The virtual world has become an integral part of our daily lives. Things such as education, business, shopping, and work-related activities now depend heavily on virtual features. But with increasing dependency on the cyber world, more has been put at risk virtually than ever before in history. In the last decade, the world has been seeing an alarming increase in cyber attacks and security breaches.
Even the most confidential records of world governments and militaries are not fully immune to cyber attacks despite their high levels of security and encryption. This has also led to a rise in the risk of cyber warfare, a concept unheard of ten years ago.
What Is Cyber Warfare?
Cyber warfare is defined as a virtual attack or series of attacks that target the computer systems and networks of a country’s most important institutions. The aim behind such attacks may be to hinder the institution’s activities, damage their networks and systems, or destroy the infrastructure of the country.
Up until quite recently, the only form of cyber attacks known were those on personal computers and social media accounts. Then, attacks and security breach attempts on businesses became common.
Today, cyber warfare poses a bigger and more pressing threat, except this one is not only limited to one individual or organization. Instead, it can put entire countries in danger.
A shift to virtual activities is a need of the times and modernity. Nonetheless, it has made a lot of exploitable data more accessible for criminals and professional cyber attackers to hack into easily.
For a country to protect its most valuable assets and economy, it is crucial to understand cyber warfare and how it can be prevented, fought, and defeated.
Cyber warfare can be initiated by one country on another to weaken their critical infrastructure. Still, it may also involve terrorist organizations or independent parties aiming at the annihilation of an established state. It can destabilize a state’s economy, government, and industrial sectors and even target critical infrastructures like schools, hospitals, and water supplies.
Types Of Cyber Warfare
Cyber warfare is not simply one activity like hacking. Instead, it can involve multiple advanced techniques, which are usually thoroughly planned and can breach the toughest encryptions. There can be several types of cyber warfare currently.
These cyber warfare techniques can be used individually or simultaneously. The types are according to general inferences, as there is no fixed definition or explanation for cyber warfare yet.
Cyber espionage is the use of methods like bots and spear phishing to spy on and monitor the activities of an institution. These methods steal confidential data, sensitive information, and state secrets, ultimately putting national security at risk.
Sabotage refers to the disruption or destruction of an organization’s valuable data. Such cyber attackers can also exploit other weaknesses in the institution’s real-life system, such as dissatisfied employees and lack of proper communication.
Most of these attacks may be military or government-sponsored and might steal information about weapons, troop locations, and war tactics.
Surprise Cyber Attack
These cyber-attacks are intended to shatter the very foundations of an organization by attacking when they least expect it. Although such an attack on its own can have drastic consequences on a country’s entire system, it can also be used as the first step before an equally destructive physical attack.
Propaganda attacks target the general public by exposing a government’s painful truths, spreading scandals, and even false news.
The intention of these attacks is to spread fear amongst common people and those fighting for their country. Success in carrying this out can significantly weaken the most important element of a country’s defense: its people.
Denial-Of-Service (DOS) Attacks
Denial-Of-Service (DOS) attacks involve flooding an important website with fake traffic and requests and forcing it to process those requests.
As a result of this influx of impostor traffic, the website is severely slowed down, and it can not accept or process genuine requests by its citizens, government officials, military personnel, and more.
The economy is one of the sectors that depend heavily on the use of computer systems. This also makes it one of the most vulnerable targets for attackers. Cyber attacks on banks and other financial institutions target to steal valuable client data and finances, perhaps even leading to market crashes.
Crippling a country’s economy is a cruel war tactic that can bring the entire nation to its knees, making it more vulnerable to foreign threats and cyber war.
Wipers And Ransomware
In ransomware attacks, cyber attackers target important files related to top-secret information about a country. They hack into these files and either encrypt them or delete them to prevent their owners from accessing them.
A fresh example of ransomware and wipers being used in modern warfare is during the Russian invasion of Ukraine, as ransomware was detected in Ukraine’s crucial state information files.
Electrical Power Grid
Many states or terrorist organization-sponsored cyber wars may target a country’s main electrical power grids as it is one of the most significant infrastructures of any nation. By damaging the power grid, they disrupt critical operations, telecommunication, and the internet, hinder military cyber operations, and put millions of lives at risk.
Motives Behind Cyber Warfare
Cyber warfare aims to destroy and disrupt an established state’s very foundations. This can be done by targeting the elements at its core, such as the military, research field, government computer systems, and civilians. Many factors and deities can be involved in instigating a cyber war.
State-sponsored cyber warfare mainly targets military networks to not only hinder their operations but to destroy them internally. In conventional warfare, bringing down a state’s military would be a long, tedious, and almost impossible task.
With modern cyber warfare, this can be achieved in much less time and with fewer resources and labor. A country’s defenses are automatically futile with the military at its knees.
Cyber warfare also targets the civilians of a country and usually tries to turn them against their state and the government. Cyber warfare criminals can incite civilian revolts against the state, which can lead to the loss of resources, finances, and precious lives.
