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To explain what Cyberwar is, we have to do a little exercise of imagination. Imagine a war without a battlefield, without troops deployed, without firearms, bombs, large-scale bloodshed.
Imagine moving all hostilities into a large office, full of servers and monitors connected to the internet and controlled by a small handful of IT experts.
Everything You Need to Know About Cyberwar
Let us suppose that this concentration of technology is the armed wing of a nation ready to fight a cyberwar: from this great office, not too different from those represented in many Hollywood films, one nation can decide to challenge another by hacking cyber attacks, viruses, sabotage against the systems of the target nation.
But we must not be fooled: despite the apparent lack of danger, a cyber war can be far more deadly and disastrous than the wars of the battlefield.
What is Cybernetic War: A Fight Without Bloodshed
When one thinks of cyberwar, one gets the impression that two world powers can challenge each other without bloodshed, without involving the population, to establish the supremacy of one or the other side. Nothing more wrong.
The fact that a Cyberwar does not involve the use of explosives and firearms does not mean that it is without consequences for the population, sometimes far worse than those caused by weapons.
Modern life is based on rhythms that we all know well, regulated by a series of infrastructures that have become vital: internet, telephone networks, energy and water services, fuels, freight and passenger services, commercial networks.
Without even just one of these infrastructures, the life of a nation is suddenly arrested, with disastrous consequences affecting every level of society.
To understand what cyberwar is, let’s imagine that a foreign power decides to hit these fundamental services: without light, water, energy, fuels, transport, communications, an entire country can be reduced, in a few days or even a few hours, on the brink of anarchy.
Unlike the wars of the past, which aimed to kill enemy troops in the field to gain ground against the enemy nation, the cyber war aims to destroy the affected nation “from within”, going to break through the use of information technology the pillars on which modern societies are based.
Another difference concerns the difficulty (sometimes, the impossibility) to trace the origin of the IT attack. By its nature, a cyber war is anonymous, widespread and rapid. This implies that the attack, not being “physical”, leaves few and confusing traces on the internet, often making it impossible to determine who launched it and where it started from.
The vastness of the Internet allows to implement a cyber war from anywhere on the planet, without the possibility of effectively tracing the origin of the attack results in exploiting tens or hundreds of servers through the National boundaries before hitting the designated target.
What is Cyberwar: The Types of Attack?
There are different types of attacks in a Cyberwar, characterized by different levels of gravity.
As for the “classical” wars, there are different ways to conduct a cyber war, characterized by different levels of “gravity” depending on the repercussions that these can have on the life of a nation.
Followed, we indicate the main ones in order of increasing danger.
Denial of Service (Dos) Attacks and Web Vandalism
These attacks are carried out with the aim of hindering websites, servers, and computer systems of the target that you want to hit. This kind of aggression aims to temporarily put the affected systems out of use, without causing long-term consequences.
In some cases, the activity of web vandalism can lead to the loss of the credentials of access to a system, to the blackout of services or to disturbing activities, such as the obscuring of a site and its replacement with the political propaganda material. In this last case, propaganda activities can lead to a branch of the cyber war called “psychological war”, with the aim of influencing the population and changing public opinion to the detriment of its rulers.
Sensitive Data Collection Activities
In some cases, the attacks of a Cyberwar can be launched to seize sensitive data, documents, passwords, and projects of the enemy. This phase opens the door to espionage activities, made possible by the possession of confidential documents owned by a nation. As a further disturbance activity, it may be possible to modify or delete the data themselves.
An Attack on Equipment
These activities, defined in the jargon “equipment disruption”, aim to interfere or destroy the military facilities, communication systems, and satellites used by the target for the regular conduct of their activities.
Once checked, these systems can be used to reset the communication capabilities of the target or even worse to modify the transmitted contents: to understand the severity of this kind of attack, imagine what would happen if every message, order or communication of the target were transmitted in the wrong way or even in an opposite way to the original content, giving rise to the most total chaos.
Direct Attacks on Infrastructure
To fully understand what cyber war is and its consequences on the social fabric of a country, it is necessary to consider the worst possible scenarios. With the attack on critical infrastructures, it is possible to paralyze an entire nation by hitting a few, fundamental structures that provide essential and basic services: energy, water, communications and transport.
A cyber attack that can block one or more of these infrastructures can catapult a country in the Stone Age. Do not you believe it? Imagine being in your home one evening, and suddenly losing light, television, internet, and mobile telephony, gas, heating, the ability to move with the car or public transport, shops without supplies. The bleak scenario of a cyber war.
Example of Cyberwar
Despite its futuristic appearance, the cyber war is closer to us than we think. Indeed, it has already happened. In recent times, the United States of America has admitted to being victims of cyber-war episodes in at least two cases, known as Moonlight Maze and Titan Rain, by the governments of Russia and China.
Future Scenarios of Cyberwar
The fact that war, in the future, can be fought more and more through virtual means must not make us think of a more peaceful future. On the contrary, when one understands what Cyberwar is, one learns to be afraid of it, as much as of traditional war.
In Cyberwar, there are basically two things: the availability of cutting-edge technology, in large quantities and high economic costs, and a team of hackers capable of increasingly complex, elaborate, effective actions. Technology, knowledge, but also money, for the research and development of viruses, Trojans, computer systems able to violate the defenses of enemy countries.
That is why, in the future, playing the leading role in cyber warfare will be basically the game of the great world powers: a limited number of contenders, to which the powers with limited economic resources will turn to help and forge new alliances. And the case of Stuxnet is a clear example of this mechanism.
The modern world revolves around information technology, to which it has entrusted (and on which it totally depends) its existence: who will succeed in altering it will have the best in the cyberwars of the future, but with what price for the populations and affected governments? A computer virus launched by a hacker can erase a file on a computer thousands of miles away or guide the launch of a nuclear missile against a sensitive target: everything will depend on who decides to use these technologies and how he will use them.
The Cyberwar is already around us, with the world powers engaged in a new race to computer “armaments” and with the emergence of autonomous realities, disconnected from the national logic as the group Anonymous, the group of hacker’s activists that operates a cyber war parallel pursuing the purposes of ethics, morals and social commitment. Only history can decide the effects of information technology in the war, decreeing their real difference with the wars of the past.