Student group features speaker on cybersecurity

By WILLIAM PICKERING | November 14, 2019

The University’s chapter of the Alexander Hamilton Society (AHS) hosted a presentation on cybersecurity threats and U.S. preparedness on Tuesday. The presentation featured James Carafano, vice president of the Kathryn and Shelby Cullom Davis Institute for National Security and Foreign Policy. Steven David, professor and director of undergraduate studies for Political Science, acted as the moderator.

AHS is a national, non-partisan organization that facilitates debates by bringing speakers to college campuses.

Carafano described the basic process of a cyberattack, arguing that in the international arena it is a tool of state-on-state competition. He asserted that one of the most successful attacks in recent times was the Stuxnet virus that caused the uranium centrifuges of Iran’s nuclear program to destroy themselves. 

“The United States was trying to slow down the Iranian program and also demonstrate to the Iranians really how vulnerable they are,” Carafano said. 

Carafano explained that he sees the biggest threat to American cybersecurity as increased government overreach and the consequences this would pose to innovation and freedom. He fears this will result from pressure on the government to build a 5G system.

“I want what happens in the cyber-world to be one of the biggest boons of creativity and economic advancement in the history of mankind. What worries me the most is that in the impulse to solve a problem, we’ll come up with solutions to deal with China or 5G but create vulnerabilities elsewhere,” Carafano said. “I worry that in the process of defense we will undermine our status as a leader of the free world.”

Carafano believes that the Trump administration has handled cybersecurity responsibly. Aside from an illegal and impractical attempt to have the military take responsibility for cybersecurity — a proposed executive order that was quietly swept under the rug — the administration has acted rationally towards threats. 

“With all things Trumpian, you have to separate his rhetoric from his actions. On the campaign trail he might have said something else, but the eventual replacing executive order was quite responsible,” Carafano said.

One of the most important debates surrounding cybersecurity today regards the role of private companies. Much of the technology that could be used to defend or carry out cyberattacks is not in the hands of the state. 

“These companies have to decide whether they want to be national or international. Acting for the state can severely compromise the company’s international appeal,” Carafano said. 

Carafano asserted that people should not fear technology because it can be abused, as standards among states will develop out of mutual self-interest.

“We have to rely on regulation to prevent the misuse of technology, otherwise you can’t really invent anything,“ Carafano said. 

Elliot Seckler, president of AHS, stated that he agreed with Carafano’s position on mutually assured destruction and that he had learned a lot about the trade-offs in cybersecurity. 

“The discussion tonight with Dr. Carafano and Professor David shed light on not only external threats to the U.S. but also the real possibility that our efforts to mitigate such threats might constrain both our ability to actually respond to them but also could constrain our freedoms,“ Seckler said. 

Freshman Junhan Yang, who attended the event, explained that he was intrigued by what he thought was Carafano’s hopeful take on global cooperation and expressed more concern about the ability of countries to collaborate. 

“Some countries that have exclusive abilities in the cyber-world want to hold on to that exclusivity, which makes it hard to set norms that everyone can agree on,“ Yang said. 

Yang stated that the event spoke to his interest in the growing power of the private sector in cybersecurity.

“This is a very important topic to discuss.... The speaker gave us many unique insights, especially in terms of policy-making,” he said. 

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