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Cyber-Wars Rise Of The Machines

  • Simon Tisdall
  • Apr, 2019
  • 611
  • Technology


Cyber-warfare attacks on military infrastructure, government and communications systems, and financial markets ‎pose a rapidly growing but little understood threat to international security and could become a decisive weapon of ‎choice in future conflicts between states, the London-based International Institute for Strategic Studies has warned.‎

The International Institute for Strategic Studies Director-General, John Chipman, says, ‘Despite evidence of cyber ‎attacks in recent political conflicts, 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 ‎‎1950s in relation to possible nuclear war.’‎

The warning accompanies the publication of the Military Balance 2010, the International Institute for Strategic ‎Studies’ annual assessment of global military capabilities and defence economics. The study also highlights a series ‎of other security threats, including the war in Afghanistan, China’s military diversification, the progress of Iran’s ‎suspect nuclear programme, and the impact of terrorist groups in Iraq and elsewhere.‎

Future state-on-state conflict, as well as conflicts involving non-state actors such as al-Qaeda, would increasingly be ‎characterised by reliance on asymmetric warfare techniques, chiefly cyber-warfare, Mr. Chipman says. Hostile ‎governments could hide behind rapidly advancing technology to launch attacks undetected. And unlike ‎conventional and nuclear arms, there were no agreed international controls on the use of cyber weapons.‎

‎‘Cyber-warfare [may be used] to disable a country’s infrastructure, meddle with the integrity of another country’s ‎internal military data, try to confuse its financial transactions or to accomplish any number of other possibly ‎crippling aims,’ he says. Yet governments and national defence establishments at present have only limited ability to ‎tell when they were under attack, by whom, and how they might respond.‎

Cyber-warfare typically involves the use of illegal exploitation methods on the internet, corruption or disruption of ‎computer networks and software, hacking, computer forensics, and espionage. Reports of cyber-warfare attacks, ‎government-sponsored or otherwise, are rising. Last month Google launched an investigation into cyber attacks ‎allegedly originating in China that it said had targeted the email accounts of human rights activists.‎

In December the South Korean government reported an attack in which it said North Korean hackers may have ‎stolen secret defence plans outlining the South Korean and US strategy in the event of war on the Korean ‎peninsula. Last July, espionage protection agents in Germany said the country faced ‘extremely sophisticated’ ‎Chinese and Russian Internet spying operations targeting industrial secrets and critical infrastructure such as ‎Germany’s power grid.‎

One of the most notorious cyber-warfare offensives to date took place in Estonia in 2007 when more than 1 million ‎computers were used to jam government, business and media websites. The attacks, widely believed to have ‎originated in Russia, coincided with a period of heightened bilateral political tension. They inflicted damage ‎estimated in the tens of millions of euros of damage.‎

China last week accused the Barack Obama administration of waging ‘online warfare’ against Iran by recruiting a ‎‎‘hacker brigade’ and manipulating social media such as Twitter and YouTube to stir up anti-government agitation.‎

The American Defence Department’s Quadrennial Defence Review, published this week, also highlighted the rising ‎threat posed by cyber-warfare on space-based surveillance and communications systems. ‘On any given day, there ‎are as many as 7 million DoD [Department of Defence] computers and telecommunications tools in use in 88 ‎countries using thousands of war-fighting and support applications. The number of potential vulnerabilities, ‎therefore, is staggering,’ the Review says.‎

‎‘Moreover, the speed of cyber attacks and the anonymity of cyberspace greatly favour the offence. This advantage ‎is growing as hacker tools become cheaper and easier to employ by adversaries whose skills are growing in ‎sophistication.’‎

Defensive measures have already begun. Last June the Pentagon created the American Cyber Command and Britain ‎announced it was opening a cyber-security operations centre attached to The Government Communications ‎Headquarters at Cheltenham, in coordination with MI5 and MI6.‎

William Lynn, the American Deputy Defence Secretary, has described th...

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