War Games: Tracing the History of Cyber Security

June 10th, 2016  |  Source: Knowledge@Wharton

The concept of “cyber war” goes back to the beginning of the internet, almost 50 years ago. A new book by Pulitzer-Prize-winning journalist Fred Kaplan traces the history of this topic in his new book Dark Territory: The Secret History of Cyber War.

Kaplan recently appeared on the Knowledge@Wharton show on Wharton Business Radio on SiriusXM channel 111 to talk about his new book.

An edited transcript of the conversation follows.

Knowledge@Wharton: Ever since we’ve had the concept of the internet, the thought of cyber war has been in play.

Fred Kaplan: Right. In 1967, the ARPANET was about to roll out. The ARPANET was the precursor to the internet. This was a great boon to scientific research. All the contractors of the Defense Department and labs and universities could communicate with each other on one network, instead of having to go through a zillion consoles. But there was a computer scientist named Willis Ware. He had been a computer pioneer. He was the head of the Computer Science Department at the RAND Corporation and a member of the Scientific Advisory Board at the National Security Agency (NSA). He wrote a paper. It was classified at the time. It’s been declassified since. It’s fascinating to read. He basically said, look, once you put information on a computer network — once you have online access from multiple, unsecured locations — you’re creating inherent vulnerabilities. You’re not going to be able to keep secrets anymore.

When I was doing the research for my book, I talked to the man who was in charge of ARPA [Advanced Research Projects Agency; now known as DARPA, Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency]. I said, “Were you familiar with Willis Ware’s paper?” He said, “Sure, I knew Willis.” I said, “What did you think?” He said, “Well, I took it to the team working on the ARPANET, and they said, ‘Don’t saddle us with a security requirement. Look how hard it is to do what we’ve done. It’s like telling the Wright Brothers that the first plane has to carry 20 passengers for 50 miles. Let’s do this one step at a time. Meanwhile, it’s going to be decades before the Russians can do anything like this.’” Well, it was about two and a half or three decades. In the meantime, whole networks and systems had sprouted up with no provision for security whatsoever. I look at this as the bitten apple in the digital Garden of Eden. It was something that was foreseeable, and by a small number of people, actually foreseen from the beginning; something inherent in the technology.

Knowledge@Wharton: You start the book with a transitional moment. It involves President Reagan. It involves an actual Hollywood movie, War Games, starring Matthew Broderick.

Kaplan: It’s a crazy story. It’s one of the big surprises that I came up with in the research. It’s 15 years after Willis Ware’s paper. Ronald Reagan is up at Camp David the first weekend of June in 1983. He watches a lot of movies up there. On that Saturday night, he watches War Games. This is the Matthew Broderick movie where he plays a teenage whiz kid who unwittingly hacks into the main computer at the North American Air Defense Command. Thinking that he’s playing a new, online game called Global Thermonuclear War, he almost sets off World War III. So, Reagan comes back to the White House. There’s a big meeting on Wednesday with his national security staff about something else completely. But at some point, he puts down his index cards, and he says, “Has anybody seen this movie War Games?” And nobody has. It had just come out.

“Whole networks and systems had sprouted up with no provision for security whatsoever. I look at this as the bitten apple in the digital Garden of Eden.”

He launches into this very detailed plot description. People are looking around the room like, where is this going? He turns to General John Vessey, who is the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. He said, “General, could something like this really happen?” The general says, “I’ll look into that, Mr. President,” like generals do. He comes back a week later and says, “Mr. President, the problem is much worse than you think.” This leads, 10 months later, to the presidential signing of the first national security directive on communications and computer security. It reads very much like government papers you read today: “Our computer systems,” which were then just going up, “are vulnerable to electronic interference and interception by foreign powers, by criminals.” But then it takes an interesting step.

More: http://knowledge.wharton.upenn.edu/article/the-secret-history-of-cyber-war/?utm_source=kw_newsletter&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=2016-06-09

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