Stewart Baker warns of the dangers facing the U.S. when it comes to hacking

HOPEWELL — Despite the protestations of President Donald Trump, the evidence is pretty clear of Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election, said Stewart Baker, who served as first assistant secretary for policy at the U.S. Department of Homeland Security under President George W. Bush and now is a Washington, D.C., attorney and counterterrorism expert.

The problem will only worsen without punishment and adopting a series of security measures that help to track and identify violators, said Baker, who will be speaking Sunday on cyber security and privacy at Finger Lakes Community College as the final speaker in the sixth annual George M. Ewing Canandaigua Forum series.

“I try to make it light, but we have to recognize that we’re being challenged in a very real way by this technology and by governments that are willing to be ruthless in doing it,” Baker said in a phone interview. “We have to be determined to respond to that challenge.”

And thus far, the nation has not, at least not to the degree that it should, he said.

In addition to his position with Homeland Security under President Bush, Baker has served as general counsel of the National Security Agency and of the commission that investigated weapons of mass destruction intelligence claims prior to the Iraq War.

Baker is now partner in a law firm that covers cybersecurity among other practices.

The rest of the world has figured out the U.S. is vulnerable to hacking and has no strategy for punishing the people carrying it out, Baker said.

Russian President Vladimir Putin did not pack up and hide when it became clear the Russians had done the hacking, Baker said.

“They just went on saying, more or less, what are you going to do about it?” Baker said. “The Russians have figured it out, partly because of real animus toward (Trump presidential opponent) Hillary Clinton. They were willing to get caught doing something that interfered with our election and that the penalty wouldn’t be too big. So far, it isn’t.”

And that will embolden other foreign countries like China, North Korea and Iran to “support” candidates in the future.

“If anything makes you feel like a third-world country, it’s having different countries from outside your borders determine who wins your election,” Baker said.

So part of protecting U.S. interests from hacking includes adopting a host of tools to identify hackers and the countries that employ them and strong deterrents to keep it from happening.

Doing so requires a balancing act of protection and liberties.

Such security measures could mean less anonymity on the internet for companies and individuals and the acceptance of greater government surveillance and supervision. Also, it comes with the recognition that vital pieces of the economy and infrastructure perhaps should not be digitized.

Without addressing the problem — which Baker noted former President Barack Obama only began to take seriously toward the end of his administration — expect more problems to arise, which will ramp up in severity.

Baker said he thinks foreign governments will use hacking to target individuals for extortion, assassination or some other threat of a pointed kind, and there is nothing now to prevent it.

“I think we can see a combination of hacking to gather intelligence and then to enable very personal acts of violence or intimidation,” Baker said.

Baker’s talk will be moderated by FLCC President Robert Nye, a retired Army colonel who served as chief strategist for the deputy commanding general of U.S. forces in Iraq.

“We’ve got no shortage of material to discuss, ranging from cyber threats, cyber security and privacy in a rapidly evolving cyber environment,” Nye said in a prepared statement.

And maybe the discussion leads to a look at the past, when paper voting results were tallied by hand, Baker said.

“The 20th century is starting to look pretty good,” Baker said.