Cyberwar arena as the modern days Wild West

In today’s highly connected world, the battle for economic supremacy is primarily if not entirely being fought in the cyberspace. The danger lies in the fact that this space is currently barefacedly unregulated – the Wild West-like.

A new arms race is in progress with the cyberweapons race being increasingly proliferated worldwide. It is obvious that cyber is the new front line in modern economic warfare. Cyber-attacks alreadycost the global economy USD 817 billion a year. The amount does not include unreported and undetected breaches.

Cyberwarfare has reached a new phase this year, at least in terms of public awareness of the nature of the threat. Nothing is especially new, in truth, at least not capability-wise but cyber warfare has never been as openly reported as it is now, according to Forbs.

For example, the Pentagon advisory panel report cautioned that a concerted cyber-attack on the US military “might result in US guns, missiles, and bombs failing to fire or detonate or being directed against our own troops; or food, water, ammo, and fuel not arriving when or where needed; or the loss of position/navigation ability or other critical war fighter enablers.”

The report further warned that such an across-the-board failure of US conventional military tools might create a situation desperate enough for the US president to more quickly consider the use of nuclear weapons. That possibility is more dangerous than ever, given the recent Pentagon’s Joint Chiefs of Staff document revealed last month in which they weighed the benefits of limited, tactical use of nuclear weapons in a conflict.

A highly worrying possibility indeed as the same thinking might occur at other nuclear powers’ military commands.

Attacking…

US Cyber Command in June launched an operation against an Iranian spy group, despite President Donald Trump’s last-minute scrapping of a direct military strike, former intelligence officials said in a Yahoo News report.

With tensions between the US and Iran on the rise following the downing of a US military drone last week, the director of the Department of Homeland Security’s (DHS) Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency has warnedthat Iran is elevating its efforts to do damage to US interests through destructive malware attacks on industrial and government networks.

After Iran’s destruction of a US drone, Tehran accused the US of engaging in cyberattacks attempting to cripple Iran’s missile launch capabilities. The cyber-attack on Iran in June was a manifestation of this new, more aggressive approach.

While President Donald Trump called off a planned military strike in response to the downing of the drone, the Department of Defense DoD) has reportedly gone ahead with cyber-attacks against an Iranian intelligence group connected to attacks against oil tankers in the Persian Gulf. Another cyber-attack reportedly targeted Iranian missile fire control systems.

The US has deployed code inside Russia’s power grid and other targets as part of its work to push back against hacking and disinformation from Moscow, the New York Times reports.

The US Cyber Command, an arm of the Pentagon is permitted to do so by a new US law passed last summer, which approves “clandestine military activity” in cyberspace to “deter, safeguard or defend” against attacks.

Advocates of the more aggressive US strategy said it was long overdue, after years of public warnings from the Department of Homeland Security and the FBI that Russia has inserted malware that could sabotage American power plants, oil and gas pipelines, or water supplies in any future conflict with the United States. Needless to say that Vladimir Putin and Russia have long been the subject of official and public demonization.

Nevertheless, there has been one major development in the world of cyber warfare: increased levels of integration between the physical and cyber domains. The warfare arena becomes an interchangeable battlefield, an attack in one domain and retaliation in another.

The first-ever kinetic response to the cyber-attack happened two months ago – the Israeli Defence Force (IDF) response against cyber attackers was decisive and literally with the ‘bang’. Israel bombed hackers from Gaza! The IDF flattened a building allegedly used by hackers from Hamas.

Forbs recently speculated that US military satellites have been likely cyber-attacked by China or Russia or Both, targeting the US military capabilities.

On the other hand, it seems that China is engaged in its own form of cyberwarfare, but one that does not readily fit into the West’s perception of war and peace. Experts believe that China, the world’s oldest surviving civilization, is taking the long view. It has no interest in winning short-term battles; its focus is on winning the long-term war.

