Try going for a day without the internet. Try not being able to IM friends, post on Facebook, update your twitter, do research for essays, search for a job, read this excellent blog, transfer money between bank accounts, get hold of vital government services, and more. Not easy, is it?
Yes, the internet is important to daily life. It’s also vital to our security. As Iran is currently finding out. Welcome Iran, to the world of cyberwarfare.
Cyberwarfare isn’t a new concept. Floating around for the last few years, its been quickly gathering steam thanks to a few notable attacks. Georgia found their governmental web-pages, and their ability to contact their citizens, totally shut down for the first few days of the South Ossetian War in 2008.
Estonia came under attack back in 2007, when they tried to move the Bronze Statue of Tallinn– ministries, banks and media were attacked. A botnet (a collection of computers that have been compromised and can be controlled remotely by a hacker – and the owners probably will never know…) of over a million computers flooded the country with 5,000 e-mails a second.
The US is often the target of Chinese and Russian-based hackers. Israel, South Korea, Kyrgyzstan, Japan, China, and even Sarah Palin have all been attacked via the internet. Google was even attacked, jeopardizing e-mail accounts of Chinese dissidents. The Obama campaign’s files were hacked into, giving unidentified individuals access to his travel schedule.
But the most dangerous cyberwarfare attacks may not even affect websites. General Harry D. Raduege (retd.) of the CSIS Cybersecurity Commission, postulated in 2009, that the most dangerous threat could be attacks designed to take control of the computer systems that control the values, distribution and switches of oil rigs, gas plants and electrical power grids. Turning them off or blowing them up, any attacks on electronic control systems would be devastating. Imagine the power plant down the road from you shutting down completely. Not only will you not have the net, your city won’t have any power. Or it will have exploded. Fun, eh?
Raduege’s fears may have been realised. A new worm, Stuxnet, has been roaming the cyber-world for some months. It is aimed at industrial equipment manufactured by Siemens, the German firm, that controls oil pipelines, electrical grids, nuclear facilities and more, the world over. But especially the nuclear facilities of Iran…
Stuxnet has been found on a few computers in India Indonesia and Pakistan but 30,000 Iranian computers have been infected, equivalent to 60% of the world’s infected computers. Computers at Bushehr Nuclear Power Plant have been infected, though supposedly only personal computers. It is believed by many tech experts that it is aimed at over-loading components of nuclear facilities. It has been reported that the complexity of this worm means that it can only have come from a government source. But which one?
Iran has, as per usual, pointed the finger at Israel. But could others be capable – America, Britain, France, even Russia and China all have concerns over Iranian nukes?
Individual hackers are usually discounted, because it would need a team of 5-6 highly trained and well funded hackers to produce this. Well, the highly trained part isn’t a problem, and there are numerous anti-Iranian or anti-governmental hackers who possibly could, but how would individuals fund a project like this. I’m still open to it not being from a government, but it seems unlikely.
Personally, I wonder if Iran is right – that Israel is actually behind the attack – and their supposition isn’t just anti-semitism. Israel is willing and able to intervene in Iran’s nuclear programme and their intervention in the Iraqi programme in the 1980s was devastating. Their GCHQ equivalent, Force 8200, has been cited as Stuxnet’s source. Perhaps this is some form of a scouting mission, or a simpler way than bombing underground
Perhaps Israel’s occasional disregard for other nation’s opinions and its desperation to destroy the greatest threat to Israeli peace and regional hegemony is why the virus was not targeted specifically at Iran, instead spreading quickly, and revealing countless secrets in the process, as opposed to not leaving fingerprints, as hackers would usually try to do.
However, I will confess, I can’t give a definitive answer to who is responsible. The worst thing about cyberwarfare is that we may never know the origin of the attack that sends the West back to the stone-age. The very idea of developing a botnet to attack other nations involves commandeering strangers’ computers. If a hacker took control of computers in a different country to the one they’re actually based in, retaliation may be misdirected. Imagine if Chinese hackers used Russian computers to attack the US. No one is entirely sure how the US would react – cyber retaliation, maybe even military offensives. Remember the movies where rogue Generals used their security pass to trigger nuclear war?
So what does this mean for our world? I personally fear a cyber arms-race of a sort, with each nation quickly developing hacking facilities to attack other nations. But I doubt we will ever be concerned about a cyber-attack. In the event of cyberwarfare, it is almost certain that it would be a precursor to a larger economic conflict, terrorist offensive, conventional weapon-based attack or nuclear war. People tend to stop worrying about their tragic loss of Facebook if bombs are about to start falling around you…