Schools must prepare millennials to defend against cyber attacks [Opinion]

AP Photo

AP Photo

Most people have had a feeling that someone is watching them only to turn around to see that no one is there.

But imagine if you were to discover that indeed you were secretly being watched, and it had been going on for more than 5 years without your knowledge. That’s a pretty scary thought, but it’s exactly what has been going on with computer systems in many countries around the world.

In today’s digital age, foreign countries have the ability to spy on us in ways that we’ve never even considered before. In order to keep America safe, our schools need to invest more in computer science education to adequately prepare our nation’s young people to fend off future cyber attacks.

The problem at hand is a big one. Cybersecurity firm Kaspersky Lab has reported the discovery of a far-reaching cyber attack on computers throughout the countries of Rwanda, Russia, and Iran. They have found that a group named Strider has managed to place a super-advanced malware program known as Project Sauron into these countries’ science, military, government, and financial corporations. Symantec Corporation also found the same Project Sauron malware hiding in computer systems in China and Belgium. Both groups found evidence that this malware has been secretly collecting data from the various computer systems and operating completely undetected since 2011.

The malware went undetected for so long because the terrorists used a convoluted system that continually generated unique codes to avoid any discovery patterns. Through the use of virtual system USB storage drives, the malware was able to operate regardless of the presence of an internet connection. Even after data loss prevention software was put into place to block unknown USB drives, Project Sauron continued to covertly break down all the barriers in its way. Kaspersky Lab stated that the Strider group had a high interest in the communication encryption software used by these corporations and government agencies.

Symantec Corporation believes it is very likely that Strider group had the active help of a state-sponsored group to accomplish such an advanced system attack. Cyber attacks by government entities have become the newest form of warfare. No longer are tanks and aircraft carriers loaded with jet fighters needed to bring an opponent to its knees. Now opposing countries just need to find a group of hackers willing to sneak their malware into another government’s technology systems.

However, it is important to note that not all cyber attacks involve super-advanced malware or a team of high-priced hackers. Two notable cyber attacks on the United States occurred with the use of less than $30 worth of equipment. A small inconspicuous flash drive was simply inserted into one of the laptops at a Middle East military base in 2008. The flash drive was infected with malicious code and resulted in “the most significant breach of U.S. military computers ever” according to William J. Lynde, former United States Under Secretary of Defense. The code attacked a U.S. Central Command network giving it the ability to transfer data to servers under foreign control.

Another shocking cyber attack involved the U.S. military’s predator drones. Militants in Iraq and Afghanistan employed $26 commercial software to cut into live video feeds transmitted by U.S. predator drones operating in those countries. This case is significant because of how easily the enemy was able to compromise sophisticated technology and gain real-time information on the military’s battlefield activities.

Every day our government agencies, military, critical infrastructure, and corporations are under attack. For America, there can be only one response: We must fight back with technology that is stronger and more advanced than those who seek to harm us. We must come together as a nation and make cyber education an absolute priority to protect our way of life.

We need an educated and highly skilled workforce in place to protect our systems and our people. Unfortunately, according to Inside Sources, American universities only produced a little over 42,000 computer science graduates last year to fill the more than 550,000 jobs posted in related fields. At this point, it is a sad fact that the American education system is failing us. Our schools are not providing enough opportunity for students to develop the skills needed to qualify for jobs in the cybersecurity fields. Even though computer science programs are widely available nationwide, only 3 of the top 121 universities have made courses in these categories part of the general education requirement.

If we want to ensure that America has the ability to fight this cyber war, then we need to treat computer science education as seriously as we do math, science, and writing. Computer science education needs to start at the elementary level and greatly expand into high school. At this time, only 29 states allow computer science classes to count toward high school graduation requirements. In many ways, American high schools place a greater emphasis on studying 17th century literature than they do in preparing our students for their futures. It’s time for our country to decide if we will continue to allow our adversaries to victimize us or if we will provide the funding and the opportunity needed to give our citizens the skills needed to keep our country safe.


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