Private email, corporate records, even military secrets, all vulnerable to cyber attacks. It is very real, and happening more often than you know.
“All government agencies are being attacked, and most major companies,” said Alan Paller of the SANS institute.
In December of 2009, Google was hacked. Secrets were exposed. A security crisis, even hit home for the President in 2008. “Between August and October, hackers gained access to emails and a range of campaign files, from policy papers, to travel plans,” Paller said.
In April of 2007, a series of cyber attacks on government agencies including the Pentagon, wiped out more data than stored in the Library of congress. There are 1.8 billion attacks per month, according to the Senate’s Sergeant at Arms office. The government is looking for defense.
“I’m nervous, but I think it would be a pretty good thing to take on,” said Michael Coppola. “I got into computers at a pretty young age.”
He just might be the future of cyber security in the U.S.
“I’d like to take down the people that actually create problems,” said 17-year-old Coppola. “I bought a book in the 4th grade and I taught myself how to code websites.”
Coppola is self taught, and a force to be reckoned with. Last year, Michael entered and won the first ever U.S. Cyber Challenge by doing something no one else had. He hacked the points system.
“So basically, I found a vulnerability in the scoring server itself, so I was able to get access points as I felt needed,” Coppola said.
Clever and brilliant, he’s exactly the type of person the Cyber Challenge hopes to find. It’s a series of competitions in various areas of cyber security.
“The key weapons in the next war are going to be people,” said Alan Paller, the director of research for SANS institute, the main training organization of cyber security in the U.S. He says the goal is to find young whiz kids who can become the top guns in cyber security, and that the nation’s dependence on the internet leaves it more vulnerable than any other country.
“It isn’t a military threat, it’s a commercial threat where they want to have the economic superiority over the United States,” Paller said. He believes the only way to combat that is for more schools to start cyber education programs, dedicated to finding talent to join the understaffed field.
“The skills of the people that can control your computers and gain control of the other guy’s computers is more important for future wars,” Paller said.
The United States is catching up. Other countries like China have been doing this for some time. Many recent attacks, including those against Google and Yahoo, are thought to have come from China.
“I guess they call themselves hackers, but people who can compromise computers and destroy what they’ve compromised, they’re not hackers, they’re just punks,” Coppola said. He uses his cyber powers for good. After winning, the teen started developing a series of courses for the SANS institute.
“There’s hundreds and thousands of other kids like me, and they love computers, and they love exploiting,” Coppola said.
They are identifying weaknesses in the nation’s cyber security, and growing a new generation of defenders who might be sitting in a high school classroom right now.