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Wednesday, 6 June 2012

From cyber-war to total war – The menace in the web


“I'm afraid it will be the end of the world as we know it … I'm scared, believe me."

That’s what Eugene Kaspersky, founder and CEO of the global Anti-Virus Company Kaspersky Lab, said during a conference on cyber security at Tel Aviv University. He refers to the possible dimensions of a global “internet pandemic”, a worldwide break-down of the World Wide Web through a global cyber terrorist attack – which catastrophic consequences for the real world.

His concerns are not exaggerated, not even for a cyber-security expert. With the current Flame malware hacking into official government servers and computers, a new dimension of global security has been reached. In a recent announcement, the German army announced to create an anti-cyber-attack task force, to “prepare itself for cyber-war”.

It sounds like a “nerd war”, but it isn’t. As a matter of fact cyber war is a serious threat for global security. Today’s security and defence systems are highly networked and dependent on its It components spread all over the world, their connectivity to the internet and networked affiliated system depend on the same data channel system as regular civilian and commercial web based systems do.

If a civilian computer system is being attacked by a virus, a worm, or a Trojan, it causes significant damage to its data and system as a whole, leading to a complete loss of data and vital information. On the military level the damage is much more severe, since it affects all defence system and land, air and sea based defence capabilities, including the strategic nuclear forces. The limits between a minor breach into a defence system and an overall cyber terrorist hacker attack are very vague, but the consequences are just as catastrophic as a global nuclear attack.

In case of such a successful attack, an entire defence system will be shut down, commands and orders will no longer be forwarded to its units, the entire defence will be slowed down to a level in which it becomes too late to react in time. If a cyber-attack is immediately followed by a real full range attack, quick and real-time reaction to this incoming attack is crucial and decisive. In this case, a well-placed cyber-attack would have an even more efficient effect than an EMP (electromagnetic pulse) caused by a nuclear device airburst in high altitude. Crucial facilities, infrastructure networks, cities, and above all the own forces will be destroyed or seriously damaged even before any defence measure would have been taken in time.

In case of a wide range cyber-attack, the US government has already taken a drastic last resort defence measure: just like the infamous nuclear briefcase with the launching codes for ICBMs, the US President also has another suitcase, which has a switch in it – the so called “kill switch”. Turn it, and the whole internet in the USA will be shut down immediately. Presumably, other countries in the world do have similar system, or are about to install it.

A modern battlefield is no longer a real one alone, it is also a digital one, and “cyber warriors” are just as important for modern defence system as regular soldiers. However, the duties of these cyber warriors are not different to those of their fully armed and equipped comrades in the field: protect the system and set up all possible defence lines, with the best online defence systems you can get.

Launching an ICBM and turning off the internet needs just a small movement, in both cases it is only necessary to turn a key or to push a button. The results, however, are just equally catastrophic.

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