Government Must Improve Cybersecurity Guarding Nation’s Infrastructure, Tech Experts Say

Warnings have been issued by tech experts that it’s only a matter of time before terrorists or criminals can take down a power grid or wipe out financial records.

(TNS) -- Tech experts and former government officials from MIT are calling on the government to beef up cybersecurity systems guarding the nation’s infrastructure and warning that it’s only a matter of time before terrorists or criminals can take down a power grid or wipe out financial records.

“This is not hypothetical, this stuff is happening,” said Joel Brenner, former inspector general and senior council at the National Security Agency.

Brenner, a principal author of the shocking report, which was produced by a group of professors and experts from MIT’s Center for International Studies and Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory, went on to warn that “we’re going to see more of this — and it’s going to be worse.”

The report, which was the result of more than a year of research and workshops with infrastructure owners and operators, stressed the U.S. has a host of vulnerabilities.

“The nation will require a coordinated, multi-year effort to address deep strategic weaknesses in the architecture of critical systems, in how those systems are operated, and in the devices that connect to them,” the report says. “But we must begin now. Our goal is action, both immediate and long-term.”

The report calls on the Trump administration to establish incentives for owners and operators of private infrastructure who boost security, including tax incentives and allowing victims to hold third parties liable if their systems were not secure enough.

Knocking out the country’s power grid would not only send economic activity screeching to a halt, it could be life-threatening in the northern states during winter months. Hackers allegedly working on behalf of the Russian government managed to take out part of the Ukranian power grid last year, plunging part of the country into darkness.

The report identifies four industries that could be particularly vulnerable, including electricity and financial infrastructure.

“Our economy is based on a system of accounts recording who owes what to whom at any moment. Those accounts are digitized, and so are back-up systems,” the report says. “An attack that destroyed or corrupted the accounts of a major financial institution could wreak devastating economic havoc.”

Brenner said countries including the U.S., Russia and China all have the capability to launch a devastating cyberattack, but don’t pull the trigger out of fear of reprisal. But once terrorists and criminals gain the expertise, he said, all bets are off.

“Their skill levels are rising quickly,” Brenner said. “If you could take down part of the power grid and hold it for ransom, what would that be worth?”

©2017 the Boston Herald Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.