…and Countering

Iran’s defence industry has unveiled a new tactical communications system known as the Sepehr-110. It is the new design, called by Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps Commander Maj. Gen. Hossein Salami, “the brain and nerves of the armed forces”. According to the Iranian official, this system is “invulnerable to hacks, eavesdropping, radio jamming, and electromagnetic disturbance” and will “break the monopoly of the great powers in the field of advanced communications technologies.”

“The Islamic Republic of Iran and China are standing in a united front to confront US unilateralism and hegemony in the field of IT”, claimed Iran’s ICT Minister Mohammad Javad Azari Jahromi at the beginning of this month.

Huawei is spearheading the quantum communication technology in a bid to build “unhackable” networks. Huawei’s 5G leadership and quantum communication technologies may result in “US eavesdropping blocked” and “spies unemployed”. The development could deal a heavy blow to Signals intelligence (SIGINT), an intelligence-gathering by interception of signals, which receives a major share of the USD 80-billion US secret service budget.

This is not a new development as the Asian Scientist magazine pointed out in April 2016 that China’s 13th five-year plan for 2016-2020 was specifically focused on quantum communications and computation as a number one priority.

Australian cybersecurity firm Penten has received two contracts totalling AU$ 2.2 million from the federal government to improve the Australian Army’s cyber capabilities.

The US is contemplating to improving power grid security by mandating the use of “retro” (analogue, manual) technologies on US power grids as a defensive measure against foreign cyber-attacks. The experts will examine ways to replace automated systems with low-tech redundancies, like manual procedures controlled by human operators.

“Defense is a necessary foundation for the offence as an effective offensive cyber capability depends on defensive assurance and resilience of key military and homeland systems”, says the Pentagon’s Defense Science Board.

A growing body of experts is, however, decrying US cyberwar capabilities, raising the alarm that US military hardware, advanced thought it may be, is compromised to such an extent that their reliability is questionable. It seems that defence is precisely where US cyber capabilities are lacking the most, said Michael Bayer, CEO of Dumbarton Strategies and a long-time Pentagon adviser: “I believe we are in a declared cyberwar. It is aimed at the whole of society and the state. I believe we are losing that war”. It seems that the US has woefully misjudged the scope of future conflicts, hence opening the door for a cyberattack crippling US warfighting capabilities.

Making Peace

According toa security researcherMatthew Hickey, “the vast majority of broken mobility security technologies we know today were once introduced as either impenetrable or uncheckable or secure by default”. This simply means that the technological advancements cannot be the (only) solution to prevent disastrous consequences of looming cyberwars of increasing intensity.

Many genuinely concerned people firmly believe that this is the moment to calls for serious international cooperation. The current (cyber) warmongering t threatens the very survival of our species and should be our primary concern. We agree with Paul Atwood’s statementthat “until we take measures to change radically and find the will and way to genuine international cooperation we are fated to suffer incalculable consequences”.

The US Council on Foreign Relations (CFR) suggests that the US and Russia should restart dialogue on cyber issues as the relationship between the two countries is of crucial importance for the whole ecosystem of cyber policy and diplomacy. The two countries are among the most advanced cyber powers and were the first to develop ICT confidence-building measures (“cyber nonaggression pact”).

As a step forward CFR advocates the implementation of the existing norms. This refers to the common approach to how governments should behave in cyberspace, developed by the Group of Governmental Experts on Developments in the Field of Information and Telecommunications in the Context of International Security and presented to the UN in 2015.

The German B20 Presidency urged the G20 to improve cyber risk management by encouraging the development of a harmonised cybersecurity baseline framework, the development of a concept for a global interoperable information-sharing platform under OECD guidance, and a process leading to norms for responsible state behaviour.

VM Advisory consistently advocate cooperation in the areas such as sharing of information and best practices relating to cybersecurity and effective coordination against cybercrime, cyberwars and cyber-terrorism. The development of international norms, principles and standards should be an urgent job of international organisations such as the UN, International Telecommunication Union, European Union, OECD, BRICS – as well as various military alliances.

The choice is ours: to cooperate in preventing increasingly threatening cyberwars or to indifferently march to the cyber oblivion.

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