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Bits and bytes now accompany the bullets and bombs

Jeff Bernstein | April 22, 2009
Cyber warfares threat to critical national infrastructure

Recently, news concerning the ongoing security compromise of the North American power grid via various breaches of computing infrastructure was distributed throughout news and media outlets worldwide. While not a new problem by any means, the issue warrants attention from the international public, commercial and government sector audiences.

The electronic computing environments that make up a countrys infrastructure are often taken for granted. However, a disruption to only a single live production computer system can create cascading consequences across multiple sectors. For example, a computer breach that disrupts the distribution of electrical power across a region could lead to the forced shutdown of networked communications and controls within the transportation sector. Air traffic, road traffic and rail transportation might become affected as a direct result. By extension, subsequent disruption of emergency services would also occur.

Recent highly publicised cyber attacks on the republics of Estonia, Lithuania and Georgia are representative of the growing problem at hand. Because each country has a unique environment, cyber attacks will yield varying consequences from nation to nation. Georgia, for instance, was a relative latecomer to adopt Internet technologies. Because of this, the countrys population of fewer than five million saw little effect beyond service denial to many of its government Web sites. Cyber attacks have far less impact on a country such as Georgia than they might on more Internet-dependent places such as Taiwan, South Korea, Singapore or the United States where vital services including government, transportation, power and banking depend on the Internet.

These increasingly frequent, sophisticated and targeted international cyber incidents involving denial of service, espionage, propaganda and information theft are driving governments to develop effective tactical and strategic cyber-warfare capabilities. While government military forces have been traditionally more equipped for warfare involving guns, tanks and missiles, almost all now recognise the need to adopt strategies to support success in this new electronic theatre of operations. Most countries, of course, deny that their cyber capabilities are involved with any of the higher-profile international cyber security events that we read about in the press almost daily. Regardless of the truth in these denials, the anonymous nature of the Internet provides plausible deniability for attack sources.

Mission statement

In the Americas, the current mission statement of the United States Air Force is to Fly, Fight and Air, Space and Cyberspace. Similarly, in Eastern Asia, The Peoples Liberation Army (PLA) reportedly continues to mature its integrated network electronic warfare and space/counter-space capabilities.

China and the US are only two of the countries included in the rapidly expanding list of nations now racing to assemble arsenals of cyber-weaponry. In fact, it is well-documented and commonly accepted by the international security community that more than 140 countries are actively developing cyber-espionage and warfare capabilities. The common thinking for all is to facilitate increased superiority over an adversary.


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