time hackers have gotten hold of sensitive information. In 2015, Russian hackers also managed to access President Obama’s schedule via networks through the State Department. Information like this is highly valuable to foreign intelligence agencies.

Of course, the United States has their own tactics for cyberwarfare. As of 2013, cyberwarfare has become a much bigger threat to national security than even traditional terrorism. In 2010, the Pentagon set up a new U.S. Cyber Command (USCYBERCOM) to ward off digital attacks and protect infrastructure. Under President Obama, the United States has increased cybersecurity. They’ve launched the first cyberwar against the Islamic State, which has drastically reduced recruitment by about 75 percent.

However, there’s a larger and more direct threat. While the military might be able to protect itself, it’s the private sector that is the most vulnerable. There are no standards of security in place for the most important areas such as banking, health care, electricity or even utilities. Attacks on these sectors could cripple the United States, leading to a virtual 9/11 event with electrical failure and no running water, among other potential disasters. As far back as 2009, intruders have already probed the electrical grids across the United States.

With so much at stake, the question now is: will there be a cyberwar after the election? The answer depends on whom you ask. A few high-ranking intelligence officers believe we are already in the midst of a cyberwar. Others view these acts more as cyberterrorism, as it’s difficult to know where the attacks might happen and who exactly is behind them.

Regardless, it’s clear cybersecurity is an incredibly important issue, and both candidates recognize this. Despite this, neither has any specific platform or details on how they will improve data security. Whoever does get elected will almost certainly face cyberattacks throughout their term. It will be up to them and their advisors to figure out the best way to protect themselves and the rest of the country from critical disruption.

Overall, it is hard to say this upcoming election will launch a cyberwar because in many ways it has already begun. However, what is clear is that whoever wins in November will face increasing threats from unknown digital sources, and they will need to come up with a more coherent strategy for protecting companies as well as individuals. With the level of bipartisanship reaching all-time highs, though, it might be difficult for either leader to design something that is effective and satisfying for all parties involved. As with almost all other issues facing the nation now, time will tell.

What are your thoughts on cyberwarfare? Do you believe it will be more likely under one candidate versus the other? How would you like to see the government proceed to deal with this threat? Let us know in the comments below.

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