Saturday, December 20, 2014

Cyberwar ... a damp squib?

War.. The word conjures up images of people killing one another using warplanes, warships, tanks, cannons etc. Images of cities and countries totally destroyed ... then V Day... then POWs .. medals, martyrs, heros. This was war!

And cyber war? Is it really war ? Or, we diluting the devastating danger of war by terming cyber incidents as war?

No country has publicly declared the formation if a cyber army, or a new cadre. There is no school for cyber weaponry or tactics. In fact well known generals and leaders have publicly accepted that they do not know how to define cyber war. Yet the media and global voices scream cyber war every time a major hack takes place! No one knows whodiddit but everyone has a theory about whodunit!
Last year Sony was hit by non-state actors, and this winter all fingers are pointing at North Korea. Earlier, in autumn it was the blame-it-on Iran season and the summertime ogre was China! Others who have had their place in the sun are the Syrian Electronic Army, Russia, Georgia and others.

One shouldn't forget the private and state armies of India and Pakistan who are constantly engaged in the childish sport of website defacement. Every now and then we have reports about cyber war being staged by either party stating X hundred sites defaced and y hundred retaliated with !
Sabre rattling and finger pointing by all countries and the so called private armies and patriots. No government has stood up to say they are responsible for a website defacement or a data breach/theft from someplace.

Not a single country has declared war in the real sense of the word. American banks, corporations, government entities, critical infrastructure is under continuous attack (as per US-CERT) but America has not declared war against anyone ! Compare this with the same Americans who went to war because someone said the Iraqi's have WMDs. Then they went out and killed Osama bin Laden because of the WTC attack by the Talisman.
It is natural for any country to declare a state of war if their sovereign assets are compromised but look at this
The NSA - Prism program has compromised the assets of friendly and non-friendly states and (possibly) continues to do so. Yet all affected countries have just taken it easy and not spoken up or retaliated (except Brazil).
India Pakistan have border skirmishes every other day and hordes are killed by terrorists (non-state actors) and armies (state actors). However, even though, website defacement and data ex filtration is regularly announced by non-state players there is no "tough" talk or overt action!
In the past few days North Korea is (said to be) the country behind the SONY hack because of the movie 'The Interview'. The USA is said to be affected badly with the hack but there is no strike back! And, going back into history, there are other incidents when South Korea has been repeatedly been (supposedly) attacked by North Korea and there has been no counter-strike! Not even a word of warning, leave alone the 'stern warning' type of public statement.
This infographic shows a few landmark events but what about counter strikes, what about public warnings what about cease-and-desist statements... none!
So is cyberwar sabre brandishing just a damp squib? No one is sending their army/navy/airforce to any country. The US is not asking the aircraft carrier to park itself in the Pacific off the coast of North Korea or China inspite of numerous damning statements against both governments.
Why all this talk about war or elevating these malicious, larcenous crimes to the status of war? These are crimes that may have disastrous consequences; these are disasters that may happen due to oversight or lack of diligence; these are common covert statecraft activities like espionage, agent recruiting etc; these are events which have not been seen or imagined in totality .. and mankind is still struggling to put a name or sentence here.
Can we keep the word "war" out and stop glorifying common criminal intent - it will blow the hype out and allow proper thought to address the problem(s).
Until the internet is all pervasive and is as 'essential' as air / water / land / gravity and we can blast human beings as they walk and talk with precise thought!
Scarier times are ahead, but why build and live with FUD.
This article was published by me on Linked In