“Cyberwarfare is the fifth domain of warfare”
– The Economist
“actions by a nation-state to penetrate another nation’s computers or networks for the purposes of causing damage or disruption”
This is how Richard A. Clarke, in his book Cyber War, defines cyber-warfare.
Basic Understanding of Cyber War
This may not be a term you are used to by now, but if you ended up here, you have heard of it. And the meaning of this term is in fact the migration of warfare from the 4 mediums of the past (ground, air, water and space) to a new medium: cyberspace. The concept is not new by any means, this is just a reaction of the evolution of information. Intelligence and counter-intelligence used to collect data written on paper, nowadays, this information is stored on servers or private networks. And so, they have evolved into cyber intelligence.
Cyberwarfare is the method of choice in warfare in the new era, but let’s be honest: do we really believe it could be without victims? Without loss of life? It’s true, maybe soldiers will not be in the line of fire, but the ramifications of cyberwar are much more widespread and they affect much more people. In a sense, we, as a society do not fully understand all the ramifications of cyberwarfare. This new breed of soldiers are armed with laptops rather than AK’s. They now have more power than any army has ever had in the past. The threat of sabotage or espionage via computers and networks has increased dramatically in the last few years.
Cyber Attacks to Replace Military Battles?
We have seen numerous examples of cyber attacks or leaked information and that is just the start of it. As you all know, our society has become more and more dependent on the Internet. In the future, cyber attacks will not just mean a stolen bank account number or a few private photos. Valuable information that is stored on servers across the world are no longer safe, and countries have entire systems linked over the internet, such as transportation, electricity or industry. All of these are vulnerable, and an attack of any of these systems would result in a partial or even total collapse of society.
If this would come to pass, then the risk for society is grater than old fashioned war because of the widespread panic this would cause. The US army calls this type of war iWar (funny, eh?!). After all the attacks on military institutions and private ones, everyone is starting to take notice of the threat and prepare for an all-out cyberwar. The leaders of the pack until now are the Chinese and French, but other countries are quickly rising. Soon, Russia will have a cyber-army ready to strike.
We caught a glimpse of cyberwarfare in 1991, when, in some opinions, cyberwarfare started. In the first Gulf War, Dutch hackers obtained information about US troops and tried to sell them to Iraqis, but they did not believe them. The outcome would have been very different is they would have gotten the information. The US then saw what cyberwarfare could mean, and what a useful tool it could be. Now it has evolved beyond a weapon.
The Real Threat of Modern World: Hackers vs Governments
Another example of this type of cyberwarfare was seen in 2010, when in China, Google, Facebook, Twitter and Skype were blocked for a period, or in Egypt where Twitter was blocked because of the riots and because of the threat that the activists would plan their next attacks on the social network. But all hope is not lost, there are the so-called white-hat hackers. These are the guys fighting in the front lines, those who oppose one country’s control over the Internet and who fight to keep the Internet free and anonymous. In this category, two names stand out over the others: Anonymous, a world wide association of hackers, all anonymous and all working together under the same flag, and LulzSec, the french group that hacked the servers of Sony in 2011.
These two groups are the so called “hactivists” and they operate under the assumption that governments are hacking computers and networks to gain personal information from citizens, and in a way, they are just returning the favor. And is the reply given by governments to these groups? “The road to hell is paved with good intentions”. The Chinese already have the “blue army”, a dedicated task force to keep an watchful eye on the Internet, for any of these Internet pirates.
Online Banking: Making your Money Vulnerable
An inevitable effect of globalization and technological breakthrough is that goods are being faster produced, services are more and more widespread; bottom line, time is the universal currency. In order to save time, we’re using such tools as home banking or mobile banking to avoid the hassle of dealing with bank clerks. While this is great and proves to be useful to our time management, no matter how much security the bank can offer, we should ask ourselves: can we really be safe? There are many ethical hackers out there that fight for freedom and rights but it’s completely foolish to think there aren’t cyber criminals, ready to steal your money and destroy your life.
Either way we look at it, it’s clear that World War 3 will be fought on virtual battleground, but nonetheless, the result will be more devastating that we could ever conceive. Bottom line: Is a cyberwar inevitable? It could be, but looking back on history, I would have to say no.
Related Read: Technological Singularity – The Blind Point