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Inside the New Threat Matrix of Digital Espionage, Crime, and Warfare

by Joel Brenner

Pub Date: Oct. 1st, 2011
ISBN: 978-1-59420-313-8
Publisher: Penguin Press

A former National Counterintelligence Executive for the NSA writes that the United States is right now being infiltrated by online spies, thieves and virtual warriors.

While that may sound dire—and it is—Brenner’s tone throughout is less alarming than resolute. His main point is that leaders in both the private and public sectors, who have known about these threats for years, need to finally get serious about defending the nation’s secrets, wealth and electronic infrastructure. The author's background as a former anti-trust prosecutor is on impressive display as he mounts his case with meticulous attention to detail. He begins with the fact that private information is now open for inspection, but waning of personal privacy is only a hint of the insecurity the digital age has brought about. Malware from infected e-mail attachments, websites, thumb drives or even silicon chips can commandeer our computers for nefarious purposes an ocean away while we sleep. They can also open portals into corporate or government systems, allowing foreign agents to swipe their secrets or potentially take control of anything they operate over the Internet, including regional electricity grids and other essential infrastructure. Brenner notes that China has, since the early 1980s, been preparing for a new kind of warfare, aimed specifically at the U.S., that can be waged entirely via electronic signals. In one provocative chapter titled “June 2017,” the author plausibly outlines the events of a hypothetical “war” between the U.S. and China for control of the Asian Pacific, culminating in a private demonstration to the president and his national-security team of China’s ability to shut down the nation’s electrical grid at will. “With the exception of successful attacks on our electricity grid,” writes the author, "virtually every aspect of this fictional scenario has already happened.” The final chapter offers multiple steps we can take to radically improve national cyber-security.

A sobering, sober-minded manifesto.