COMMENTARY | If the Obama administration needed one perfect example of why stronger cybersecurity measures are necessary, it got that example on Tuesday morning. Hackers reportedly took over the Twitter feed of the Associated Press and announced that there had been explosions at the White House and President Barack Obama was injured. The message, which a group known as the Syrian Electronic Army has claimed responsibility for, caused an immediate sharp drop in stocks.
What makes this post particularly alarming is that it’s not the first for the Syrian Electronic Army — described as pro-Syrian government. In fact, recently it has also taken over the Twitter accounts of CBS News, including the “60 Minutes” account, in which it suggested that the Boston Marathon bombing was a plot of the U.S. government, and implored that Americans rise up against their government in support of Syria’s President Bashar al-Assad. That the group would go in just a few short days to typical propaganda such as its plea for Americans to rise up, to conspiracy theories, to false claims of bombings at the White House is worrisome to me. I fear that it isn’t a joke, it isn’t a group playing games at all.
Obama himself has declared that the “cyber threat is one of the most serious economic and national security challenges we face as a nation.” The president has directed a full review of the government’s effort to protect the information and communications infrastructure. A lot of this protection is focused on making sure no one can knock out broadband networks, the electric grid, or gain classified information from military and intelligence networks. While hacking news media Twitter feeds seems mild in comparison, remember: Today’s hacking of the Associated Press account caused stocks to immediately — though temporarily — plummet. Calls to stand up against the U.S. government, when mixed with suggestions of violence, could have a similar effect as saying the word “bomb” on an airplane. I think it should be treated in a similar fashion.
It’s not easy, though. How does the government, as well as private companies and corporations, protect communications and privacy without trampling on people’s right to free speech? How does our government keep U.S. assets, individuals and companies safe from foreign hackers? I don’t know. Apparently the White House doesn’t completely know either, though it has been identified as a priority. Let’s hope that it remains a priority and that solid progress is made.