Cyber Security

Cybersecurity: Serious threat or “technopanic”?

by Bryan Dooley, UMN Law Student, MJLST Staff

Thumbnail-Bryan-Dooley.jpgWhile most would likely agree that threats to cybersecurity pose sufficient risk to warrant some level of new regulation, opinions vary widely on the scope and nature of an appropriate response. FBIwebsite-sm-border.jpgThe Cyber Intelligence Sharing and Protection Act, one of several proposed legislative measures intended to address the problem, has drawn widespread criticism. Concerns voiced by opponents have centered on privacy and the potential for misuse of shared information. Some fear the legislation creates the potential for additional harm by allowing or encouraging private parties to launch counterattacks against perceived security threats, with no guarantee they will always hit their intended targets.

In Technopanics, Threat Inflation, and the Danger of an Information Technology Precautionary Principle</strong>, published in Issue 14.1 of the Minnesota Journal of Law, Science & Technology, Adam Thierer discusses the danger of misguided regulation in response to new and potentially misunderstood technological developments. The discussion centers on what Thierer terms “technopanics”–hasty and often irrational pushes to address a problem in the face of uncertainty and misinformation, sometimes intentionally disseminated by parties who hope to benefit financially or advance a social agenda.

In the context of cyber security, Thierer argues that advocates of an aggressive regulatory response have exaggerated the potential for harm by using language such as “digital Pearl Harbor” and “cyber 9/11.” He argues technopanics have influenced public discourse about a number of other issues, including online pornography, privacy concerns associated with targeted advertising, and the effects of violent video games on young people. While these panics often pass with little or no real lasting effect, Thierer expresses concern that an underlying suspicion toward new technological developments could mature into a precautionary principal for information technology. This would entail a rush to regulate in response to any new development with a perceived potential for harm, which Thierer argues would slow social development and prevent or delay introduction of beneficial technologies.

It’s an interesting discussion. Whether or not cyber attacks pose the potential for widespread death and destruction, there is significant potential for economic damage and disruption, as well as theft or misuse of private or sensitive information. As in any case of regulation in the face of uncertainty, there is also clear potential that an overly hasty or inadequately informed response will go too far or carry unintended consequences.


Threats From North Korea: Switching Our Focus From Nuclear Weapons To Websites

by Bryan Morben, UMN Law Student, MJLST Staff

Thumbnail-Bryan-Morben.jpgThere has been a lot of attention on North Korea and the possibility of a nuclear war lately. In fact, as recently as April 4, 2013, news broke that the increasingly hostile country moved medium-range missiles to its east coastline. It is reported that the missiles do not have enough range to hit the U.S. mainland, but is well within range of the South Korean capital. Tensions have been running high for several months, especially when the North took the liberty to shred the sixty year old armistice that ended the Korean War, and warned the world that “the next step was an act of ‘merciless’ military retaliation against its enemies.”

But perhaps the use of physical force by leader Kim Jong Un is not the only, or even the most important threat, from North Korea that the United States and its allies should be worried about. Despite the popular impression that North Korea is technologically inept, the regime boasts a significant cyber arsenal. The country has jammed GPS signals and also reportedly conducted cyber terrorism operations against media and financial institutions in the South. North Korea employs a host of sophisticated computer hackers capable of producing anonymous attacks against a variety of targets including military, governmental, educational, and commercial institutions. This ability to vitiate identity is one of the most powerful and dangerous parts about cyber warfare that isn’t possible in the physical world.

Susan Brenner is an expert in the field cyberwar, cybercrime, and cyber terrorism. She has been writing about how and why the institutions modern nation-states rely on to fend off the threats of war, crime, and terrorism have become ineffective as threats have migrated into cyberspace for over half a decade. Her article, Cyber-threats and the Limits of Bureaucratic Control, in Issue 14.1 of the Minnesota Journal of Law, Science & Technology outlines why we need a new threat-control strategy and how such a strategy could be structured and implemented. A strategy like the one Brenner recommends could help protect us from losing a cyberbattle with North Korea that most people aren’t even aware could happen.


Time for a New Approach to Cyber Security?

by Kenzie Johnson, UMN Law Student, MJLST Managing Editor

Kenzie Johnson The recent announcements by several large news outlets including the New York Times, Washington Post, Bloomberg News, and the Wall Street Journal reporting that they have been the victims of cyber-attacks have yet again brought cyber security into the news. These attacks reportedly all originated in China and were aimed at monitoring news reporting of Chinese issues. In particular, the New York Times announced that Chinese hackers persistently attacked their servers for a period of four months and obtained passwords for reporters and other Times employees. The Times reported that the commencement of the attack coincided with a story it published regarding mass amounts of wealth accumulated by the family of Chinese Prime Minister Wen Jiabao.

It is not only western news outlets that are the targets of recent cyber-attacks. Within the past weeks, the United States Department of Energy and Federal Reserve both announced that hackers had recently penetrated their servers and acquired sensitive information.

This string of high-profile cyber-attacks raises the need for an improved legal and response structure to deal with the growing threat of cyber-attacks. In the forthcoming Winter 2013 issue of Minnesota Journal of Law, Science, and Technology, Susan W. Brenner discusses these issues in an article entitled “Cyber-Threats and the Limits of Bureaucratic Control.” Brenner discusses the nature, causes, and consequences of cyber-threats if left unchecked. Brenner also analyzes alternative approaches to the United States’ current cyber-threat control regime, criticizes current proposals for improvements to the current regime, and proposes alternative approaches. As illustrated by these recent cyber-attacks, analysis of these issues is becoming more important to protect sensitive government data as well as private entities from cyber-threats.