Cyberwarfare

cyber defence

Cyberwarfare refers to politically motivated hacking to conduct sabotage and espionage. It is a form of information warfare sometimes seen as analogous to conventional warfare although this analogy is controversial for both its accuracy and its political motivation. U.S. government security expert Richard A. Clarke, in his book ‘Cyber War’ (2010), defines ‘cyberwarfare’ as ‘actions by a nation-state to penetrate another nation’s computers or networks for the purposes of causing damage or disruption.’

‘The Economist’ describes cyberspace as ‘the fifth domain of warfare,’ and William J. Lynn, U.S. Deputy Secretary of Defense, states that ‘as a doctrinal matter, the Pentagon has formally recognized cyberspace as a new domain in warfare . . . [which] has become just as critical to military operations as land, sea, air, and space.’

In 2009, President Barack Obama declared America’s digital infrastructure to be a ‘strategic national asset,’ and in 2010 the Pentagon set up its new U.S. Cyber Command (USCYBERCOM), headed by General Keith B. Alexander, director of the National Security Agency (NSA), to defend American military networks and attack other countries’ systems. The EU has set up ENISA (European Network and Information Security Agency) which is headed by Prof. Udo Helmbrecht and there are now further plans to significantly expand ENISA’s capabilities.. The United Kingdom has also set up a cyber-security and ‘operations centre’ based in Government Communications Headquarters (GCHQ), the British equivalent of the NSA. MI6 reportedly infiltrated an Al Qaeda website and replaced the recipe for a pipe bomb with the recipe for making cupcakes. In the U.S. however, Cyber Command is only set up to protect the military, whereas the government and corporate infrastructures are primarily the responsibility respectively of the Department of Homeland Security and private companies.

In 2010, top American lawmakers warned that the ‘threat of a crippling attack on telecommunications and computer networks was sharply on the rise.’ Numerous key sectors of the U.S. economy along with that of other nations, are currently at risk, including cyber threats to public and private facilities, banking and finance, transportation, manufacturing, medical, education, and government, all of which are now dependent on computers for daily operations. In 2009, President Obama stated that ‘cyber intruders have probed our electrical grids.’ The Economist writes that China has plans of ‘winning informationized wars by the mid-21st century.’ They note that other countries are likewise organizing for cyberwar, among them Russia, Israel, and North Korea. Iran boasts of having the world’s second-largest cyber-army. James Gosler, a government cybersecurity specialist, worries that the U.S. has a severe shortage of computer security specialists, estimating that there are only about 1,000 qualified people in the country today, but needs a force of 20,000 to 30,000 skilled experts. At the 2010 Black Hat computer security conference, Michael Hayden, former deputy director of national intelligence, challenged thousands of attendees to help devise ways to ‘reshape the Internet’s security architecture,’ explaining, ‘You guys made the cyberworld look like the north German plain.’

Cyber espionage is the act or practice of obtaining secrets (sensitive, proprietary or classified information) from individuals, competitors, rivals, groups, governments and enemies also for military, political, or economic advantage using illegal exploitation methods on internet, networks, software and or computers. Classified information that is not handled securely can be intercepted and even modified, making espionage possible from the other side of the world. Specific attacks on the United States have been given codenames like ‘Titan Rain’ and ‘Moonlight Maze.’ General Alexander notes that the recently established Cyber Command is currently trying to determine whether such activities as commercial espionage or theft of intellectual property are criminal activities or actual ‘breaches of national security.’

Military activities that use computers and satellites for coordination are at risk of equipment disruption. Orders and communications can be intercepted or replaced. Power, water, fuel, communications, and transportation infrastructure all may be vulnerable to disruption. According to Clarke, the civilian realm is also at risk, noting that the security breaches have already gone beyond stolen credit card numbers, and that potential targets can also include the electric power grid, trains, or the stock market. In 2010, security experts discovered a malicious software program called ‘Stuxnet’ that had infiltrated factory computers and had spread to plants around the world. It is considered ‘the first attack on critical industrial infrastructure that sits at the foundation of modern economies,’ notes ‘The New York Times.’

