Cyberspace has become another important dimension of warfare, where nations can carry out conflicts without the clashes of traditional troops and machines. This allows countries with minimal military presence to be as strong as other nations in cyberspace. Cyberwarfare is an Internet-based conflict that involves the penetration of computer systems and networks of other nations. These attackers have the resources and expertise to launch massive Internet-based attacks against other nations to cause damage or disrupt services, such as shutting down a power grid.
An example of a state-sponsored attack involved the Stuxnet malware that was designed to damage Iran’s nuclear enrichment plant. Stuxnet malware did not hijack targeted computers to steal information. It was designed to damage physical equipment that was controlled by computers. It used modular coding that was programmed to perform a specific task within the malware. It used stolen digital certificates so the attack appeared legitimate to the system.
The Purpose of Cyberwarfare
The main purpose of cyberwarfare is to gain advantage over adversaries, whether they are nations or competitors.
A nation can continuously invade other nation’s infrastructure, steal defense secrets, and gather information about technology to narrow the gaps in its industries and military. Besides industrial and militaristic espionage, cyberwar can sabotage the infrastructure of other nations and cost lives in the targeted nations. For example, an attack can disrupt the power grid of a major city. Traffic would be disrupted. The exchange of goods and services is halted. Patients cannot get the care needed in emergency situations. Access to the Internet may also be disrupted. By affecting the power grid, the attack can affect the everyday life of ordinary citizens.
We know that Russia and China are developing cyber weapons to use in any future cyber conflict, and the US, France and Israel are just as active as nation states leading the way in this endeavor. But that doesn’t mean we can say any of these countries are using them, although we know they have the capability and have done so in the past. Stuxnet, for example, was a joint venture between Israel and the USA to destroy Iran’s nuclear programme capability.
Furthermore, compromised sensitive data can give the attackers the ability to blackmail personnel within the government. The information may allow an attacker to pretend to be an authorized user to access sensitive information or equipment.
If the government cannot defend against the cyber attacks, the citizens may lose confidence in the government’s ability to protect them. Cyber warfare can destabilize a nation, disrupt commerce, and affect the citizens’ faith in their government without ever physically invading the targeted nation.