Thursday, October 15, 2015

The Digital Arms Race - Dozens Of Nations Prepare For Cyberwarfare

The Digital Arms Race - Dozens Of Nations Prepare For Cyberwarfare
October 14, 2015  
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All sorts of computer attacks are being consistently unleashed in digital races to win military, economic and political advantage, among other coveted ends. The attacks are generally referred to as ‘cyberwarfare’ and are varied in scope, nature and effect.

Most include the targeted spread of malicious code and all sorts of computer malware. Cyberwarfare’s primary purposes are either to hack and steal, (or destroy) corporate information, military and trade secrets, as well as other valued and sensitive information and systems.

Unlike the nuclear arms race, where development and funding have to take place under the watchful eyes and strict control of governments, the ‘cyber-weapon club’ can be joined by just about anyone with a computer and some cash. This effectively evens the playing field between big and small countries.

Cyberattacks are comparatively harder to stop, and sometimes impossible to trace. Consequently, the West has been forced to review its cyberwarfare vulnerabilities in the military context, and to examine how best to counteract such threats. It’s therefore to be expected that ‘cyber-armies’ tend to be integrated with a country’s military and/or its intelligence services.

Governments have used computer attacks for spying on, or even disabling airline, radar, security, banking, investment, internet and electrical networks among many other malicious and nefarious purposes. Prevention has therefore become the norm, with at least 29 countries reported to have formed formal military or intelligence units dedicated to offensive hacking efforts.

Another 50 countries are said to have bought off-the-shelf hacking software that can be used for domestic and international surveillance. Domestic enemies, such as criminals, terrorists and local insurgents are as much targets as are other nations and external cyberwarfare threats.

Examples of other nations that have engaged in cyber weaponry against one another include nuclear-armed Pakistan and India, who reportedly regularly hack each other’s companies and governments. In a separate account, hackers aligned with the Syrian government are said to have spied into the computers of rebel militias, stolen tactical information and then used the stolen intelligence in the ongoing and bloody battle.

U.S. officials however worry most about the cyber-weapons held by the Chinese, Russians, Iranians and North Koreans, countries that have deployed advanced attacks that either dug inside U.S. government networks or targeted top U.S. companies.

According to US sources, Russia is particularly adept at developing hacking tools. She is, in fact, moving fast to expand and consolidate these capabilities at the national level. In the view of National intelligence expert James Clapper, Russia is currently in the process of developing a government-led program that will ensure that cyberwarfare is a central pillar of its defense strategy.

Reports also state that Iranian hackers have previously used cyber weapons at least twice, to destroy U.S computers in an apparent retaliatory attack for certain U.S actions. One such action included the alleged U.S.-Israeli attack on Iran (discovered in 2010) that deployed the Stuxnet computer worm to destroy Iranian nuclear centrifuges—considered to be the most successful and advanced cyberattack ever.

In 2014, reports stated that North Korea successfully implanted malware on Sony computers, which allowed them to both steal and destroy company records.

The U.S. is however considered to be the most advanced and successful in cyberwar activity, out-performing competitor nations. One key example of this was in former National Security Agency (NSA) contractor Edward Snowden’s document leaks in 2013, which showed the NSA had implanted malware on tens of thousands of foreign computers.

That process reportedly allowed the U.S. government secret access to data and, potentially, the industrial control systems behind power plants and pipelines. And according to a Pentagon spokesperson, U.S. Cyber Command now has nine “National Mission Teams” comprising 60 military personnel that will “conduct full-spectrum cyberspace operations to provide cyber options to senior policy makers in response to attacks against our nation.”

Other countries publicly known to have joined the fray include Estonia, Belarus, Denmark, the Netherlands, Argentina and France. Countries unable to develop their own weapons can buy off-the-shelf systems from private parties. A recent example was the revelation that Italian firm ‘Hacking Team’, had sold its surveillance tools to dozens of countries, including Sudan, Egypt, Ethiopia and Azerbaijan.

Ironically, this information was a result of the Hacking Team itself having suffered hacking at the hands of other hackers. The incident illustrates the extent of vulnerability and exposure of all, including both the hunter and the hunted in the cyberwarfare space in which everyone is ‘game’.

And things could certainly get worse than what we’ve been seeing so far. In a statement attributed to Bryce Boland, CTO of cyber security firm FireEye: “Cyberterrorism is the greater fear for loss of life at this point...where a group affiliated with ISIS could conduct a cyber-attack that results in the loss of life.”

The digital arms race is on, and hopefully will not result in a cyberwarfare Armageddon of sorts. However, its potential contribution to a ‘final military solution’ can no longer be in doubt.


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