Louis Joseph Freeh: “We are in a global cyber war and those who can make a difference neither accept nor understand it” | Technology
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If cybercrime were an economy, it would be the third largest in the world, behind only the United States and China. This was highlighted this Monday by Louis Joseph Freeh, the former director of the FBI and former federal judge, at the CyberFit Summit 2022, an event organized in Miami by the cybersecurity company Acronis. “We are in a global cyber war and the people who can make a difference neither accept nor understand it,” he has stated. This battle has “political, economic, military and strategic aspects and, in addition, affects national security.”
Currently, the former FBI director advises leaders of multinational companies and governments on matters related to cyber security risks. Despite the multiple threats, Freeh considers that there is some denial about it. “It surprises me how many sophisticated people there are on boards of directors who do not understand its scope and who, instead of being proactive, are defensive,” he explained at the event, to which EL PAÍS has been invited by Acronis.
Something that he considers to be due, in part, to human nature: “You just have to see the elections [de medio mandato de EE UU] this Tuesday and the denial of some issues that really need to be debated rather than denied.” He then made reference to those people who believe that climate change is important, “but do not believe that humans have anything to do with it.” Despite the fact that there is scientific consensus on the human origin of climate change, this is one of the arguments most used by deniers of this phenomenon, according to a study published in the journal Scientific Reports.
A proactive strategy
Companies need their employees to get involved to deal with cybersecurity threats. Freeh has gone back to the 18th century to explain it. He remembers that, about 200 years ago, the American company Dupont had large ovens where they cooked and made black powder. But there was a problem: from time to time there were explosions and some workers were killed or injured.
“Éleuthère Irénée du Pont, who was the head of the family, would get angry, yell at those in charge and tell them that it couldn’t happen again. But they would go back to work and then there would be another explosion, ”she has pointed out. The solution was what Freeh calls “the first effective management compliance program.” Du Pont “ordered all managers to move the families of the workers to the houses next to the furnaces and there were no more explosions.”
This is “a simple human lesson”: “The responsibility and ownership of something as important as cybersecurity has to be company-wide and part of its culture.” In a “war” in cyberspace, “a plan, human resources and tools” are needed. “You cannot combat a threat of this size with a defensive strategy, you have to be proactive,” he insisted.
9/11 and the importance of preparing
On September 11, 2001, three planes flown by Al Qaeda terrorists hit the Twin Towers and the Pentagon. Freeh has assured that, before that day, “there were many warning signs”: “We knew that we were in a kind of war on terror, the threats were persistent and the FBI was doing its best to combat them.” But, according to the expert, it was not something that was in the political discussions and that caused concern to the companies.
Almost a year earlier, on October 12, 2000, there was an attack on the US Navy ship USS Cole, while it was anchored in the Yemeni port of Aden. “She was attacked by Al Qaeda, who drilled into the ship and killed 17 American sailors,” Freeh said. The incident occurred weeks before the presidential election between Democrat Al Gore and Republican George W. Bush. The former FBI director recalls that even though he was in the middle of a presidential argument, “this was only in the news cycle for about 24 hours and then people stopped talking about it.”
Soon after, Freeh went to Congress to get a budget: “For counterterrorism efforts, we wanted infrastructure, as well as linguists, agents and analysts.” He remembers that he asked for about 350 new positions, but in that budget he only got three. “Not that I’m blaming Congress in hindsight, but it wasn’t on anybody’s agenda. It wasn’t a problem until it became a disastrous problem on September 11, 2001″, she has stated.
The former director of the FBI does not dare to predict whether an event of such magnitude could also happen in a cyber war. But he underlines that more than 35% of international organizations have been victims of a ransomware attack and insists on the importance of being prepared and the possible consequences of cyber attacks. For example, he does not rule out the possibility of a massive infrastructure blackout affecting the energy, financial and health sectors. “Hopefully it doesn’t take this kind of catastrophe to do what needs to be done in cybersecurity,” he concludes.
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