HSToday Interview: The UNHACKABLE INTERNET with Thomas Vartanian

If you knew a coming attack would disarm national security, wipe out the electric grid, destroy banking networks, and cause your money to disappear, wouldn’t you want the government to prevent it?

In his essential new book THE UNHACKABLE INTERNET: How Rebuilding Cyberspace Can Create Real Security and Prevent Financial Collapse (Prometheus; February 2023), financial services and technology expert Thomas P. Vartanian reveals how vulnerable our online world is to staggering damage from attacks by enemies ranging from geopolitical rivals to criminal cartels. Vartanian describes the devastating hacks that are coming—it is a matter of when, not if—unless the US and other democratic nations take some admittedly difficult steps to remake global internet security.

Bridget Johnson, HSToday’s Managing Editor, sat down with Vartanian to discuss.

Vartanian, the executive director of Financial Technology & Cybersecurity Center, exposes the weaknesses of the online networks that we rely on today, dissecting recent cybersecurity breaches increasingly choreographed by countries like Russia, North Korea, Iran, and China. He lays bare the inadequacies of our current computing systems and the dysfunction of the bureaucracies that oversee them. Attacks have ranged from Solar Winds, which gave hackers believed to be linked to Russian intelligence unprecedented access to federal agencies and private corporations, to the breach of credit reporting data at Equifax, which compromised information on nearly half of all Americans. They all underscore the critical and immediate need for better security of the country’s data and money.

In THE UNHACKABLE INTERNET, Vartanian offers solutions to the problems we face, including supplementing the Internet with secure private networks dedicated to critical infrastructures such as financial transactions. These networks would rely on heightened authentication, governance, enforcement, and application “kill switches”.

If we don’t change course, we will—perhaps in the not-too-distant future—suffer a cyber attack that Vartanian calls “a digital Pearl Harbor”. This incisive and alarming book describes how we got to this point, but more importantly, how we can, and must, protect ourselves from this virtual firestorm.

Thomas P. Vartanian is the Executive Director of the nonprofit Financial Technology and Cybersecurity Center. Throughout his career, he has represented parties in 30 of the 50 largest country’s financial institution collapses and has been at the forefront of the creation and implementation of new financial technologies. He served as general counsel of the Federal Home Loan Bank Board during the S&L crisis, as special assistant to the chief counsel of the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency, and as chairman of the American Bar Association’s Cyberspace Law Committee. He has been a regular guest on national media, including on Bloomberg TV, CNN, Fox News, and various radio shows. He’s the author of 200 Years of American Financial Panics. For more information, visit www.thomasvartanian.com.

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