Cyber Threats: From Military to Economic

Thursday, January 12, 2012

Plagiarist Paganini


(Translated from the original Italian)

Searching the Internet for the words "Cyberwar" you will immediately realize how high the interest is in the matter. 

An ocean of information available demonstrates the growing interest in the matter, and which awakens many ancestral fears. The spectrum is that of a conflict, the scenario is the cyber space.

Governments around the world are gearing up to cope with this massive technology call to arms. The awareness of the threat and risks are high and this made it necessary, despite the struggling economy, the allocation of large sums of money to prepare for the new emergency.

It is clear to all, a cyber threat can cause as extensive of damage as any military operation, and a cyber weapon may claim more lives than a conventional attack in a more subtle manner.

How is this threat changing the political work of nations in relation to the concept of cyber warfare? The answer is, fundamentally, that every nation has felt the need to define a cyber strategy.

In the last 10 years Internet usage has increased tenfold, and billions of people have been involved. The phenomena is in constant growth, cyberspace is part of our everyday life, and "cybersecurity threats Represent One of the Most Serious national security, public safety, and Economic challenges we face as a nation."

Operations conducted in cyberspace have a direct and immediate effect in real world. Trade, communications, politics, every thing in cyber space is driving new world wide economies, everything must be preserved.

Cyber threats to national security will address military and civil targets with a direct impact in our lives. Foreign governments are investing in technologies giving life to real cyber armies composed of young hackers able to launch sophisticated attacks into the networks and systems that control critical infrastructure.

Communication, power grids, transportation networks, facilities, financial systems and hospitals could be harmed causing massive damage and economic disruption.

This is the new way to fight a war.

The global scenario is changing rapidly. Populations that have been considered hostile governments are tightening dangerous relationships with technologically advanced nations, refining their offensive capabilities and increasing concerns about their actual danger.

It is the case of Iran that is showing, or attempts to do so, a new technological face. A nation leading in cyber warfare, and which is investing heavily in this area preparing for a possible conflict with military operations and which does not hide the intention to make use of cyber capabilities.

Much the same for North Korea that has long made offensive moves against computer opponents of South Korea aiming to devastate vital components of its social fabric.

The banking sector and some government agencies are the most affected targets by the North Korean incursions. Small nations are capable of scaring larger ones by increasing the level of cyber alert because of their proximity to technologically advanced nations such as China and Russia.

Another significant aspect of cyber warfare is the ability to conduct operations in complete anonymity. The major concern in the context of military operations is the consensus to action by the international community.

A cyber attack can be conducted without notice, can be perpetrated in a continued way over time until achievement of the objectives, and the costs are considerably lower than those of a traditional military campaign.

The direct consequence of these considerations is the forecast of the growing use of military cyber operations due their major effectiveness and lower costs.

The global economic situation is also responsible for another effect that makes it even more insidious by cyber threats: The reduction of overall expenditure devoted to cyber defense. Not so much in the military, but in the private sector we have seen a drastic reduction of costs incurred in security, and consider that private companies are the backbone of the country. Security is perceived as a cost.  

Don't forget that countries use cyber operations also to to exploit business information. China is a good example. The attacks against the financial sector has the same destructive potentiality. At risk are patents and intellectual property for innovative technologies that can determine a country's competitiveness.

Besides the considerations just mentioned, we must take into consideration some highly destabilizing phenomena for all the countries which are economically and socially more advanced. Two are the most relevant phenomena that aggravate  a complex scenario, the phenomenon of the hacktivism and cyber crime.

Cyber crime, an industry that knows no crisis, is a destabilizing element which absorbs considerable resources to prevent its effect. The cyber threat, as well as having a political stance, might be the daughter of criminal intent - but with the same effects as a military offense: The destabilization of a highly volatile context that could inadvertently increase the surface exposure of an entire nation with an impact on safety.

Not leas, the second aspect that I mentioned, that of hacktivism, is a new form of social protest and expression of dissent. Groups of hackers are capable of launching attacks of varying complexity have been shown to be able to bring down government infrastructure, multinationals and financial institutions.

Have you wondered what would happen with the combination of threats I mentioned?
Are we ready to stand up to a blow so devastating? How to prepare our nations then?

I conclude borrowing some simple and valuable accounts of the U.S. cyber strategy:

  • Recognize cyberspace as a sphere of operations. Organize, train and equip forces to perform military cyber missions
  • Implement active defense mechanism in our networks
  • Ensure that the national critical infrastructure are protected
  • Build cooperative defenses with its allies

Cross-posted from Security Affairs

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