War Drums Beat Louder For ‘World War C’
A report by cyber security firm FireEye says cyber warfare expanding. The U.S. leads the charge in this virtual battlefield.
If the lingo of cyber security experts, zombie warfare might that be that far fetched after all.
Call it “World War C”, and it playing right now at a nation near you. It is quiet, mostly invisible and oddly as safe as it is dangerous.
The ‘C’ in this war zone stands for cyberspace, and industry experts have been warning about it for the last five years. The war drums are beating louder. Once limited to cybercrime stealing credit card numbers, cyber attacks are becoming a key weapon for governments seeking to defend national sovereignty, project national power or spy on both friend and foe alike, as was brought to light by former National Security Agency contractor Edward Snowden revealed. The United States uses its soft cyber powers to tap into the computer systems of friendly nations in the E.U. and Brazil.
From strategic cyber espionage campaigns, such as Moonlight Maze and Titan Rain, to the destructive, such as military cyber strikes on Georgia and Iran, human and international conflicts are entering a new phase in their long histories. In this shadowy battlefield, victories are fought with bits instead of bullets, malware instead of militias, and botnets instead of bombs.
“Cyber warfare isn’t necessarily part of a wider war. Sometimes it is just to collect data that is not easily accomplished by a military drone,” said Eugene Kaspersky, head of Moscow-based Kaspersky Lab.
Kaspersky said the war drums are beating louder.
“A cyber attacks are being used more and more for military purposes,” he said. Kaspersky became famous for being part of the team that discovered the Stuxnet worm in 2010. The worm targeted Siemens industrial control systems used at Iran nuclear power plants and is believed to have been the brainchild of the U.S. and Israeli defense departments.
A cyber attack is best understood not as an end in itself, but as a potentially powerful means to a wide variety of political, military, and economic goals.
“Serious cyber attacks are unlikely to be motiveless,” Martin Libicki, Senior Scientist at RAND Corp. said in a report released this month by cyber security firm FireEye. “Countries carry them out to achieve certain ends, which tend to reflect their broader strategic goals. The relationship between the means chosen and their goals will look rational and reasonable to them if not necessarily to us.”
Just as each country has a unique political system, state-sponsored attacks also have distinctive characteristics, which include everything from motivation to target to type of attack.
World War C is a FireEye creation. They noted in their 22 page report that their out-of-this-world war scenario is hard to fully describe. There are very little physical casualties involved. For the general public, collateral damage is unheard of so far.
Cyber war has been compared to special operations forces, submarine warfare, targeted missile strikes, and assassins.
But some say it could be as bad as a nuclear weapons, Pearl Harbor, 9/11 or a natural disaster.
FireEye’s zombie analogy is not new. Often, any compromised computer, if it is actively under the surreptitious control of a cybercriminal, is called a zombie, and botnets are sometimes called zombie armies. Also, compared to stockpiling tanks and artillery, writing cyber attack code, and compromising thousands if not millions of computers, is easy. Moreover, malware often spreads with the exponential growth of an infectious disease.
The analytical waters surrounding cyber warfare are inherently murky, write FireEye analysts in their report. At the strategic level, governments desire to have a degree of plausible deniability. At the tactical level, military and intelligence organizations envelop such operations in layers of classification and secrecy. To be effective, information operations rely on deception—and the Internet offers an ideal venue for a spy’s smoke and mirrors.
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