What happens globally might affect you locally. If Russia and China coordinate against the West, you might see undesired effects right in your neighborhood. Whether it’s Russia and Ukraine or China and Taiwan – will you, your business, and your neighbors be ready when a global conflict turns off the electricity for a couple of days, a couple of weeks, or more? We need only to look back to previous rehearsals by the Russians and other non-state actors to see what they have in mind.
Large scale cyber-attacks become more likely to inflict economic, civil unrest, or kinetic damage when adversaries use them in a calculated and amplified orchestration. Cyber weapons and related tactics have been leveraged as asymmetric platforms utilized by nation-states and their surrogates, criminal enterprises, rogue states, and the like. For years now, powerful cyber weapons have allowed sovereign states and other non-state actors to attack targets with a paramilitary WMD-like capability. It’s hard to pinpoint the origin of such an attack, and they can result in great damage.
For the readers who that believe cyber-attacks are all surgical strikes with little collateral damage, they need only to look to 2017 and the NotPetya attack to see how well that worked. The Russian GRU cyber weapon spread beyond the intended Ukrainian financial targets and hit targets in the U.S., India, and Denmark. The WannaCry ransomware incident just a few months prior to NotPetya originated in North Korea and incurred more than $4 billion in recovery damages across 150 countries. The point is that the world has been at risk – it’s not just two superpowers in a cyber knife-fight. This situation risks regional armed conflict or even World War III.
In our present scenario, cyber weapons have been used in a limited fashion, with great care to avoid political attribution. They are used in concert with information warfare, leveraging intelligence, social media, and bot-net tactics to further fake news and disrupt reality and financial services for Americans.
In our Russia scenario, a motivated leader (Putin) sees an opportunity (regardless of the reality of the threat) to overwhelm an adversary in a single surprise cyber-attack. Coupled with disinformation and the threat of a land war in Europe, this tactic becomes more advantageous when they have forged new assurances in a fortuitous alliance. For those expecting predictability and uninterested in raising the alarm should remember that it isn’t clear yet what the new alliance between China and Russia may mean. While Russia does their worst in Eastern Europe, China can help Russia regain their global “USSR Superpower” status by watching their backs in the Pacific. Russia helps China by proving the model for them in Ukraine, opening the door for China to consider a move on Taiwan. While the U.S. is committed with NATO and distracted by the physical conflict in Europe, it finds itself overcommitted and spread too thin to counter it all.
One must also consider local vulnerability: just because a conflict looks global doesn’t mean it won’t have local effects. A global cyber-attack that eventually hits a local utility could mean the loss of electricity across a wide area. While many residential areas are inherently safe, others sit precariously on the precipice’s edge. Their exposure is considerate because they border high-crime areas, or are underfunded and barely protected by law enforcement. It would not take much for an outlier event to push a community or neighborhood into chaos and lawlessness. Gated communities, unarmed guards, valets, elegant signage, peaceful environs, and luxury stores all give the perception of safety and calm. A lengthy period without electricity due to a cyber-attack might be just the trigger for undesired results – and, if not electricity, what about water systems, with the cyber attacks that occurred in 2021?
All of this is brought back home to you and where you can make a difference with resiliency. Resilience is a national security issue that needs to be fostered at the grassroots and enabled by our government and private sector partners. Cyber security for businesses, commercial and civil systems, and infrastructure must be increased. Similar to the national mobilization efforts of civil defense enacted in the 1950s, perhaps the U.S. population should consider what it will take to persevere and quickly recover from a large-scale cyber-attack. In an absence of government leadership, business leaders in the private sector should take the lead, followed by the efforts of U.S. citizens. Such an effort would increase our preparedness and lessen the domestic impacts of a Russia-Ukraine hybrid war, a second front opened by a potential China-Taiwan conflict, along with the ever-present “hidden” third front in cyberspace.
As business leaders, let’s get to it! Include cyber protections and an increased level of self-sufficiency in your contingency plans and help your employees increase their preparedness, and let’s get ahead of the adversaries AND world events.
And for everyone else, it’s never too late to develop and strengthen your own individual resilience and family readiness – it truly is an issue of national security.
About the Author
Kris Coleman serves as Founder, President, and CEO of Red Five, where he supports private families, family offices, corporations, and security teams with holistic solutions to ensure their privacy, security, and resiliency. In 2020, Kris published Raise Your Resiliency: You, Your Family and Your Business Can Achieve Resiliency in an Uncertain World. In 2021 Kris launched REAL Experiences, the world’s number one adventure and resiliency training experiences for families and executives.