Is 2022 the Year America’s Technology Supremacy Ends?
Robert Spalding, US Air Force Brigadier General (ret), founder and CEO of SEMPRE

In an age when American national sovereignty depends more than ever on our ability to access and manage secure, interconnected data, the newly passed $1 trillion US infrastructure bill is the latest failure to invest in our technology future.

This comes at precisely the time when China is exerting its influence as an authoritarian regime to modernize its military and civilian communications infrastructure through the deployment of 5G technology and artificial intelligence (AI). In the race to data dominance, China is leagues ahead of the United States – aided and abetted by Silicon Valley tech companies with little incentive to protect
the rights of Americans to data access and privacy.

This imbalance leaves the US in an increasingly vulnerable position as the government’s failure to focus on technology resilience hands China a global leadership advantage. Unless things change, here are four insights into what 2022 could mean for America’s critical digital infrastructure:

  1. China extends its technology lead: Weak US investment in AI R&D and a world class 5G cellular broadband infrastructure means China will pull at least a decade ahead of the US technologically.
  2. US cyber-attacks will continue to rage: US technology lag will further embolden bad actors, which targeted nearly 1,100 organizations with ransomware attacks in the first half of 2021. That’s roughly twice the number during the same period in 2020, according to security analytics software developer, Cognyte. The US is by far the most targeted country, with 54.9 percent of
    cyber victims.
  3. US cyber recovery funding will be overwhelmed: The US government has set aside only $20 million per year over the next five years for cybercrime recovery. According to the Council of Economic Advisers, cybercrimes cost the US alone $50 billion to $100 billion – and that was in 2016. The infrastructure bill also allocates $100 million over five years to beef up the nation’s cyber resiliency. This paltry sum is a drop in the ocean compared to the annual costs incurred by corporations to gird their digital infrastructure.
  4. Data protection will be deprioritized for low-income, rural Americans:  The country’s most vulnerable and least tech-savvy citizens will be among those most exposed to online scams, identity theft and cyber hijacking. The $42.5 billion State Broadband Deployment Grant Program
    includes only $1 billion for so-called middle-mile infrastructure and leaves too much power in the hands of wireless service providers that have shown scant interest in facilitating data equity.

With these potential outcomes in mind, it’s time for America’s political leaders, telecommunications service providers and data center operators to wake up to the need for a secure, equitable infrastructure that benefits from the speed, interconnectedness and intelligence of AI and 5G technology without succumbing to their susceptibilities.

This begins with the recognition that most telecommunications and data center security software is applied as an afterthought – as a patch to the outside of the network. A better approach is to provide security from the inside, starting at the data layer, to ensure trust is maintained throughout the data value chain. That can be achieved by combining our communications networks and data centers into a single, hardened piece of infrastructure. This has at least three advantages over today’s disaggregated equipment configuration:

  1. The close physical proximity of a conjoined radio tower and data center server dramatically simplifies the job of physically protecting it – even from a high-altitude nuclear detonation in the form of an electromagnetic pulse (EMP) attack.
  2. Data can be encrypted at the source, providing a barrier to backdoor exploitation and man-in-the-middle vulnerabilities through which unsecured data can be siphoned off or manipulated.
  3. Latency and backhaul costs are reduced by eliminating the need to ship data across the country to and from data centers run by people who, ultimately, are not responsible for ensuring data security and integrity.

In the end, we have a secure, local compute environment where a chain of trust protects data from external threats. The hybrid model gives the global telecommunications and data industry an intelligent firewall that encrypts data traffic, monitors endpoints for anomalous behavior, detects and profiles known good behavior and creates a barricade to future attacks – in real-time, not after the fact.

The onslaught of cybercrimes perpetrated by state actors in Russia and China threatens our personal privacy rights, national sovereignty and democratic principles like never before. We must safeguard our ability to access and manage secure data and apply the same diligence in protecting our national digital infrastructure as we do our nuclear defenses. In the words of President Biden, we need to build back better. To me, that means build back secure.

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