Fifteen years after the 9/11 terrorist attacks, counterterrorism efforts expand beyond the physical world to social media and encrypted communications, where federal workers actively try to prevent terrorists from radicalizing potential attackers online.
That’s how three top senior counterterrorism officials described their sprawling challenge to a Senate committee Tuesday, where they faced questions about how they could better use technology to prevent future attacks. The hearing was held shortly after the anniversary of 9/11, and also within months and days of the Pulse nightclub shooting in Orlando as well as a series of pipe- and pressure-cooker bombs detonating in the New York City area.
America’s spirit of ingenuity and entrepreneurship created the world’s most innovative economy and keeps us dominant in today’s digital age. Indeed, in 1985 about 2,000 people used the Internet; today, 3.2 billion people do. What started out as a useful tool for a few is now a necessity for all of us—as essential for connecting people, goods, and services as the airplane or automobile.
Without doubt, modern technology has created great opportunities for innovation and advancement. But, in a world that is increasingly connected by technology, with greater opportunity comes greater risk. That’s true for major companies, and it’s certainly true for the Federal government. Many Federal departments and agencies rely on aging computer systems and networks running on outdated hardware and infrastructure that are expensive to operate and difficult to defend against modern cyber threats. Of the $82 billion in Federal IT spending planned for 2017, approximately 78 percent ($63 billion) is dedicated to maintaining legacy IT investments. As more and more data is stored online, the need to protect against the adverse consequences of malicious cyber activity becomes more pressing each year.