Rob Kraus | October 25, 2012
“Can you imagine what cyber war may look like in the future?”
I usually respond, “Similar to the past…but worse.”
“The past?” most people reply.
That’s right folks, cyber war is not a futuristic hypothesis. It's already happened, is currently happening and will more than likely continue to appear in the news for the foreseeable future.
In 1997, the U.S. Government held one of the most notable “war games,” dubbed “Eligible Receiver,” in which the National Security Agency (NSA) acted as aggressors against other US Government organizations in order to identify weaknesses in the government’s cyber security posture. To shorten an otherwise long and depressing story, it did not turn out well for many government organizations. The NSA was able to penetrate and compromise many systems and components in the critical infrastructure. This exercise demonstrated something significant; we were (and still are) vulnerable to cyber-based attacks.
Were these exercises conducted because the U.S. Government saw the writing on the wall and wanted to determine how susceptible the United States was to a cyber attack? I would hope so. However, that was just an exercise. Let’s take a look at some real cyber war examples:
- April 2007 – Estonia websites and government infrastructure succumb to denial of service attacks for 22 days
- August 2008 – Russian forces disrupt Georgian government and business websites prior to invasion
- December 2009 – Iraq militants use a $26 off-the-shelf software to intercept video streams transmitted between Predator Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAV) and ground units
- June - December 2010 – Stuxnet worm identified as targeting malware for disrupting nuclear plant centrifuges; most likely a state-sponsored attack against Iran
With the reliance of cyber connectivity in our armed forces today, it is not hard to imagine a situation where cyber attacks could be used to cause mayhem, misdirection and loss of life on the battlefield. Consider a U.S. Command and Control station transmitting and receiving movement instructions to air or ground units on the battlefield. Now consider an enemy cyber warrior unit capturing those transmissions and redirecting U.S. units away from the intended target or even worse, sending instructions to attack other friendly U.S. units.
It is easy to see that there are certainly unlimited possibilities on the form cyber attacks may take in the future and their impact. Unfortunately, we should probably expect to see more. No tin foil hats here…just the facts.
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