The federal government of the United States admits that the electric power transmission is susceptible to cyberwarfare. The United States Department of Homeland Security works with industry to identify vulnerabilities and to help industry enhance the security of control system networks, the federal government is also working to ensure that security is built in as the next generation of ‘smart grid’ networks are developed. In 2009, reports surfaced that China and Russia had infiltrated the U.S. electrical grid and left behind software programs that could be used to disrupt the system, according to current and former national security officials.

The North American Electric Reliability Corporation (NERC) has issued a public notice that warns that the electrical grid is not adequately protected from cyber attack. China denies the allegation. One possible countermeasure is disconnecting the power grid from the Internet and running the net with droop speed control (an alternative system of power generation). Massive power outages caused by a cyber attack, could disrupt the economy, distract from a simultaneous military attack, or create a national trauma. Howard Schmidt, Cyber-Security Coordinator of the US, commented on those possibilities: ‘It’s possible that hackers have gotten into administrative computer systems of utility companies, but says those aren’t linked to the equipment controlling the grid, at least not in developed countries. [Schmidt] has never heard that the grid itself has been hacked.’

In the U.S., General Keith B. Alexander, first head of the recently formed USCYBERCOM, told the Senate Armed Services Committee that computer network warfare is evolving so rapidly that there is a ‘mismatch between our technical capabilities to conduct operations and the governing laws and policies. Cyber Command is the newest global combatant and its sole mission is cyberspace, outside the traditional battlefields of land, sea, air and space.’ It will attempt to find and, when necessary, neutralize cyberattacks and to defend military computer networks. Alexander sketched out the broad battlefield envisioned for the computer warfare command, listing the kind of targets that his new headquarters could be ordered to attack, including ‘traditional battlefield prizes – command-and-control systems at military headquarters, air defense networks, and weapons systems that require computers to operate.’ One cyber warfare scenario, ‘Cyber ShockWave,’ which was wargamed on the cabinet level by former administration officials, raised issues ranging from the National Guard to the power grid to the limits of statutory authority. The distributed nature of internet based attacks means that it is difficult to determine motivation and attacking party, meaning that it is unclear when a specific act should be considered an act of war.

Potential targets in internet sabotage include all aspects of the Internet from the backbones of the web, to the Internet Service Providers, to the varying types of data communication mediums and network equipment. This would include: web servers, enterprise information systems, client server systems, communication links, network equipment, and the desktops and laptops in businesses and homes. Electrical grids and telecommunication systems are also deemed vulnerable, especially due to current trends in automation. Computer hacking represents a modern threat in ongoing industrial espionage and as such is presumed to widely occur. It is typical that this type of crime is underreported. According to Internet security company McAfee’s George Kurtz, corporations around the world face millions of cyberattacks a day. ‘Most of these attacks don’t gain any media attention or lead to strong political statements by victims.’ This type of crime is usually financially motivated.

The new United States military strategy, makes explicit that a cyberattack is casus belli (justification for war) just as a traditional act of war. In 2012, Mike McConnell, the former director of national intelligence at the NSA under President George W. Bush told the Reuters news agency that the U.S. has already launched attacks on computer networks in other countries. McConnell did not name the country that the U.S. attacked but according to other sources it may have been Iran. Later that year, ‘the New York Times’ reported that President Obama had ordered the cyber attack on Iranian nuclear enrichment facilities. In 2010, the U.S. for the first time warned publicly about the Chinese military’s use of civilian computer experts in clandestine cyber attacks aimed at American companies and government agencies. The Pentagon also pointed to an alleged China-based computer spying network dubbed ‘GhostNet’ that was revealed in a research report. The Pentagon stated: ‘The People’s Liberation Army is using ‘information warfare units’ to develop viruses to attack enemy computer systems and networks, and those units include civilian computer professionals. Commander Bob Mehal, will monitor the PLA’s buildup of its cyberwarfare capabilities and will continue to develop capabilities to counter any potential threat.’

The United States Department of Defense sees the use of computers and the Internet to conduct warfare in cyberspace as a threat to national security. The United States Joint Forces Command describes some of its attributes: ‘Cyberspace technology is emerging as an ‘instrument of power’ in societies, and is becoming more available to a country’s opponents, who may use it to attack, degrade, and disrupt communications and the flow of information. With low barriers to entry, coupled with the anonymous nature of activities in cyberspace, the list of potential adversaries is broad. Furthermore, the globe-spanning range of cyberspace and its disregard for national borders will challenge legal systems and complicate a nation’s ability to deter threats and respond to contingencies.’

