The Impact Of Cyberwarfare

The Impact Of Cyberwarfare
The Impact Of Cyberwarfare 

By Larry Greenemeier & Sharon Gaudin
Jun 2, 2007

Cyberwarfare: What will it look like, how will we defend against it? 
Those questions have taken on new urgency, as the possibility becomes 
more real. Recently, the Baltic nation of Estonia suffered several weeks 
of distributed denial-of-service attacks against both government and 
private-sector Web sites. And late last month, a report from the 
Department of Defense said the People's Liberation Army of China is 
building up its cyberwarfare capabilities, even creating malware that 
could be used against enemy computer systems in first-strike attacks.

To date, there have been no proven, documented cases of one nation 
attacking another via cyberspace. Yet cyberwarfare is a chilling 
prospect that's treated among most nations with much the same reverence 
as Cold War players treated the idea of nuclear winter, mainly because 
of the potential large-scale economic disruption that would follow, says 
Howard Schmidt, a former White House cybersecurity adviser and former 
chief security officer at eBay and Microsoft. This would include 
shortages of supplies that could affect both citizens and the military, 
he says.

The cyberattacks against Estonia primarily targeted the government, 
banking, media, and police sites, and they "affected the functioning of 
the rest of the network infrastructure in Estonia," the European Network 
and Information Security Agency, or ENISA, reported on its Web site. As 
a result, targeted sites were inaccessible outside of Estonia for 
extended periods in order to ride out the attacks and to try and 
maintain services within the country.

Distributed denial-of-service attacks are particularly difficult to 
prevent and require a lot of coordination to contain the damage when 
multiple sites are hit. In order to weather the 128 strikes launched 
against its cyberinfrastructure, Estonia sought help from not only its 
Computer Emergency Readiness Team, established late last year, but also 
the Trans-European Research and Education Networking Association and 
Computer Emergency Readiness Teams in other countries, including Finland 
and Germany, according to ENISA.


A major hurdle that nations face in defending their critical 
infrastructures is working with the entities that control 
telecommunications networks, electrical grids, and transportation 
systems. This is a significant issue in the United States, given that 
the private sector owns more than 85% of the critical infrastructure.

Communication and cooperation between government officials and 
private-sector critical infrastructure owners is essential because the 
military is more knowledgeable and better prepared to respond to a 
cyberattack. "When it comes to information warfare, corporations in 
general are no match for a trained intelligence officer," says David 
Drab, a 27-year veteran of the FBI who retired in 2002 and is now 
principal for information content security with Xerox Global Services. 
These officers have an objective, they have resources, and often they 
have the element of surprise on their side, he says. Businesses are 
ill-prepared to handle these types of attacks.

The Defense Department's annual report to Congress on China's military 
strategy says China is building up "tactics and measures" to protect 
friendly computer systems and networks. "The People's Liberation Army is 
pursuing comprehensive transformation from a mass army designed for 
protracted wars of attrition on its territory to one capable of fighting 
and winning short-duration, high-intensity conflicts against high-tech 
adversaries," according to the report. China refers to that as "local 
wars under conditions of informatization," the report says.


But China isn't just developing a defensive cyberwarfare plan. The 
People's Liberation Army sees exploiting computer network operations as 
critical to achieving "electromagnetic dominance" early in a conflict, 
says the report. And China is focused on being able to disrupt 
battlefield information systems.

Still, Schmidt says, there are ways to mitigate the prospect of 
cyberwarfare. One is for nations to work with their critical 
infrastructure owners to bolster security preparedness. This includes 
ensuring that software patches are up to date and that access-control 
systems--biometric or otherwise--are in place to protect IT 
infrastructures from intruders and malicious insiders. Schmidt's other 
proposal is less technical and more diplomatic: "Create treaties among 
countries that agree to not do this to each other."

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