Imagine a world where a single factory produced 55% of the planet’s food supply and almost all of the nutritious foods that are required for children to develop into, and remain, vigorous, healthy, and productive adults with strong immune systems and sharp minds. Putting this into perspective, the countries that represent the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) control around 40% of global oil production, and that 40% is important enough to qualify them for the dubious honor of being the focus of many countries’ national security apparatus.
Let’s say the factory was located on one of the most active seismic belts in the world, in an area with a long history of earthquake activity. On top of that, let’s also say that it also sat on the front lines of potential conflict between the Earth’s only remaining grand geopolitical and economic rivalry.
That factory, and ensuring continuous and uninterrupted access to its output, would clearly become the focus of every national security organization on the planet. Its well-being would become the primary national policy concern of every government on the planet, and every multinational organization, no? In fact, every sane nation would invest heavily in the development of domestic factories that would decrease dependency on this single point of failure. Or so you’d think.
And you’d be wrong. Replace the word “food” with the word “semiconductor” or “chip” and you’d have an apt description of where the world finds itself with respect to the foundational products that enable modern life. A single entity, Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Company (TSMC), which as the name implies has the majority of its physical operations in Taiwan, produces more than half the world’s computer chips and nearly all of the advanced chips that power the world’s computing devices. Got a product from AMD, Apple, ARM, Broadcom, Marvell, MediaTek, Qualcomm or Nvidia? You’re running chips made by TSMC. TSMC, like the rest of Taiwan, sits on the circum-Pacific earthquake belt (also known as The Ring of Fire). And, like the rest of Taiwan, it sits squarely in the crosshairs of the People’s Republic of China, which, according to American intelligence officials, is focused on developing an ability to invade by 2027.
What does all of this have to do with cybersecurity? In a nutshell, without a secure technology supply chain, and right now that means “a secure trade link to TSMC,” there is no “cyber” to secure. Mobile computing, and a good chunk of desktop computing, as we know it, goes away. The Internet of Things becomes a pipe dream. The vast expanses of data centers sit idle and empty. And the American ability to project force, which is based on technological dominance of the battlefield, evaporates. While the 1970s and 1980s gave us some of the best music ever produced, I’m not sure we want to be forced to return to that technology baseline.
This isn’t about sowing the seeds of panic. Rather, it’s a wake up call to the cybersecurity community. It’s easy to become so task (and dollar) focused on ones and zeroes that we lose sight of the (sometimes literal) tectonic movements that can crush us all. The community’s influence is both substantial and national, which is good, because responding to what is effectively a national semiconductor crisis is going to require substantial, national influence.
Perhaps the most important aspect of cybersecurity is ensuring that there remains an American cyberspace to secure.
Build it right, America.