America was attacked yesterday. It will be attacked today and again tomorrow. These attacks are carried out in secret with a silent, invisible and ultra high-speed system that's hard to detect and increasingly damaging. These are cyber attacks that probe for entries into America's computers in Defense Department headquarters, in businesses and even in your home.
The Internet explosion of the 1990s created a worldwide connectivity that allowed for unheard-of information, data gathering and sharing. The capability to use computers to connect systems and people on virtually any spot on the globe created a dynamic growth in research, business and even personal affairs.
But with the growth of new capabilities, in what's now called cyberspace, came lucrative opportunities for malicious intrusions. What started as playful hacking among groups of computer-savvy rogues grew into often criminal enterprises intent on stealing credit cards, banking information and defense and industrial secrets. These attacks on computer systems and networks can be destructive, damaging and cause widespread disruptions and devastating financial losses.
The scope of this capability is in the center of current and future warfare. A widely publicized example of this is the Stuxnet virus. It allegedly was used to attack Iranian nuclear programs. While the source of this attack was reported to perhaps be the joint efforts of the United States and Israel, its existence is an example of what is capable today and also what the U.S. must be able to defend.
Targets abound in the United States for attacks of this nature. Everything from the home computer, to banking systems, to large businesses is vulnerable. The Department of Defense is a worldwide magnet for cyber intrusions and attacks against its highly sensitive computer-based systems. Global hackers and cyber terrorists attack and probe their cyber networks constantly. DoD estimates that it's probed for intrusion more than a million times a day. Tinker Air Force Base, home to the Defense Information Systems Agency, is no exception and strives to maintain a secure cyber environment every minute of every day.
The military command charged with protecting defense networks requires a skilled technical workforce to meet this threat. But skilled cyber defenders are in short supply. The training for this must start early. To meet this need, the Air Force Association organized a high school-level national cyber security competition named Cyber Patriot.
Last year, more than 1,600 high school teams, including 17 from Oklahoma, took part in this competition, which inspires students toward careers in cyber security and other technical disciplines. This year, 23 Oklahoma schools are again competing in the event.
Oklahoma needs defenders of its vital systems and computer networks. Cyber Patriot can assist in developing them.
Tarpley is a retired U.S. Air Force colonel and a former inspector general for Air Combat Command at Tinker AFB. He is a defense marketing consultant and vice president of the Air Force Association, Gerrity Chapter. Information about Cyber Patriot can be found at www.uscyberpatriot.org.