Forget Syria. When asked what keeps him up at night, former chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Gen. Peter Pace, says cyber warfare tops his list of concerns.
“We have five to 10 years to get it right,” Pace told attendees at the Financial Services Institute’s first annual advisor summit in Washington, D.C. yesterday, on September 11. “It will be much worse in 5 to 10 years.”
The day was a poignant one for Pace, who recalled his own experience 12 years ago on 9/11, flying back to Miami from Columbia, where he was working with the government on drug interdiction. Pace was asked to speak about a foundation, the Wall Street Warfighters Foundation, that he started to help veterans of the Afghanistan and Iraq wars to get jobs after leaving the military.
But it was his response to the "what keeps you up at night” question from FSI CEO Dale Brown that raised eyebrows. A few years ago, there used to be 1,000 new viruses launched every year. Now, Pace said, there are more than 10,000 a week. Though the U.S. government doesn’t like to talk about it, the Pentagon, CIA and others have their own offensive capabilities out of necessity. “I know we can’t defend against it, but I also know what we can do offensively,” he told attendees.
It’s only a matter of time before “[cyber warriors] can shut down the stock market, banks and the power grid,” among other things. Some cyber warriors are “terrorists or extortionists,” while others are hackers and pranksters.
“If you think a smart power grid is a good idea, you are right,” Pace said. “But every time you gain more control . . . someone else does too.”
Right now, it would take a supercomputer to shut down the power grid and governments control the vast majority of supercomputers. With advances in technology, that could change in five years. As he finished answering Brown’s questions, Pace wryly apologized to the attendees for not making it easy to digest their breakfast.