On any given week, state agencies in Utah will fend off as many as a billion separate cyber attacks on computer systems by malevolent actors who have deployed technology to infiltrate databases to cause havoc or steal information for some presumed gain. The sheer number of assaults is unfathomable, and the damage they could cause is incalculable.
Quietly, the state has assembled a defensive bulwark against cyber crime that is receiving national attention as a template for how to build a shield and assist law enforcement in more effectively going after the large and shadowy networks seeking to penetrate the online infrastructure. Known as the Utah Model, a partnership between the state’s Department of Public Safety and the FBI has empowered a Cyber Task Force that’s been effective in keeping computer-generated intruders at bay. It’s also been used to track down online drug traffickers peddling opioid substances like fentanyl.
The constant and growing onslaught of intrusion into computer systems presents a terrifying threat to the security of financial institutions and to the nation’s infrastructure. Recent revelations of Russian hackers planting malicious bugs in computers that run power plants and other critical installations should be a wakeup call. An attack of any scale on such facilities could result in profound social and economic disruption. The importance of erecting barriers and working to disarm hackers is vital to our national interest.
Authorities in Utah have been ahead of the curve in working to withstand the daily blitz aimed at government computer systems, as well as at private databases. A key development is the creation of a central clearinghouse for reports of cyber attacks. Previously, complaints about identity theft and hacking into commercial databases have typically been fielded by local law enforcement agencies, whose expertise doesn’t often extend to cyber warfare. Additionally, because banks and credit issuers build into their budgets a certain amount of loss to theft, such cases are frequently regarded as victimless crimes. The Utah Model allows for a centralized and more aggressive posture in probing suspected attacks. The state’s cyber attack task force is now working on creation of a central “cybercenter” to bring security operations under a single roof and create something like a 911 center for reporting suspected breaches.
Using computer systems to infiltrate other computer systems is a hazard that is both ominous and omnipresent. We frequently hear of database intrusions in which private information is acquired by cyber thieves, leading to cases of identity theft. We have yet to hear of any catastrophic sabotage of a power plant or water treatment facility, but we now know such an occurrence is by no means implausible.
It’s important that those responsible for protecting against such threats are diligently at work, as they are in Utah, to stay ahead of those who would use computer systems and software as weapons of mass calamity.