Targeted cyber sabotage can bring Russia, China to their knees

Right now, our time and attention seem focused on the growing threat to our nation from within. The constant tearing of the fabric of our democracy which some have described as a “cold civil war”.

But let us not forget the alarming, relentless and emerging threat from our old “Cold War” adversary, Russia.

We ignore it at our peril.

Russia recently tested a new anti-satellite missile that destroyed one of its own old, obsolete satellites, firing it and creating thousands of debris. The threat it poses to American satellites in orbit is obvious.

The missile test comes as Russian troops continue to build up along the Ukrainian border amid growing fears of an all-out invasion.

There is also the construction of a new gas pipeline between Russia and our European allies that could make them as dependent on Russia as a drug addict to a drug dealer.

Are Americans aware and ready for an armed conflict with Russia, and are we ready to send our sons and daughters to fight there? We have been great over the past 20 years launching drones to get rid of the terrorists lurking in Afghanistan, Iraq and Syria. But there is no way for a drone to cope with the growing threats in many emerging conflicts.

Is there a way to make Russia think twice about Ukraine or, for that matter, play with our elections, our pipelines, etc., without firing a shot?

I am not a politician. I am not a military leader. I don’t want to question their decisions. I want to provide options for decision makers.

I am talking about arming our political and military leaders with “less than lethal options”. What does it mean: options related to technology.

For example, the Russians and the Chinese are testing hypersonic ballistic missiles. Missiles so fast that we may not have time to respond.

But even the most sophisticated technology is still controlled by computer chips, and if there is a chip inside, it can be hacked. We know how to hack, and that’s what I mean by less than lethal.

In other words. You are a villain with the intention of hurting civilians to make a political point. I see you are going to a hotel. I certainly cannot hit the hotel by drone. But with a few keystrokes, I can have your credit card refused. Then when you walk back to your car in disgust, I can stop the engine from starting. Cars also have chips. You can’t get a taxi to the airport. If you somehow get there, your flight reservation has been canceled. Disrupt, disorient and disarm without firing a shot.

I am not sending the troops. But I do the job.

The reality of conflict has changed and we must adapt. The problem is, we’re not teaching our next generation of thinkers to think about the next generation of conflict.

Some of the brightest young minds in the country are in our colleges and universities, studying and preparing for their future careers. But we don’t give them the means to think about it. Do we want to teach our engineering students how to wage war in other ways, you ask? Is it ethical?

He beats the devil to send them to fight a war in Eastern Europe.

I fill a talent pool of young innovative engineers and computer scientists who will one day replace us, and we do not teach them how to engage in the new face of conflict. I propose to develop talented minds who can design and implement less than lethal options that give the president and military leaders something else to consider, and this is not a new concept.

In 2010, Israel used a malicious computer worm, Stuxnet, to attack Iran’s nuclear program. The worm targeted the control systems of around 1,000 gas centrifuges, crippling Iran’s nuclear program. It is a less than lethal option to the real threat of a nuclear-weapon Iran.

I’m not saying that less than lethal options can replace troops, missiles, aircraft carriers, submarines, and even a space force in defending ourselves against conventional or future threats and forms of warfare. I’m saying the battlefield has already changed, and we haven’t done enough to change with it. Tactically we have rocked the world, but strategically we lack vision and execution.

Over the past 20 years, we have sacrificed too many of our sons and daughters in combat. We have taken too many collateral lives because of the fallibility of our drone strike technology. It is time to deploy our most powerful weapons to defend our country: the bright young minds of our brightest students. We must empower them with less than lethal means to deal with the threats to our nation in a way that avoids the kind of war that could consume us all.

Dr. Robert Bishop is the Dean of the School of Engineering at the University of South Florida and Founder, President and CEO of the Institute of Applied Engineering.

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