Co-Authored by Patrick Duggan
Patrick Duggan is a career Special Forces officer and unconventional cyber-strategist. The views presented are our own and do not reflect official policy.
Should you be scared of your new thermostat? Maybe, if it is WIFI enabled and you haven’t secured it. Why? The next generation of terrorism is here and it will use your connected devices – thermostats, fridges, lights, elevators, industrial controls , cars – even toys. These smart devices represent the latest pathways for tech-savvy terrorists to wreak chaos. But before unplugging everything you own to live off the grid, take heart in the fact, at least at the national level, we still have time to prepare.
While traditional DoD counter-terrorism (CT) efforts have mainly emphasized direct action, future US security measures must also adapt to harness the Internet of Things (IoT). Simply put, the IoT’s inexorable growth portends new methods for destruction but also provides new mechanisms for defense. These same IoT devices are as capable for US Special Operations Forces (SOF) hunting terrorists as they are to the enemies who use them. This phenomena of unconventional cyberwarfare will become increasingly critical to defending the nation and heralds the birth of a new form of CT…countering the Internet of Terrorism (IoT).
The concept of ‘edge computing’ is breeding entirely new ecosystems—and terrorist threats. Edge computing is a critical driving force behind IoT’s ever-expanding adaption to new fields of computer application. Instead of a centralized hub to process data or information, edge computing enables virtually anything with a mini-processor to use its own ‘smarts’ to respond at the very source of the data. This capability means that end-user client devices can carry out a multitude of nefarious activities independently or as part of a more coordinated ‘foggy network.’ According to leading reports, by 2025 a huge percentage of the devices we use regularly in our daily life will be connected; and our wearables, ingestibles, sensors, transportation systems and devices, will all become a node on constantly emitting and transmitting networks. Not only will this explosion of technology drive privacy issues and self-determined freedom over our individual lives…but it can kill us as well.
Take for example, the fact that ISIS is already employing off the shelf drones to drop bombs and fly kamikaze-like missions into U.S. and Iraqi SOF partners in Northern Iraq. How much longer will it take for the next ‘terror-byte’ step, to use edge computing technology so that a terrorist can build his own swarm of killer drones in a garage? And making it even harder to counter, the garage can be a thousand miles away, with units operated like some sort of macabre video-game? How will soldiers destroy a swarm of bomb-laden drones coming at them from multiple directions when they are moving on the ground? The answer is to use a defensive structure that is as flexible and adaptive as the enemy. The best protection requires leveraging our own network of miniaturized and remote systems to create a counter-swarm!
Special Operations and Cyber operations can work together effectively to provide low-cost, high effectiveness defense against a number of newly emerging terrorist threats. There are clearly big-data threats that require big-computer systems to defend against – exactly the type of capabilities developed by CYBERCOM. Many threats, however, are both more tactical and more distributed. In order to defend against these dangers, it is necessary to have counter-capabilities that are also tactical and locally disseminated. We encourage the creation of a new Special Operations Command-Cyber (SOC-CYBER ). Similar to the Theater Special Operations Commands (TSOCs) every Geographic Combatant Commands owns, SOC-CYBER would provide the same integration, synchronization, and oversight of better fused cyber-SOF missions. Co-locating some of the nation’s most talented warriors with those trained to counter emerging technical threats would help ensure America stays ahead of the coming Internet of Terror. But still, don’t forget to add a password to your thermostat.