The Clear and Present Danger of Cyber Warfare
Malicious hacking and denial of service attacks are potent weapons of twenty-first century warfare. Recently, Russian and Georgian hackers attacked vital websites in each other’s countries as troops fought on the ground. They shut down government portals. Hackers defaced government websites (e.g., routing visitors to the Georgian President’s website to a site that portrayed him as a modern-day Hitler). Although cyber attackers have not yet significantly disrupted or destroyed government systems in the United States, they have stolen sensitive information about weapon systems from the U.S. government and its defense contractors. Cyber attackers invaded the State Department’s highly sensitive Bureau of Intelligence and Research, posing a risk to CIA operatives in embassies around the world. Online espionage is a serious problem—attacks on military networks were up 55% last year. U.S. officials reportedly believe the attacks come from the Chinese government.
The United States seems to appreciate the dangers of cyber warfare. According to Business Week, the U.S. is engaged in a classified operation to detect, track, and disarm intrusions on the government’s most critical networks. President Bush signed an order known as the Cyber Initiative to overhaul the government’s cyber defenses at a cost in the tens of billions. However, in testimony before the Senate Armed Services Committee, National Intelligence Director McConnell asserted that the “federal government is not well protected.” He warned that attackers can enter information systems and destroy data and systems related to the “money supply, electric-power distribution, and transportation sequencing.”
Despite attention to the matter in the U.S., the better part of the world does not take cyber warfare seriously, leaving their networks increasingly vulnerable to attack. This is not unusual—few appreciated the importance and potency of propaganda campaigns at the beginning of World War II until the power of such propaganda became readily apparent and deeply rooted. Broad attention should be paid to cyber attacks. Online sabotage compounds the dangers inherent in national conflicts. Nations may be unable to decelerate tensions through online communications. Cyber attacks convey inaccurate information that can inflame public option, limiting leaders’ political room to defuse tensions. The dangers of cyber warfare thus should not under-estimated.