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What is Cyberwar?

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  • Written By: Mary McMahon
  • Edited By: O. Wallace
  • Last Modified Date: 16 July 2014
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Cyberwar is a form of war which takes places on computers and the Internet, through electronic means rather than physical ones. Cyber-warfare, as it is also known, is a growing force in the international community, and many nations regularly run cyberwar drills and games so that they are prepared for genuine attacks from their enemies. With an increasing global reliance on technology for everything from managing national electrical grids to ordering supplies for troops, cyberwar is a method of attack which many nations are vulnerable to.

In cyberwar, people use technological means to launch a variety of attacks. Some of these attacks take a very conventional form. Computers can be used, for example, for propaganda, espionage, and vandalism. Denial of service attacks can be used to shut down websites, silencing the enemy and potentially disrupting their government and industry by creating a distraction. Cyberwar can also be utilized to attack equipment and infrastructure, which is a major concern for heavily industrialized nations which rely on electronic systems for many tasks.

Using advanced skills, people can potentially get backdoor access to computer systems which hold sensitive data or are used for very sensitive tasks. A skilled cyberwarrior could, for example, interrupt a nation's electrical grid, scramble data about military movements, or attack government computer systems. Stealthier tactics might involve creating systems which can be used to continually gather and transmit classified information directly into the hands of the enemy or using viruses to interrupt government computer systems.

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As with other forms of warfare, each development in cyberwar leads nations to develop numerous counterattacks and defenses to protect themselves, and these developments spur enemies on to create more sophisticated attack options. The arms race of the computer world makes it impossible for nations to stop investing in cyberwar research. Civilian computing actually benefits from some research, as governments may release safety patches and other techniques to civilians to keep them safe from attacks over the Internet and through computer systems.

For warriors, cyberwarfare is significantly less deadly than conventional war, because people can be located far from the front lines in heavily secured facilities. Cyberwarriors are active in many regions of the world, continuously scanning computer systems for signs of infiltrations and problems, and proactively addressing issues like propaganda. Students in military colleges can choose cyberwar as a focus and area of specialty, and rival colleges often hold competitive games and challenges with each other to test their cyberwarriors.

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hamje32
Post 4

@SkyWhisperer - Do you seriously believe that they’re doing us a favor? Are bank robbers doing us a favor by proving how well the security cameras work, or how quickly law enforcement can respond to the crisis?

There are better ways to reveal security flaws in a network than stealing information, especially considering the real threat caused by identity theft.

In my opinion, cyberwars of any kind are evil, pure and simple.

SkyWhisperer
Post 3

@MrMoody - I generally agree with your post, but as to your point about programmers I think I have a different take. Many of these programmers see themselves as a kind of necessary evil.

In their opinion, their cyber attacks are meant to reveal holes in the security of a company’s network. In other words, in a perverse kind of way, they think of themselves as doing the online community as favor.

Some of them actually get hired on as programmers for the express purpose of working to reveal a company’s cyber security flaws, so that they can shore up weak areas and build a more secure and robust network.

MrMoody
Post 2

@drivenone - Yes, cyber attacks are a very real threat. It’s not uncommon to hear of hackers cracking the security of a major international bank and siphoning off bank account information. These scares have happened in the past, and unfortunately they will continue to happen.

The reason is that this technology is evolving, just like a virus, continually adapting to the environment. It’s a shame that these creative programmers can’t put their skills to use doing something constructive.

drivenone
Post 1

With so many people relying on the internet at home and at work (not to mention the plethora of personal information stored on servers), cyberwar attacks can be devastating. I protect myself as much as I can using firewalls and won't click on messages that I know are phishing emails (though they're getting more realistic-looking all the time.)

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