U.S. losing cyberwar, security chief tells NJ-Israel Commission
Christopher Rodriguez, the director of New Jersey’s Office of Homeland Security and Preparedness, warned members of the New Jersey-Israel Commission Dec. 20 that the United States is losing battles of cyberwarfare with “our adversaries.”
Addressing a commission meeting in a conference room at the Newark law office of Sills Cummis & Gross, Rodriguez said, “We are increasingly targets of hacktivists, cyber-criminals, and state sponsors — the Russians, the Chinas, the North Koreas, the Irans — who are always trying to get into our systems,” even though the United States maintains military superiority.
“We have seen malicious codes on the systems that are really there collecting information, but can be used to move and influence the United States’ policies and the policies of its allies”, he said.
One problem, according to Rodriguez, is that the United States is far behind other nations in educating students to combat cyberterrorism. “China is graduating an average of two million cyber warriors a year, while the U.S. figure is tens of thousands of such experts,” he said.
“How are we going to compensate for that?” he asked. “How are we going to use our system to encourage people to get into computer science and cybersecurity? We are already losing, and we are already behind China’s capabilities.”
Noting that “Israel does a better job of this than the United States does” in fighting cyberterrorism, he said the Russians have been engaged in such attacks for years, beginning with its invasion of Georgia in 2008. Since then, the Kremlin has been waging war in cyberspace as an “asymmetric form of warfare.”
Rodriguez told the commission that NJ’s sophisticated cyber-counterterrorist measures are providing technical assistance to the Central Intelligence Agency, the National Security Agency, and police agencies in eight foreign countries, including Israel.
But, he said, other aspects of U.S. security lag behind. “It’s a problem, but we are taking steps to mediate those risks…. We are being proactive. But if you think this country and its adversaries are not already in an escalated state of cyberwarfare then someone is either naive at best or, at worst, puts this nation’s security at risk in the long term.”
He said the willingness of nations to use cyberwarfare against the U.S. “will embolden a country and its allies and adversaries to do the same.”
Referring to the debate over privacy versus national security that raged when Apple refused to give the FBI access to codes that would have unlocked the cellphone of a suspected terrorist, Rodriguez said that security and privacy “are both intimately linked.”
Brandishing an iPhone, Rodriguez said, “I want to know when I send a text to my kids or my wife that this is secure, that the government — I don’t care what government — can’t read what’s on my phone.”
He said the American intelligence community has a budget of $70 billion.
“They can crack the Apple code easy. Then what happens if the Apple code is cracked? Then it develops a more secure code, and the government cracks it again. Then it creates an even more secure code. Security and privacy move together.”
He decried a “politicization” of this issue that suggests “if you’re not with the FBI you’re against law enforcement and if you’re not with Apple you’re against privacy.”
Earlier in the meeting, three other speakers touted Israel’s close relationship with the state of New Jersey.
Lt. Gov. Kim Guadagno said NJ is “very pro-trade with Israel and every state should mimic what we have done here in New Jersey.”
“We have not had enough companies from Israel open here,” she said, even as she noted that the state gave $22 million in tax credits to Neptune Intelligence Computer Engineering, which is based in the Israeli city of Ra’anana and has opened a branch office in Monmouth County. It manufactures systems for data security, surveillance, and recording telephone conversations. She said NICE has received $22 million in tax credits from the state, and she predicted that in the next 20 years the company will earn $88 million and will increase its labor force from 140 to 340 people.
Inon Elroy, Israel’s economic minister to North America, said one of his country’s newest technological developments is a diagnostic medical device called the PillCam. It is the size of a capsule, and after it is swallowed it transmits video images of a patient’s intestinal tract without the need for X-rays, MRIs, or exploratory surgery.
Dani Dayan, who has served as Israel’s consul general in New York since August, said part of his mission will be to bring Israeli companies to NJ. “I think it is important not only for Israel, but for New Jersey,” he said.
Boasting that Israel’s economy is one of the world’s leaders in technological innovation and entrepreneurship, he said, “It is mind-boggling that every eight hours a new start-up company is established in Israel.”
In terms of international relations, Dayan told the commission that Israel “was never less isolated diplomatically than these days.” He said his country now enjoys an “intimate relationship” with India, with an official exchange of visits between Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
He said that two former heads of state not friendly to Israel, Cristina Fernández de Kirchner of Argentina and Dilma Rousseff of Brazil, have been replaced by leaders who are staunch friends of Israel and the U.S., opening markets for his country that he deemed “invaluable.”
Dayan also said Israel has “relations we don’t like to speak about” with “the Sunni axis in the Middle East, with Egypt and Jordan, and with other countries in the Gulf,” which make for good investments in Israeli firms; Israel also has ties to Greek President Prokopis Pavlopoulos, “even though he is a stone socialist.”
But the most significant of relationships are with Israel’s return to Africa and Africa’s return to Israel.
In an interview after the meeting, commission chair Mark Levenson, a partner at Sills Cummis & Gross, told NJJN he was “excited” about the future of Israel’s partnership with NJ.
“Israel is gold right now economically,” he said.
After Republican Gov. Chris Christie leaves office in 2017, Levenson expects his successor to continue close relations with Israel and its fields of technology and economic development.
“This is an engine that will continue to run.”