15 December, 2007

Cyberwarfare and History

I am personally fascinated with Cyberwarfare, not only from a professional point of view but an academic one. The influence of technology on warfare has always fascinated me. In fact, Military History was my major in college (I was especially fascinated with the 1600-1800’s). Then, after I got my degree in History I spent four years as a tank officer in the US Army’s Rapid Deployment Force. Combined that with my passion for information security (I’ve been doing it for ten years now) and you begin to understand my interest. After reading several excellent blogs and articles on Cyberwarfare I got my creative ideas flowing. There are some fundamental issues here that really concern me.
  1. First, I really think the organizations that can adapt most easily to Cybewarfare are intelligence organizations. Cyberwarfare is about information, intelligence is about information. If you want to take out a computer, you have to know things about that computer. If you want to infiltrate networks, you have to know things about the network. If you want to steal or modify data, you have to know things about that data. This is going to be hard for combat arms folks to deal with, for example people who fight on tanks or from jet fighters. Those folks are taught to blow things up as fast as possible and as violently as possible. See target, destroy target. In the cyber world there is often nothing to blow up. In fact, when you have achieved your goal and you have successfully attacked your target, you often don't want the enemy to know it. Also, in combat arms you are trained that their is a definite beginning and definite end, which brings me to my second point.
  2. Just like in intelligence, in Cyberwarfare there is no beginning or end, just levels of intensity. We are already fighting a global Cyberwar. Its not officially declared, there are no official sides, but its already happening and will continue to happen. There may be times when conventional warfare is fought along with it, but Cyberwar is here and now. In fact, many people today view Cyberwarfare as supporting conventional war, but I feel in the future it may be the other way around, conventional weapons will be supporting Cyberwarfare.
  3. Last, I really think things are going to get messier. There have already been several well written articles about the ‘asymmetric’ approach of Cyberwarfare. How one side can attack and there is nothing for the defender to strike back at. There have also been discussions on how Cyberwarfare is the great equalizer. What value are having 12 aircraft carrier groups when someone with a 128Kbps connection to the Internet can theoretically shut those systems down, or the systems supporting the carrier groups. As I said, I think things are going to get worse. Historically there has been one thing constant in warfare since the dawn of time, mercenaries. Soldiers for hire to the highest bidder. Now a third world country can theoretically take out a first world country, not because they have the weapons or expertise, but simply because they happen to have a big bank account at that time and can hire some talent to do the job. The talent for hire is already out there, the underground cyber/criminal economy. The question is, what nations are now taping into that talent not from crime, but to get the jump ahead in Cyberwarefare. Think about it, what better way to hide your Cyberwarfare/intelligence attacks then make it look like common cyber crime.
Definitely interesting times ahead, times that are going to radically change military history. And you thought the Roman legion, longbow, the Minnie ball, and the airplane radically changed warfare :)

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