How Safe is Our Digital World?

U.S. Secretary of Homeland Security Jeh Johnson joined NJTV News’ Mary Alice Williams to have an in-depth conversation about the state of security in the U.S. today. Find the rest of the series here.

By Brenda Flanagan

It’s war. And it’s waged worldwide by hackers, possibly where you bank your money, buy your goods, run your business, even watch your movies. North Korea allegedly hacked Sony to block the release of its film “The Interview.”

But when a group claiming links to ISIS apparently hacked the U.S. Central Command’s Twitter and YouTube accounts yesterday — posting military personnel data and messages like, “’American soldiers, we are coming, watch your back,’ signed, ISIS” — well, that struck a nerve.

“If they can’t stop it from happening to them, how are they stop it from happening to us? That’s the age we live in unfortunately,” said Weehawken resident Vanessa Johnson.

“Yeah that’s scary for the whole country, not only just individual cases,” said Hoboken resident Nina Nardozi.

“Anything can be hacked. Nobody’s information is safe,” said Montclair resident Darryl Brandon.

CENTCOM called it, “…a case of cybervandalism…. Both sites have been temporarily taken offline while we look into the incident further. CENTCOM’s operational military networks were not compromised…” The sites are now back up. But people are shaken, according to cyber security expert Peter Singer.

“People are more afraid of cyber attack than they are of North Korean nukes, Iranian nukes, the rise of China or Russia or climate change,” Singer said.

Not without cause: a cyber attack on JP Morgan Chase this summer impacted 76 million households. Millions more cardholders at Target and Home Depot reported security breaches. And yesterday Crayola suffered a hack attack — with porn posted on its website.

“Ninety-seven percent of Fortune 500 companies know they’ve been hacked. The other 3 percent have been, too but aren’t willing to admit it to themselves,” Singer said.

They’re not always willing to admit it to customers, either. That’s prompted President Obama to propose a package of bills designed to enhance U.S. cyber security. They’d make it easier for private sector and government groups to share cyber security information, criminalize overseas sale of stolen financial info like credit card numbers, deter sale of ID theft spyware and prosecute “botnets” that hack computers for illegal use. They’d also require businesses that get hacked to notify consumers in a timely manner if their personal information’s compromised.

“With the Sony attacks that took place, with the Twitter account that was hacked by Islamic jihadist sympathizers yesterday, it goes to show how much more work we need to do both public and private sector,” Obama said.

The tactical challenge in this global cyber arms race — by the time you build a better mousetrap, someone else has already engineered several generations of better mice. And they’ve managed to steal your cheese before you even know it’s gone.

Related: U.S. Secretary of Homeland Security: Companies Share Responsibility to Protect Against Cyber Attacks