The circulation of the term cyber warfare has been increasing exponentially over the last few years. Most people have heard about at least one example of it, and generally know that it is a growing threat. What most people regret to understand, however, is the true rate at which cyber warfare is being used.
A cyber weapon can generally be defined as any software, worm, virus, or intrusive device that has the ability to obtain and destroy critical data. This includes infrastructures of other countries, military defence systems such as communication and electric power grids, and even financial systems and air traffic control. This means that the field in which ‘war’ as we currently understand it is changing, and it’s changing faster than ever before.
One of the first known examples of this is Stuxnet, used in 2009 for Operation Olympic Games. It was a software “bug” believed to have been a joint US/Israeli effort to stop the Iranian nuclear program. Once entered in the Iranian computer system, it was able to halt approximately 1,000 of the 5,000 centrifuges. More recently, and as a follow up from Stuxnet, Nitro Zeus was developed by American military and intelligence personnel in order to disable Iran’s power grid on the chance that the nuclear deal would fail.
A state’s ability to control and influence the direction in which conflict is heading has historically been linked to military strength and power. With the introduction of cyber warfare however this is no longer the case. While Stuxnet and Nitro Zeus are examples of a powerful country using its ‘muscle’ to influence world affairs, they are not excluded from being attacked. Indeed, since cyber weapons can attack any device that uses the internet, telecommunications, or any software system, countries like the US and the UK are actually the most vulnerable to attacks as they are more connected.
Russia, for example, has been reported by CNN as being the source of cyber attacks and hacks that targeted news organisations and members of the Democratic Party in the United States. Waves of other similar attacks have also been suspected to have been conducted by Syrian Electronic Army, as well as Chinese attackers.
China has also used their cyber weapons to influence their position in the geopolitical tensions over the South China Seas. In this case China not only successfully hacked the Philippines and Vietnam, they also breached The Hague’s (the International Criminal Court) servers during a hearing over China’s claim to the waters.
Some people have expressed doubt in the extent and significance of these threats. Critics have proposed that the concern put forth by government bodies have been nothing more than a way to stir-up fear in the population in order to justify gaining access to people’s private information.
What these critics forget or don’t seem to realise, however, is that cyber warfare has created a whole new environment, one which is not limited to state users. Cyber weapons can be used by anyone, at any time, to attack anything; all that is needed is the motivation. Groups such as Anonymous and ISIS have already gained a lot of attention in this field. In that sense, the threat of cyber warfare is not being exaggerated, and if anything is highly misunderstood. We live in a high-tech world where people are dependent on their electronics, and consequently vulnerable and not equipped to deal with these new threats.
The fact of the matter is that despite all of this evidence of cyber attacks, little is known about them in general terms. Director-general John Chipman of the International Institute for Strategic Studies in London warned: “there is little appreciation internationally of how to assess cyber-conflict. We are now, in relation to the problem of cyber-warfare, at the same stage of intellectual development as we were in the 1950’s in relation to possible nuclear war.” But the issue is that unlike during the Cold Car, cyber weapons are now being used everywhere by many different sources. So, let’s learn from the past; everyone, ranging from government bodies to private individuals, needs to engage in proper discussion to promote awareness and cooperation, in order to achieve adequate solutions for cyber peace.
Image: Wikipedia (Public Domain)