US Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld fears that a future attack against the US could be launched in cyberspace with devastating effect on the country’s infrastructure. The US minister made his fears known before an audience at the National Defense University in Washington DC on 1 February 2002.
Rumsfeld’s pronouncement must be seen against the backdrop of an overhaul of America’s military capabilities and plans for the country to spend an extra $48 billion (€55.77bn) on defence, raising the total to a staggering $379 billion (€440.6bn).
The increase in defence expenditure would be the largest since the days of the Cold War and President Ronald Reagan, 20 years ago. The administration of President George W Bush considers that extra spending is needed if the US military is to better face up to unconventional threats to national security, such as cyber terrorism.
Rumsfeld said: “Our challenge in this new century is a different one. It’s really to defend our nation against the unknown, the uncertain and… the unexpected.” The minister, who is known to hold hawkish views, continued: “The next threat we face may indeed be from terrorists, but it could also be cyber-war…”
Among the top priorities, Rumsfeld said that the country’s information networks must be better protected from attack and that IT must be used to “link up different kinds of US forces so [that] they can, in fact, act jointly”. Even more pressing and based on documents recently found in Afghanistan that had belonged to the Al Qaeda terrorist organisation, the US government is concerned that US nuclear plants could be the target of attacks.
The 11 September 2001 terrorist attacks on New York illustrated how exposed key information and telecommunications networks can be. In the wake of the attack on the World Trade Center, bank cash machines were affected, trading on the New York Stock Exchange and Nasdaq was suspended, telephone exchanges were out of action, and Internet traffic was disrupted.