HSToday Interview: The UNHACKABLE INTERNET with Thomas Vartanian

If you knew that an impending attack would disarm national security, wipe out the power grid, destroy banking networks, and make your money disappear, wouldn’t you want the government to stop it?

In his landmark 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 shows how vulnerable our online world is to massive damage from enemy attacks is from geopolitical rivals to criminal cartels. Vartanian describes the devastating hacks that are coming — it’s a question of when, not if — unless the US and other democratic nations take some admittedly difficult steps to reshape global cybersecurity.

Bridget Johnson, Editor-in-Chief of HSToday, sat down with Vartanian for a chat.

Vartanian, executive director of the Financial Technology & Cybersecurity Center, lays bare the weaknesses of the online networks we rely on today and analyzes the recent cybersecurity breaches that are increasingly being orchestrated by countries like Russia, North Korea, Iran and China. It exposes the inadequacies of our current computer systems and the dysfunctions of the bureaucracies that oversee them. Attacks range from Solar Winds, which gave hackers believed to be linked to Russian intelligence unprecedented access to federal agencies and private companies, to the breach of credit report data at Equifax, which holds information on nearly half of everyone Americans has compromised. 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 complementing the Internet with secure private networks dedicated to critical infrastructure such as financial transactions. These networks would rely on strengthened authentication, governance, enforcement, and “kill switches” for applications.

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If we don’t change course, maybe in the not too distant future we will suffer a cyberattack that Vartanian calls “a digital Pearl Harbor.” This perceptive 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 Executive Director of the nonprofit Financial Technology and Cybersecurity Center. During his career he has represented parties in the collapse of 30 of the country’s top 50 financial institutions and has been at the forefront of the development and implementation of new financial technologies. During the S&L crisis, he was General Counsel of the Federal Home Loan Bank Board, Special Assistant to the Chief Counsel of the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency, and Chair of the American Bar Association’s Cyberspace Law Committee. He has been a regular guest on national media including Bloomberg TV, CNN, Fox News and various radio shows. He is the author of 200 Years of the American Financial Panic. For more information, visit www.thomasvartanian.com.