Modern warfare is no longer confined to the geographic boundaries of the battlefield. War now extends to new terrains, with opponents behind screens, rather than confronting enemy troops head-on. With rapid digitization and the advent of the internet, cyberattacks now extend to entire countries, threatening to wreak havoc at the touch of a button. These digital weapons take centre stage in what is being called cyberwarfare. But the implications can be much severe as the physical and virtual battlefields merge, especially since the stakes are high.
Cyberwarfare is much scarier, due to the elusive nature of cyberattacks. This makes it difficult to track down threat actors, as they can be anyone ranging from government officials to hacktivist groups. Also, attacks in cyberspace can have serious repercussions in the physical world. Take for example, an assault on the power grids or financial institutions of a country. This can debilitate critical systems, forcing an entire country to a standstill, resulting in severe economic disruptions.
Cyberspace: The new terrain
Cyberwarfare generally refers to cyberattacks that target countries to disrupt critical activities, producing serious damage to the nation and its residents. The implications caused by cyberwarfare are surging as countries are now extensively connected to the internet and depend on it for their protection. A large variety of sophisticated cyberattacks targeted at weakening a country’s defences have left debilitating effects.
Cyberwarfare does not follow a specific agenda or method of attack. It can include DoS attacks, malware, IoT attacks, ransomware, hacking of critical government data, attacks on electrical power grids, espionage, propaganda, disinformation campaigns, and more. Cyberwarfare is not merely computer against computer, but can include cyberspace and digital weapons in attacks that inflict harm on governments and individuals.
How does cyberwarfare differ from conventional warfare?
Cyberwarfare is no longer hypothetical or a figment of science fiction, it’s in our here and now. An example that explains the implications of cyberwarfare is Stuxnet. It was a computer worm considered to be one of the most sophisticated cyberwarfare attacks in history. First reported publicly in 2010, the Stuxnet computer worm targeted Iran’s nuclear centrifuge devices and programmed to make them spin out of control, thus interrupting that country’s nuclear program.
Due to its enigmatic nature, the methods of attack used in cyberwarfare are in stark contrast to those used in conventional warfare. Cyberattacks, while being performed virtually, can have a serious impact on the physical world. While conventional warfare involves bloodshed, cyberattacks can be considered less violent in that regard. However, we see that both means of warfare go hand in hand in ongoing wars. Cyberattacks also change the perception of war being confined to specific time periods or geographic boundaries. Similar to how people quickly adapted to remote working at the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, countries realized that wars can be fought using cyberattacks too. They also emphasize the sophistication and complexity of modern digital tools, which are powerful enough to wreak havoc on systems located thousands of miles away.
Gearing up for cyberwarfare
Cyberwarfare poses an imminent threat in the present and is expected to become more prevalent in the future. There are no specific policies to regulate war in cyberspace. So, the best bet is for countries to ramp up their cybersecurity strategies to anticipate cyberattacks, and be well-equipped to prevent and combat them. IT security professionals need to understand that these attacks can come from anywhere and that they’ll be facing an anonymous enemy.
Cyberattacks now are a powerful weapon in the arsenal of countries across the globe. However, we also need clear policies to define the nuances of cyberwarfare and govern the usage of cyber weapons.
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