Alan W. Dowd is a Senior Fellow with the American Security Council Foundation, where he writes on the full range of topics relating to national defense, foreign policy and international security. Dowd’s commentaries and essays have appeared in Policy Review, Parameters, Military Officer, The American Legion Magazine, The Journal of Diplomacy and International Relations, The Claremont Review of Books, World Politics Review, The Wall Street Journal Europe, The Jerusalem Post, The Financial Times Deutschland, The Washington Times, The Baltimore Sun, The Washington Examiner, The Detroit News, The Sacramento Bee, The Vancouver Sun, The National Post, The Landing Zone, Current, The World & I, The American Enterprise, Fraser Forum, American Outlook, The American and the online editions of Weekly Standard, National Review and American Interest. Beyond his work in opinion journalism, Dowd has served as an adjunct professor and university lecturer; congressional aide; and administrator, researcher and writer at leading think tanks, including the Hudson Institute, Sagamore Institute and Fraser Institute. An award-winning writer, Dowd has been interviewed by Fox News Channel, Cox News Service, The Washington Times, The National Post, the Australian Broadcasting Corporation and numerous radio programs across North America. In addition, his work has been quoted by and/or reprinted in The Guardian, CBS News, BBC News and the Council on Foreign Relations. Dowd holds degrees from Butler University and Indiana University. Follow him at


Scott Tilley is a Senior Fellow at the American Security Council Foundation, where he writes the “Technical Power” column, focusing on the societal and national security implications of advanced technology in cybersecurity, space, and foreign relations.

He is an emeritus professor at the Florida Institute of Technology. Previously, he was with the University of California, Riverside, Carnegie Mellon University’s Software Engineering Institute, and IBM. His research and teaching were in the areas of computer science, software & systems engineering, educational technology, the design of communication, and business information systems.

He is president and founder of the Center for Technology & Society, president and co-founder of Big Data Florida, past president of INCOSE Space Coast, and a Space Coast Writers’ Guild Fellow.

He has authored over 150 academic papers and has published 28 books (technical and non-technical), most recently Systems Analysis & Design (Cengage, 2020), SPACE (Anthology Alliance, 2019), and Technical Justice (CTS Press, 2019). He wrote the “Technology Today” column for FLORIDA TODAY from 2010 to 2018.

He is a popular public speaker, having delivered numerous keynote presentations and “Tech Talks” for a general audience. Recent examples include the role of big data in the space program, a four-part series on machine learning, and a four-part series on fake news.

He holds a Ph.D. in computer science from the University of Victoria (1995).

Contact him at

Ransomware - Digital extortion goes mainstream by ASCF Senior Fellow Scott Tilley

Friday, July 23, 2021

Categories: Acsf News Cyber Security Technical Power

Comments: 1

By Scott Tilley, ASCF Senior Fellow

July, 2021

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The hacking of the Colonial Pipeline is just the latest in a series of ransomware attacks that are plaguing the nation. Ransomware is a form of malware used in a cybersecurity attack. Hackers infiltrate a computer network and install a special kind of program that either encrypts or deletes the data on the computers. This renders the computers effectively useless for the owners. They can’t access the data, so they can’t use other programs to perform daily tasks. Instead, they are forced to pay a ransom, usually in an untraceable digital currency, like Bitcoin, before the hackers give them the key to decrypt their data. Once encrypted (or deleted), it’s completely inaccessible.

Besides the Colonial Pipeline, organizations that have been infected with ransomware include hospitals, schools and universities, and many corporations. Unfortunately, we don’t often hear about ransomware attacks because organizations don’t like to make these attacks public. That’s understandable because it affects their reputation.

Our government’s policy is not to pay ransom demands in the real world, but in the online world, ransoms are now paid all the time; there’s little choice. Moreover, hackers can be located anywhere in the world, so we usually don’t have legal recourse against them. All they need is access to the Internet and a supportive, or least indifferent, nation-state to operate. Russia is the prime example often cited, but the usual culprits are also in play.

Defending against ransomware is challenging. It requires secure networks and knowledgeable personnel, both of which are in short supply. As long as a network, or any device, is connected to the Internet, it is hackable. The Internet of Things (IoT) is making the situation worse since many devices are not engineered with security in mind. Some of them are engineered with back doors in place, which means there is a built-in mechanism to access the network.

The owners of the Colonial Pipeline are reported to have paid nearly $5 million dollars to unlock their systems (some of which the FBI was able to recover), only to find the decryption key they paid for