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Saint Augustine
Just War Over Cyber Networks - Cyberwar
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Just War Over Cyber Networks
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What is Cyberwar?18 This evolving form of conflict encompasses all digital means of information delivery that are used to attack another. CW is anonymous, autonomous, and global in its reach. The cyber realm is volatile, uncertain, complex and ambiguous (VUCA); it creates an environment filled with traps, false repositories of information, misdirection, and counterfeit identities, and severe hazards. CW is like a detective novel that mysteriously cloaks perpetrators, motives and means with a convoluted narrative. Attacks are conceived in secret, crafted in thousands of lines of code before being installed on a machine which then acts autonomously. CW is a “fire and forget” technology in which machines accomplish the bidding of absent humans.

Who wages Cyberwar? The CW realm contains a kaleidoscope of players, all acting simultaneously in the cyber drama. On low levels of the art we can identify an ill-defined cadre of independent hackers, “hacktivists” and pranksters seeking to crack various systems with malicious code, to spoof the unwary, and to steal things of worth like personal identity or trade secrets. Such persons are the matter of legend—usually portrayed as laboring over laptops in dark rooms assembling code that will bring the wicked global system to its knees.

While individual hackers can be dangerous or disruptive, they are not the real threat. Hackers are those who are picking plentiful, low-hanging digital fruit. “The majority of hackers do not have the motive or requisite tradecraft to threaten critical U.S. networks.”19 It is well past time that we move beyond romantic notions about solitary individuals having a digitally bestowed, god-like power. Waging high-level CW today requires enormous computational power and legions of skilled code writers whose products are researched, vetted and tested in isolated networks.

CW has become the domain of well-funded nations, transnational business entities, and wealthy criminal or ideological actors. We note that CW weapons, while costly, are far more accessible and affordable than nuclear weapons or major conventional weapons systems. Further the risk of exposure for various actions, even the most egregious, is minimal unless the perpetrator reveals what was done.20

A limited number of nation states and well financed others have the resources to recruit well trained professionals, acquire advanced equipment and assemble enough esoteric knowledge to effectively pursue CW. A recent example of a cyber-attack made the international media. In 2010, the Chinese are widely suspected of having stolen the source code for the Google system.21 Ordinarily, offended organizations do not publicize such thefts in order to maintain an aura of security. Public estimates of 15K (or more) daily cyber-attacks on US government systems are the visible “tip of the iceberg.” These probes and attacks come from a wide variety of sources and may simultaneously target multiple computer networks and digital systems.

A particularly nasty bit of already proliferating malicious code named STUXNET22 infected clandestinely-acquired Iranian centrifuges that were used in the production of nuclear weapons. STUXNET involves a highly sophisticated programmable-logic-controller (PLC) rootkit23 specifically targeting Siemens Industries equipment and is commonly understood to be a product of U.S.-Israeli collaboration. More recently, FLAME24, a Trojan-Horse25 like program, was also discovered on Iranian computers. Again the U.S .and Israelis are generally suspected as the source for this malicious software.

The capability to go beyond the merely invasive to world-class espionage on highly secure systems is steadily proliferating around the globe. Commercial interests are involved, seeking to uncover their rival’s plans, trade secrets, and technologies. As their financial powers have exponentially grown, some criminal/ideological/religious elements are functioning in the collective CW enterprise. The obvious lure is an amazing payoff that might result in vast sums of wealth for those who successfully invade financial systems; or ruining the legitimacy of one’s opponent by revealing inconvenient secrets; or causing havoc or ruin in machinery or processes; or simply identifying weaknesses to be exploited by other means.

Computational systems have gone through rapid technological development that routinely makes software and hardware superannuated in a matter of a year or less. Staying current requires an expensive and continuing parade of new software, new hardware, and new cyber-defenses. Unfortunately, government and civil infrastructure rarely keep up with this frenetic pace. Mid-to-small sized commercial interests cannot afford to stay current. Risk and vulnerability abound in essential services such as water, power generation and delivery, medical, food delivery systems and emergency services. Disruption of such delivery systems would be disastrous to any modern civilization.

Last Updated on Saturday, 01 December 2012 22:23