When we hear the ominous word “war,” we know exactly what it means: two or more countries, or other combatants, fighting each other with weapons and bloody techniques based on some conflict, with the purpose of seizing lands, proving their superiority. However, the 21st century brought a completely different and new way of fighting enemies, known as cyberwar. While providing many new benefits to human civilization, the age of information technologies also gave the “W” word a new meaning.
Time doesn’t stand still, and while the humanity benefits from new technologies, there’s always a flip side to every coin. What used to be science fiction is our reality nowadays. What used to bring the only improvement is currently used against human progress. In the last years, humanity has witnessed the birth of so-called hybrid warfare. In this case, the term fits perfectly because it implies using all possible types of aggression, whether conventional or unconventional, ranging from information manipulation and to actual physical destruction. Encompassing a broad definition, hybrid-warfare is waged for different political and military purposes including as psychological tactics and as a form of economic sanctions. The times have changed and so have the ways of waging wars. Hopefully, such practices vanish from human society, but in the meantime, it doesn’t hurt to be fully informed about the state of things.
Being a part of hybrid-warfare, cyberwarfare implies using digital attacks by one state to destroy or damage the vital computer systems of another country or even cause death. As opposed to a conventional military attack, a cyber attack can be carried out from a distance and leave no trace, making it extremely hard to detect the perpetrator. In the future, the world’s best hackers can potentially be fighting against an enemy country’s infrastructure while the conventional troops continue to do what they are good at. Such a dangerous combination may prove an undeniable advantage.
Of course, many countries are aware of the fact that computer systems make all sectors of modern society vulnerable and that all vital infrastructure and industries can be easily destroyed just as if armed troops attacked them. This is precisely why a secret cyber arms race between leading countries is taking place right now. No one is talking about it openly, but everybody understands it.
The Scale of Cyber Warfare
The scale of cyber warfare varies significantly according to the final goal of a given operation, ranging from small hacking incidents to severe cyber-attacks. Nowadays, our entire infrastructure depends on computer systems. Banks, airports, hospitals, supermarkets, power grids, and many other vital systems are managed with the help of computer systems to simplify and improve control over their critical processes.
Pretty much every aspect of our lives depends on computers and the internet. This means that we as individuals are all vulnerable to this hybrid-warfare to some extent, let alone entire countries. Imagine that tomorrow your city or even state is blacked out, the airplanes cannot land due to a system error, the banks aren’t working, or all the supermarkets have been hacked. Pretty soon, any country would collapse into chaos under such conditions. Yes, it’s still a hypothetical. However, it gives you an idea of how a cyberwar may affect your community.
What Are the Threats?
With this in mind, all the leading countries are covertly investing in cyber defense and cyber warfare development to protect themselves from possible disaster. Most likely, a secret cyber arms race is currently underway at the highest level. According to US intelligence, around 30 countries including China, North Korea, Russia, and Iran are increasingly expanding their cyber war potential and developing highly advanced cyber-attack capabilities. Starting in 2007 we began to experience incidents that can only be described as cyberwar. In that year, the banks and government services of Estonia came under DDoS attacks. Since then the world has seen many acute attacks. Leaving no trace, these incidents cannot be proven until someone assumes responsibility. This is precisely what makes cyberwar so dangerous.
Even a mediocre hacker can do severe damage. Now let’s imagine the situation when a team of the best and the most sophisticated hackers on the planet, without any budget restrictions, are set to work on a project of particular national interest for an aggressive or erratic country. The consequences would be inherently unpredictable and dangerous.
The most targeted sectors in cyberwar are military and industrial. However, the so-called Internet-of-Things is another potential target. The ecosystem of connected consumer and industrial devices such as cameras, cookers, fridges, as well as other smart technologies, can also be used against a nation.
Cyber Warfare is a relatively new concept. We don’t know for sure whether it will happen in the future or even if it is happening already. However, the real-world examples indicate that such battles are happening today. The significant cyber-attacks on a country that we know of are rare, but they do exist. One thing is for sure. A full-fledged cyberwar is not beneficial for any country because retaliatory action could be devastating. Is cyberwarfare something to be scared of? Probably not. Instead, it’s something to be aware of that might prompt you to make sure to protect your data correctly.
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