Cyber Terror is a New Language Of War We Barely Understand


Last year, cyber terrorists used a deadly virus to attack the information network of Aramco, the Saudi oil company, and annihilated all of the data on 35,000 desktop computers. The screens of the infected computers were left with the vision of a burning American flag. A group called the Cutting Sword of Justice claimed credit for the attack.

Two months ago, computer hackers hacked the Twitter account of the Associated Press and sent a Tweet stating that there had been two explosions at the White House and that President Barack Obama was injured. Within 2 minutes, the stock market dropped by 143 points. The Syrian Electronic Army later claimed credit for the attack.

Hardly a day passes without reading or hearing about another cyber attack against some target in the United States.

Cyber terror is now the new language of war that we understand only vaguely. We know that more and more of our daily lives revolve around a digital world on the internet, our computers and our cell phones. We expect that the providers who sell us those digital services are taking steps to protect it against cyber attacks and we expect the government is doing the same. But, experts warn us now that real danger is just around the corner if our government and businesses are not able to create a strong defense against cyber attacks.

How dangerous could these cyber attacks be? Consider what might happen if our water supply, our electric grid, or the internet itself was successfully shut down by a cyber attack.

Former CIA director and U.S. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta recently warned that the next Pearl Harbor might be from cyber-terrorists. 

A new novel I’ve just co-authored with David Hagberg titled Gridlock is a story about a computer virus created in Russia, stolen by the Iranians and used to shut down the electric power grid in the U.S. It causes chaos, loss of life, and brings our economy to its knees … all done by an enemy we can’t see using digital weapons rather than firearms.

Our book is fiction, but that scenario and many others now constitute real and serious threats to our country every day. Those threats are to our personal identity, our bank accounts and the information we store on our computers. Most importantly, the threats are to our country and the vital services and national security interests that are essential to the functioning of our economy.

While serving in the U.S. Senate, my colleagues and I began hearing from federal agencies and corporations who were being constantly attacked by viruses designed to do harm.

Across the country, in national security agencies, national laboratories and other areas, our government and private corporations are working to protect us against cyber attacks. The president has issued a strong warning against countries that are allowing, in some cases even sponsoring, cyber attacks in the U.S. and he recently signed an executive order to strengthen the nation's cyber security protections. Congress is also working on cyber security legislation. 

It is certain that those who wish America ill will continue these attacks. Our new novel describes a scenario of what could happen if we don’t take these new cyber-terror threats seriously. But if we understand the threat and work hard with the best and brightest in the public and private sectors, we can successfully defend America and its citizens against this new weapon used by terrorists.

Byron L. Dorgan is a former United States Senator from North Dakota. Dorgan served 30 years in the U.S. Congress, spending the last 18 years in the U.S. Senate where he served as a senior member of the Senate Appropriations, Energy and Commerce Committees and Chairman of key subcommittees on Aviation, Energy and Water, and Indian issues.

Dorgan is now a senior policy advisor for a Washington, D.C. law firm, senior fellow at the Bipartisan Policy Committee and co-chair of their Energy Project, a visiting adjunct professor at Georgetown University, and serves on several boards. He is the founder and chairman of the Center for Native American Youth. Dorgan is a New York Times bestselling author of four books: Take This Job and Ship It, Reckless!, Blowout and his newest novel Gridlock.