In 2010, the United States Joint Forces Command released a study which included a summary of the threats posed by the internet: ‘With very little investment, and cloaked in a veil of anonymity, our adversaries will inevitably attempt to harm our national interests. Cyberspace will become a main front in both irregular and traditional conflicts. Enemies in cyberspace will include both states and non-states and will range from the unsophisticated amateur to highly trained professional hackers. Through cyberspace, enemies will target industry, academia, government, as well as the military in the air, land, maritime, and space domains. In much the same way that airpower transformed the battlefield of World War II, cyberspace has fractured the physical barriers that shield a nation from attacks on its commerce and communication. Indeed, adversaries have already taken advantage of computer networks and the power of information technology not only to plan and execute savage acts of terrorism, but also to influence directly the perceptions and will of the U.S. Government and the American population.’

In 2010, United States Senator Joe Lieberman (I-CT) introduced a bill called ‘Protecting Cyberspace as a National Asset Act of 2010,’ which he co-wrote with Senator Susan Collins (R-ME) and Senator Thomas Carper (D-DE). If signed into law, this controversial bill, which the American media dubbed the ‘Kill switch bill,’ would grant the President emergency powers over parts of the Internet. However, all three co-authors of the bill issued a statement that instead, the bill ‘[narrowed] existing broad Presidential authority to take over telecommunications networks.’

There is debate on whether the term ‘cyberwarfare’ is accurate. In 2011, for instance, the ‘Journal of Strategic Studies,’ a leading journal in that field, published an article by Thomas Rid, ‘Cyber War Will Not Take Place.’ An act of cyber war would have to be potentially lethal, instrumental, and political. If that is true, then not one single cyber offense on record constitutes an act of war on its own. Instead, all politically motivated cyber attacks, Rid argued, are merely sophisticated versions of three activities that are as old as warfare itself: sabotage, espionage, and subversion. Howard Schmidt, an American cybersecurity expert, argued in 2010 that ‘there is no cyberwar… I think that is a terrible metaphor and I think that is a terrible concept. There are no winners in that environment.’ Other experts, however, believe that this type of activity already constitutes a war. The warfare analogy is often seen intended to motivate a militaristic response when that is not necessarily appropriate. Ron Deibert, of Canada’s Citizen Lab, has warned of a ‘militarization of cyberspace.’

The European cybersecurity expert Sandro Gaycken argued for a middle position. He considers cyberwar from a legal perspective an unlikely scenario, due to the reasons lined out by Rid (and, before him, Sommer), but the situation looks different from a strategic point of view. States have to consider military-led cyber operations an attractive activity, within and without war, as they offer a large variety of cheap and risk-free options to weaken other countries and strengthen their own positions. Considered from a long-term, geostrategic perspective, cyber offensive operations can cripple whole economies, change political views, agitate conflicts within or among states, reduce their military efficiency and equalize the capacities of high-tech nations to that of low-tech nations, and use access to their critical infrastructures to blackmail them.

The ‘Shanghai Cooperation Organization’ (members include China and Russia) defines cyberwar to include dissemination of information ‘harmful to the spiritual, moral and cultural spheres of other states.’ In 2011, these countries proposed to the UN Secretary General a document called ‘International code of conduct for information security.’ The approach was not endorsed by western countries as it entailed too many hints on political censorship of the internet. In contrast, the United States’ approach focuses on physical and economic damage and injury, putting political concerns under freedom of speech. This difference of opinion has led to reluctance in the West to pursue global cyber arms control agreements. However, American General Keith B. Alexander did endorse talks with Russia over a proposal to limit military attacks in cyberspace.

A Ukrainian professor of International Law, Alexander Merezhko, has developed a project called the ‘International Convention on Prohibition of Cyberwar in Internet.’ According to this project, cyberwar is defined as the use of Internet and related technological means by one state against political, economic, technological and information sovereignty and independence of any other state. Professor Merezhko’s project suggests that the Internet ought to remain free from warfare tactics and be treated as an international landmark. He states that the Internet (cyberspace) is a ‘common heritage of mankind.’

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