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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[1] although this analogy is controversial for both its accuracy and its political motivation.

Government security expert Richard A. Clarke, in his book Cyber War (May 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."[2]:6 The Economist describes cyberwarfare as "the fifth domain of warfare,"[3] 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."[4]

In 2009, President Barack Obama declared America's digital infrastructure to be a "strategic national asset," and in May 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 United Kingdom has also set up a cyber-security and "operations centre" based in Government Communications Headquarters (GCHQ), the British equivalent of the NSA. 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.[3]

In February 2010, top American lawmakers warned that the "threat of a crippling attack on telecommunications and computer networks was sharply on the rise."[5] According to The Lipman Report, 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.[5] In 2009, President Obama stated that "cyber intruders have probed our electrical grids."[6]

The Economist writes that China has plans of "winning informationised 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.[3] 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.[7] At the July 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."[8]


Methods of attack

Cyberwarfare consists of many different threats:[9]

Espionage and national security breaches

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."[10]


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.[10]

In mid July 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.[11]

Electrical power grid

The federal government of the United States admits that the electric power transmission is susceptible to cyberwarfare.[12][13] 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.[14] In April 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.[15][16] 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.[17] China denies intruding into the U.S. electrical grid.[18][19] One countermeasure would be to disconnect the power grid from the Internet and run the net with droop speed control only.[20][21] 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:[22]

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.[23]

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."[23]

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.[24][25][26][27]

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.[28]


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.[citation needed]

Private sector

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 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."[29] This type of crime is usually financially motivated.

Cyberwarfare by country

The Internet security company McAfee stated in their 2007 annual report that approximately 120 countries have been developing ways to use the Internet as a weapon and target financial markets, government computer systems and utilities.[30]

Cyberwarfare in the United States

Cyberwarfare in the United States is the United States military strategy of proactive cyber defence and the use of cyberwarfare as a platform for attack.[31] The new United States military strategy, makes explicit that a cyberattack is casus belli for a traditional act of war.[32]

In August 2010, the U.S. for the first time is publicly warning 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 last year.[33] 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."[34]

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.[1] 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.[35]

In February 2010, the United States Joint Forces Command released a study which included a summary of the threats posed by the internet:[35]

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.

American "Kill switch bill"

On June 19, 2010, United States Senator Joe Lieberman (I-CT) introduced a bill called "Protecting Cyberspace as a National Asset Act of 2010",[36] 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".[37]

Cyberwarfare in China

Diplomatic cables highlight US concerns that China is using access to Microsoft source code and 'harvesting the talents of its private sector' to boost its offensive and defensive capabilities.[38]

Cyber counterintelligence

Envisioning emerging technology

Cyber counter-intelligence are measures to identify, penetrate, or neutralize foreign operations that use cyber means as the primary tradecraft methodology, as well as foreign intelligence service collection efforts that use traditional methods to gauge cyber capabilities and intentions.[39]

  • On April 7, 2009, The Pentagon announced they spent more than $100 million in the last six months responding to and repairing damage from cyber attacks and other computer network problems.[40]
  • On April 1, 2009, U.S. lawmakers pushed for the appointment of a White House cyber security "czar" to dramatically escalate U.S. defenses against cyber attacks, crafting proposals that would empower the government to set and enforce security standards for private industry for the first time.[41]
  • In the wake of the cyberwar of 2007 waged against Estonia, NATO established the Cooperative Cyber Defence Centre of Excellence (CCD CoE) in Tallinn, Estonia, in order to enhance the organization’s cyber defence capability. The center was formally established on the 14th of May, 2008, and it received full accreditation by NATO and attained the status of International Military Organization on October 28, 2008.[43] Since Estonia has led international efforts to fight cybercrime, the United States Federal Bureau of Investigation says it will permanently base a computer crime expert in Estonia in 2009 to help fight international threats against computer systems.[44]

Controversy over terms

There is debate on whether the term "cyberwarfare" is accurate. In October 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. 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.[45]

Howard Schmidt, an American cybersecurity expert, argued in March 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.[22] 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."[46]


