Recently, while I was on a visit to Salon.com, my computer screen momentarily went black. A glitch? A power surge? No, it was a pop-up ad for the U.S. Air Force, warning me that an enemy cyber-attack could come at any moment — with dire consequences for my ability to connect to the Internet. It was an Outer Limits moment. Remember that eerie sci-fi show from the early 1960s? The one that began in a blur with the message, “There is nothing wrong with your television set. Do not attempt to adjust the picture. We are controlling transmission….” It felt a little like that.
And speaking of Air Force ads, there’s one currently running on TV and on the Internet that starts with a bird’s eye view of the Pentagon as a narrator intones, “This building will be attacked three million times today. Who’s going to protect it?” Two Army colleagues of mine nearly died on September 11, 2001, when the third hijacked plane crashed into the Pentagon, so I can’t say I appreciated the none-too-subtle reminder of that day’s carnage. Leaving that aside, it turns out that the ad is referring to cyber-attacks and that the cyber protector it has in mind is a new breed of “air” warrior, part of an entirely new Cyber Command run by the Air Force. Using the latest technology, our cyber elite will “shoot down” enemy hackers and saboteurs, both foreign and domestic, thereby dominating the realm of cyberspace, just as the Air Force is currently seeking to dominate the planet’s air space — and then space itself “to the shining stars and beyond.”