Similarly, cyber warfare may even try to sabotage a country’s research and development fields. Doing so will help the rival state determine the tools, chemicals, and weaponry being developed in the victim country.
Not only this but monitoring and sabotaging research will also save the attacker nation’s funds for research and development in their own country. An example of such tools may be vaccines and modern warfare equipment.
Governments or attacker organizations also pay many hackers and cyber attackers handsome amounts in return for spying on, hacking, and exploiting the rival country’s sensitive data. As a result, many hacking specialists may turn to cyber warfare.
Fighting Against Cyber Warfare
Groundbreaking advancements in technology have opened the door to possibilities of cyber weapons for hackers and cybercriminals. However, these advancements also mean that we now have cutting-edge solutions to these crimes as well. With the right tactics and knowledge, the threat of a cyber warfare scenario can be dealt with vigilantly, although not eradicated completely.
No threat can be dealt with properly without adequate awareness and thorough knowledge about it. Defense authorities can use simulation systems to understand better the risks associated with state-hosted security threats.
These systems, also known as wargames, not only display and help understand the intricacies of cyber warfare in detail but also help identify the lackings in the defenses. It also helps understand the cyber-standing of the country’s defense system.
By utilizing cyber wargames, defense and law-enforcement institutions can experience different types of cyber attacks and devise various methods and backup plans to deal with future threats. They can assign different tasks to different officials after determining their areas of expertise and prepare them for their roles accordingly.
Today’s virtual defense mechanisms are strong, but they can only hold off the threat of cyber warfare attacks for so long. Hence, multiple layers need to be added to security systems to make them foolproof. An example of this is adding endpoint protection, which stops ransomware and wipers in their tracks before they can infiltrate the system and do damage.
Automated anti-phishing defenses are also necessary because they can detect and delete suspicious activity that can turn out to be malware.
Furthermore, awareness should be spread about the importance of cyber security, the impending threat of digital warfare, and the precautionary and protective measures in case of future attacks.
DOS Attack Prevention
Denial-of-service attacks are one of the most dangerous tools of digital combat. It can be a matter of seconds before an important website is hacked, illegitimately used, and does irreversible damage to state procedures. Therefore, it is imperative to use cyber security automation to instantly detect, report, and deal with any suspicious activity on a website.
Automated DOS prevention can locate suspicious activity and excess traffic on a website and can help to redirect it to keep these services online and working.
Strengthening The Private Sector
Working on the safety of the public and government sectors does not mean that the private sector is free from all threats. State secrets, finances, industries, and infrastructure are all equally dependent on the private sector.
Government institutions should work together with private ones to spread awareness about cyber warfare and protection techniques. Organizations can also make use of ethical hacking to fight foreign cyber threats.
Moreover, businesses can train their cyber security teams to deal with cyber attacks vigilantly and even install cyber security automation.
Frequently Asked Questions
What Is The Difference Between Cyber Attack And Cyber Warfare?
Common cyber attacks are often focused on a singular computer or one organization’s network system. For example, cyber attacks may target banks, stock markets, or corporate giants to either steal valuable data or for monetary gains. In hindsight, these attacks may seem like cyber warfare, especially if the attackers belong to foreign states.
However, the core difference between common security breaches and cyber warfare is that rival nations or terrorist organizations usually sponsor the latter.
These attacks do not aim for personal benefits. Instead, they tend to work towards crippling the country’s economy or infrastructure to gain the upper hand in conventional warfare.
Should Citizens Be Concerned About Cyber Warfare?
Unfortunately, yes, cyber warfare does not only target select institutions. Instead, it puts entire nations at risk. Sadly, this involves the general public as well because the digital disruption and destruction of infrastructure can have heinous consequences on citizens, even threats such as bankruptcy and the loss of lives.
However, this threat can be reduced by making smart choices such as working with and/or investing in institutions that prioritize cyber security and value your data.
Similarly, citizens can also play their part by spreading awareness about cyber warfare and civilly compelling government and military institutions to take precautionary measures to protect the nation.
Is Cyber Warfare A Genuine Threat?
Cyber warfare operations have been gaining speed in recent times, and there have been several instances of such operations being instigated by countries or independent organizations on their rivals. One example of cyber warfare is the ransomware known as the WannaCry attack in 2017. This attack had dire effects on hundreds of thousands of computers in 150 countries and severely affected infrastructure from German railways to Chinese petrol stations.
Other examples include the Stuxnet virus that attacked the Iranian nuclear program and the 2007 Bronze Soldier cyber warfare attempts against Estonia.
Cyber warfare may not be as big a buzzword as cyber security or security automation nowadays. However, it is important to know that this impending threat can wreak havoc on even the strongest nations. Given the dependency of government, military, and financial institutions on cyber records and controls, cyber warfare is a matter of when not if.
Virtual combat tactics can accomplish nefarious tasks much faster than it would take in conventional warfare. Therefore, steps to prevent this destruction must be taken immediately. International rivalries should be solved on a neutral international forum in a civil manner rather than resorting to warfare of any sort.