These terms have been thrown around like a ninja throwing star, various newspapers and even quite a few of our leaders are using the term liberally and it scares the snot out of little kids like a story about the Boogie Man. *Harumph* I say, harumph.
Military theorists are going to shoot anyone down who uses the term “cyber war” because there is no such thing as “Land war” or “Sea War” or even “Air War”. It’s war fought in different domains, which happen to include air, sea, land, space and now cyber. It’s just another domain. Get used to it.
Now let’s talk about ‘warfare in cyberspace’. First we all thought that the conflict between Russia and Estonia was a cyberwar, but since then we’ve evolved our perception.
The facts are that ‘someone’ (think Russia) decided to attack the Estonian banking industry when a statue commemorating a Russian soldier was removed. The highly wired and interconnected Estonian banking industry and much of the government was shut down for a brief period.
But nobody died, no military targets were destroyed and.. *gasp* there were no long term effects. Is that war? No. Is that a cyberwar? Good gracious, no.
2008, Russia attacks South Ossetia, a part of the country of Georgia, to protect Russian interests in that region. In conjunction with a conventional Russian attack there was a call for assistance to close down various Georgian websites. A target list was produced, tools/weapons were made available and a time schedule was provided. This was pretty darned close to being a cyberwar, but it was just warfare in cyberspace as part of a larger war.
So what is cyberwar? I imagine most people feel that some country is going to launch weapons or tools against another country, trying to blind their military, mute the other government and make life incredibly miserable for many of their citizens.
The Geneva Convention will probably be ignored; civilian targets, including private businesses, critical infrastructure and even private citizens, will be affected, either directly or indirectly. If the attacker is successful, a simple reboot of the target computers will not regenerate functionality and a part of the economic base of the targeted country will probably be permanently destroyed (although many dispute this, believe a simple reboot or loading backup tapes will be sufficient).
To be truly effective the attacks will continue and each time an effected system is restored, it will be attacked again. How much time and patience the attacker has, I don’t know, but I would imagine it will take weeks to effectively put a dent in a nation’s economy. The banking industry is on a separate network (which I believe is also susceptible but that’s the subject of another article), and I believe it will survive for the most part.
A sophisticated enemy is going to implant tools which will continually reattack and spread and cause long term damage. More harmful would be a worm with the sole purpose of replicating and ‘delete *.* or fdisk on all .com, .gov and .mil systems’.
Is this possible? Not yet. The tools to do this have not yet been developed OR have not yet been used. But, the good news is that whoever unleashes a God-worm will also kill their own computer and will shut them self off from the rest of the world. I’m sure this little factoid will cross their mind at least once while they are developing their ‘God worm’.
Bottom line. There are some really sick minds out there. Some day, just some day, somebody will unleash a worm that might be programmed to ‘destroy anything with a .cn domain name. Oops, that’s China. Oops?
Cross-posted from To Inform is to Influence