Imagine a scenario where your computer crashes. No Internet, email or Google. Now take that forward. What if not a single ATM was functional because the banking sector’s IT operations had been hit? And imagine if you were forced to live in darkness because there was no electricity as the power grid had been knocked out. Well, a targeted attack that focuses on essential technology services could become a reality in the age of cyberwarfare or cyberterrorism.
According to the Federal Bureau of Investigation, cyber-terrorism is “any premeditated, politically motivated attack against information, computer systems, computer programs, and data which results in violence against non-combatant targets...”
Over the last decade, there have been numerous examples of cyber-terrorism. In 2007, in Estonia, a botnet covering over a million computers hit government, business, and media websites across the country causing massive damage and data loss. Again in 2007, the US was attacked by an unknown party, which hit its high tech and military agencies and downloaded terabytes of vital and confidential information. In 2009, over 100 countries around the world were affected by a cyber-spy network, GhostNet, which accessed confidential information belonging to both government and private institutions.
Today, with the world so connected by technology, it may not be far-fetched to believe that nations at war may resort to cyberwarfare. This could result in loss of control over nuclear capabilities, for example, causing large-scale damage to vital operations, machinery, and a nation’s weapons arsenal.
Presently, the coordination of attacks has been exemplified by “Slammer”– a computer worm that exploited a loophole in a major multinational technology firm’s SQL database. By denying traffic to a number of Internet servers, Slammer caused systematic damage to the electronic infrastructure of the US and hit airline booking systems and ATMs across the country, infecting approximately 75,000 computers within 10 minutes of its inception.
With the advent of new technology, the scope, type, and sophistication of cyber-attacks have also expanded. Earlier, attacks were uncoordinated, disorganized, and lacked cohesion. However, this has now changed with cyberwarfare demonstrating the potential to play a more significant role in atypical wars. According to the Hackmageddon website, which monitors global cyber-attacks, there has been an increase of 6% in the number of cyberwarfare attacks from 2012 to 2013. This underlines the seriousness with which such threats should be taken.
The need for a common technological strategy to safeguard the world’s interest is key. Of course, this must be coupled with more active measures to prevent such attacks. Examples of these include not only heightened firewalls, cryptography, and intrusion detection, but tighter deterrents and more stringent punishments for attackers. However, what is clear is that steps should be taken at the earliest.
How do you think cyberwarfare will affect today’s notion of modern warfare? Please leave your comments in the section below.