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What Is Cyberwarfare?

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  • Written By: G. Wiesen
  • Edited By: Heather Bailey
  • Last Modified Date: 03 April 2014
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Cyberwarfare is a form of warfare that occurs in “cyberspace,” which is the abstract location in which Internet websites and databases exist. This is not a physical space in the sense that the servers and other hardware running websites exist in real space, but instead refers to the collective digital information that makes up the Internet. Cyberwarfare typically consists of activities over the Internet that represent new forms of attack, while still resembling older military or combat practices. This can include vandalism, espionage, and sabotage to gain information and access to critical computer systems.

Sometimes also referred to as cyber warfare, cyber spying, and cyber terrorism, cyberwarfare can consist of any type of aggressive or malicious action taken against a corporation, private citizen, or government agency that occurs in cyberspace. There are a number of different forms of cyber attacks that can be perpetrated against a person, business, or government and these different attacks typically build on each other toward a single goal. Espionage is a common form of cyberwarfare, often referred to as cyber espionage, and typically consists of attempting to learn secret or private information about a person, business, or government.

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This can be done as part of further cyberwarfare efforts to gain information that can then be used against that person or agency. For example, there have been attacks in which a group targets a person to gain access to his or her email and other private records, which are then used to prosecute the person for dissident behavior against a presiding government. Between nations, this type of attack could be used, and likely has been used, to gain access to sensitive or secret information regarding military operations or strategies.

Information gained this way can be used in cyber sabotage in a cyberwarfare campaign. For example, a cyber terrorist or cyber soldier could gain access to data regarding pressure controls of a natural gas pipeline. This information could be further used to take over those pressure controls and even override safety systems and cause the pipeline to explode or otherwise shut down. Attacks such as these, in a large enough coordinated effort, could cause serious damage, injury, or otherwise negatively affect operations of a company or country.

While cyberwarfare is a fairly new form of warfare, it is being taken quite seriously by many corporations and countries across the world. Security concerns for governments and businesses have increasingly revolved around cyber attacks, and many nations are moving toward something of a cyber arms race to amass computer experts to defend against and launch cyber attacks. Many military officials consider cyber attacks to be of great importance, and future military campaigns will likely include cyberspace as well as land, sea, air, and space operations.

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