  • On October 6, 2011, it was announced that Creech AFB's drone and predator fleet's command and control data stream has been keylogged, resisting all attempts to reverse the exploit, for the past two weeks.[47] The Air Force issued a statement that the virus had "posed no threat to our operational mission".[48]
  • In July 2011, the South Korean company SK Communications was hacked, resulting in the theft of the personal details (including names, phone numbers, home and email addresses and resident registration numbers) of up to 35 million people. A trojaned software update was used to gain access to the SK Communications network. Links exist between this hack and other malicious activity and it is believed to be part of a broader, concerted hacking effort.[49]
  • Operation Shady RAT is an ongoing series of cyber attacks starting mid-2006, reported by Internet security company McAfee in August 2011. The attacks have hit at least 72 organizations including governments and defense contractors.[50]
  • On December 4 2010, a group calling itself the Pakistan Cyber Army hacked the website of India's top investigating agency, the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI). The National Informatics Center (NIC) has begun an inquiry.[51]
  • On November 26 2010, a group calling itself the Indian Cyber Army hacked the websites belonging to the Pakistan Army and the others belong to different ministries, including the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Ministry of Education, Ministry of Finance, Pakistan Computer Bureau, Council of Islamic Ideology, etc. The attack was done as a revenge of the Mumbai terrorist attack which had confirmed the involvement of Pakistani terrorists.[52]
  • In October 2010, Iain Lobban, the director of the Government Communications Headquarters (GCHQ), said Britain faces a “real and credible” threat from cyber attacks by hostile states and criminals and government systems are targeted 1,000 times each month, such attacks threatened Britain’s economic future, and some countries were already using cyber assaults to put pressure on other nations.[53]
  • In May 2010, In response to Indian Cyber Army defacing Pakistani websites, 1000+ Indian websites were defaced by PakHaxors, TeaMp0isoN, UrduHack & ZCompany Hacking Crew, among those were the Indian CID website, local government of Kerala, Box Office of Indian, Brahmos missile website, Indian HP helpdesk, Indian Institute of Science, and The Indian Directorate General of Shipping.
  • In July 2009, there were a series of coordinated denial of service attacks against major government, news media, and financial websites in South Korea and the United States.[56] While many thought the attack was directed by North Korea, one researcher traced the attacks to the United Kingdom.[57]
  • In 2007 the website of the Kyrgyz Central Election Commission was defaced during its election. The message left on the website read "This site has been hacked by Dream of Estonian organization". During the election campaigns and riots preceding the election, there were cases of Denial-of-service attacks against the Kyrgyz ISPs.[59]
  • In September 2007, Israel carried out an airstrike on Syria dubbed Operation Orchard. U.S. industry and military sources speculated that the Israelis may have used cyberwarfare to allow their planes to pass undetected by radar into Syria.[60][61]
  • In the 2006 war against Hezbollah, Israel alleges that cyber-warfare was part of the conflict, where the Israel Defense Force (IDF) intelligence estimates several countries in the Middle East used Russian hackers and scientists to operate on their behalf. As a result, Israel attached growing importance to cyber-tactics, and became, along with the U.S., France and a couple of other nations, involved in cyber-war planning. Many international high-tech companies are now locating research and development operations in Israel, where local hires are often veterans of the IDF's elite computer units.[66] Richard A. Clarke adds that "our Israeli friends have learned a thing or two from the programs we have been working on for more than two decades."[2]:8

Efforts at prohibition

The Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (members include China and Russia) defines cyberwar to include dissemination of information "harmful to the spiritual, moral and cultural spheres of other states". 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.[67] However, American General Keith B. Alexander did endorse talks with Russia over a proposal to limit military attacks in cyberspace.[68]

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."[69]

See also

Further reading

  • Andress, Jason. Winterfeld, Steve. (2011). Cyber Warfare: Techniques, Tactics and Tools for Security Practitioners. Syngress. ISBN 1597496375
  • Brenner, S. (2009). Cyber Threats: The Emerging Fault Lines of the Nation State. Oxford University Press. ISBN 0195385012
  • Carr, Jeffrey. (2010). Inside Cyber Warfare: Mapping the Cyber Underworld. O'Reilly. ISBN 9780596802158
  • Cordesman, Anthony H., Cordesman, Justin G. Cyber-threats, Information Warfare, and Critical Infrastructure Protection, Greenwood Publ. (2002)
  • Janczewski, Lech; Colarik, Andrew M. Cyber Warfare and Cyber Terrorism IGI Global (2008)
  • Rid, Thomas (2011) "Cyber War Will Not Take Place," Journal of Strategic Studies, DOI:10.1080/01402390.2011.608939
  • Ventre, D. (2007). La guerre de l'information. Hermes-Lavoisier. 300 pages
  • Ventre, D. (2009). Information Warfare. Wiley – ISTE. ISBN 9781848210943
  • Ventre, D. (Edit.) (2010). Cyberguerre et guerre de l'information. Stratégies, règles, enjeux. Hermes-Lavoisier. ISBN 978-2-7462-3004-0
  • Ventre, D. (2011). Cyberespace et acteurs du cyberconflit. Hermes-Lavoisier. 288 pages
  • Ventre, D. (Edit.) (2011). Cyberwar and Information Warfare. Wiley. 460 pages
  • Ventre, D. (2011). Cyberattaque et Cyberdéfense. Hermes-Lavoisier. 336 pages


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External links

  • "Sabotaging the System" video, "60 Minutes", Nov. 8, 2009, CBS News, 15 minutes [site not found]
  • "Cyber ShockWave" (simulation of a cyber attack), Feb. 16, 2010, video from the Bipartisan Policy Center, 8 minutes

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