Our modern society is becoming more and more dependent on information technology each day, and while this development may come with many positive effects, it also comes with many political and security complications. The dependency that we as a society today have on technology is undoubted– and can be alarming. Information is spread easily on the internet and can just as easily be gathered, analyzed, and used to the advantage of hackers on the internet who may be members of cyberterrorist or cyberwarfare groups. Not only do these cyberterrorists collect invaluable intellectual property, they also execute a myriad of constant cyberattacks against states which could have global consequences. The lack of awareness that many people have in relation to the incessant bombardment of cyber-based attacks from such hacker groups is shocking. Cyber-based attacks aren’t only utilized by terrorist groups– countries also employ hacking as a method of gathering intelligence and launching attacks on enemy countries, thus weakening them. An example of this political cyberwarfare can be seen in the incident of China hacking over 5.6 million fingerprints and personnel files with top secret clearances in the United States’ Office of Personnel Management. Such a costly and unsettling attack has called for the inevitable expense of resources and time, and is one example out of many that are constantly being executed.
This raises the following questions: how do states retaliate in response to these kinds of attacks? How can they better prepare for and defend against cyberwarfare? Why are the resources being spent on reparations after such an attack not instead being devoted to cyberwarfare awareness, detecting potential sources of cyberwarfare, and prevention measures? Dealing with such a complicated issue at hand also brings to mind the medium through which these attacks occur. The internet and cyberspace in general is a ‘terrain’ or plane with no discernable political borders. In order to secure political information being sent through cyberspace, states find it necessary to encrypt their information; and even still, such encryptions can be easily hacked with the right tools and skill. Cyberattacks consist of a wide range of possible varieties, such as a Denial of Service (DoS) attack in which a certain website cannot be accessed, tampering with data such as wiping clean bank statements and records, extorting money via cybercrime, tapping into cell phone lines and cellular data, as well as the most disturbing– targeting critical digital infrastructure.
According to a report created by the United States’ Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS), “America’s failure to protect cyberspace is one of the most urgent national security problems facing the [44th Presidency]”. President Obama himself has addressed the problem, bringing attention to the lack of awareness citizens have of being susceptible to such attacks. Cybercrime has, in fact, not only affected citizens (costing them approximately $5 million a year) but also threatens the economy and national security of countries globally. In this same address, Obama has called attention to the fact that “in 2009 alone cybercriminals have stolen intellectual property from businesses worldwide worth up to $1 trillion”. Even though these numbers are baffling, what is more disturbing is the potential for a greater destructive consequence from these kinds of cyberattacks. If a cyberterrorist were, for example, to target an industrial control system, the havoc that could stem from it would be catastrophic. Industrial control systems include nuclear power plants, oil refineries, pipelines, electric grids, and water treatment plants. What is more disturbing is understanding that the industrial control systems have antiquated cybersecurity measures. Hackers and cyberterrorists have already began to test their infectious malware in these kinds of attacks– the first-ever recorded instance of a cyberterrorist attacking central infrastructure to cause a mass power outage in Ukraine happened at the close of 2015. Brett Scott, the co-founder of the Arizona Cyber Warfare Range (AZCWR), an organization which hopes to engage and inform the public and to counterattack cyberterrorists believes that “World War III is already here, and it’s happening on the internet”– a chilling yet accurate description of the condition that the current cyberinfrastructure of today’s society is in.
It is hard to say what else is in store for the rest of the world if we as a society keep turning a blind eye to the constant barrage of cyberterrorism targeting our governments, the insecure cyberspace through which we send our personal information, and the looming threat of something greater– an attack on the infrastructure that we so heavily rely on for our daily routines. In order to begin to combat such attacks we must collectively become more aware of these dangers and risks. Our cyberspace is a new and budding terrain that has emerged from the creation of the internet– a terrain with no political borders inhabited by terrorists, hackers, politicians, you, and me. Instead of allowing cyberterrorists to utilize technology in the disadvantage of our society and infrastructure, we must collectively educate one another and make an effort to take back our cyberspace.