War has long since been a deadly event. However, the evolution of time has led to a drastic and evident development in the way wars are fought. From fighting through sticks and stones to dropping havoc-wreaking nuclear bombs, wars paint an ugly picture of death, destruction, and misery throughout history.
Now with the world rapidly shifting to cyberspace and cyberattacks and digitalization soaring to peaks, what is there to say that the future of war is cyber war? Admittedly so a careful look around the world reveals subtle but stark signs of cyberwar.
Countries presumably have long since launched cyber attacks over each. However, shedding light on mere recent events with US issuing warnings that Iran might launch a cyberattack is a telltale sign of cyberwar.
With war being a deadly aspect, this article explores the aspect of cyberwar while drawing out reasons to go against it.
What a cyberwar may look like?
Digitalization has pushed us to the precipice of new warfare whose extremities are still widely unknown to gauge. Amidst the battle involving computers and servers, hackers may be the next weapon governments invest in.
As cyber warfare involves immobilizing adversaries using the internet and information systems, it is hard to understand the nature and the state of these attacks. However, examples of what may occur in a cyberwar can be seen within the past few years.
One such example is the Stuxnet attack that America launched against Iran in 2009. The attack features the Stuxnet computer worm, which was reportedly developed by the US National Security Agency along with the Israeli army’s unit 8200.
The attack knocked out around a hundred centrifuges present in the uranium enrichment plant, causing an apparent setback in the Iranian nuclear program.
Additionally, another such event occurred during 2016 and 2017 when hackers shut down parts of the power grid in Ukraine. Although the attack was relatively mild and didn’t cause any destruction, it, however, gives a fair idea of the havoc a massive scale attack on a similar basis might create.
Similarly, there are various other examples present which brought innocent lives to imminent danger, such as a petrochemical plant in Saudi Arabia became a target of a cyberattack in 2017.
The hackers tried to seize control of the technology that was operating the plant. Although no one was hurt in that incident as the plants’ emergency system was activated, which prevented the explosion, but the danger of the scenario speaks a lot!
What dangers could cyberwar pose?
While looking at what may be termed as a relatively “mild” nationwide cyberattack, the threat factor a cyberwar may pose goes beyond that. While concluding such attacks, there is a deadly possibility of cyberwar bringing death and destruction in the form of starvation, famine, and isolation.
With the world now thoroughly digitized, and everything happening online through computers, crumbling country to a disorganized mess can relatively get easy. With hacking into systems and injecting malware within networks, hackers can remotely shut down airports and hospitals.
Also, cyber attacks can quite quickly bring down networks and systems and industries and leading a country towards economic depression. Such as the attack in Baltimore, which shut down thousands of computers.
This attack resulted in thousands of unsent emails, disrupted real estate deals, health warnings, and disruption of various other social and economical services.
Apart from crippling a country from within, hackers infiltrating and taking control over defense systems can make a country exceedingly vulnerable. Such that in 2018, a Syrian military official reported that an Israeli- American cyberattack had activated the Syrian Air defenses.
What cyber weapons may look like?
To create what may be somewhat a vivid image of cyber weapons, we can imagine it to be the smartest hackers with an overflowing budget. As weapons for cyberwar are bound to have large scale targets, they may also go beyond our regular cyber-attacks.
Some of the conventional weapons that may be a part of cyberwar are as follows:
1. Malwares and viruses
Malware, viruses, and ransomware tend to be quite deadly. They are easy to infuse within a system and target a wider audience. Their use in cyberwar may seem quite familiar as disruption systems, and crippling networks can quickly get done through malware.
The use of weaponized ransomware appeared. With the UK and the US accusing Russia of the NotPetya ransomware outbreak, an attack that caused massive destruction in 2017. It resulted in billions of dollars of damage and with White House terming it as the “deadliest cyber attack in history.”
For taking control over a country’s defense network or principal offices, hackers may be a weapon. The use of cyberattacks, such as DDoS by hackers and zero-day attacks, can quite easily disrupt effective communication and coordination within a country.
Additionally, hackers can also be used to take control of the defense and military systems, such as the one reported by Syrian military officials mentioned above.
3. AI and Machine Learning
AI and Machine Learning have so far proved to be a useful tool in various industries; their use in cyberwar seems somewhat prominent too. As these “smart” bots can learn and evolve, they can be used to create deadlier malware and other cyber attacks.
At the same time, they can serve as an excellent defense tool too. Primarily as they can work to point out abnormalities within a system. This would ultimately allow timely alerts of malware of viral infection within networks.
Is cyberwarfare escalation a matter of concern?
With the threat that cyber warfare poses, its escalation is a definite point of concern. Nations are stockpiling cyber attacks and are allegedly using them against each other, which is indeed a grave scenario.
While considering the consequences, these attacks pose over a small scale, having their occurrence at massive scale is bound to leave the world in a mess. Not to mention an effect lasting far longer than that of nuclear arms. Therefore, the steady escalation of cyber warfare is a matter of concern that should be thoroughly looked over and considered.