Welcome to the Age of Cyber Warfare

Alex Smalanskas-Torres

Mandiant, a U.S. security firm recently released a report accusing China of orchestrating or being involved in cyber espionage. Mandiant says it has been collecting evidence since 2004 connecting China to a variety of so called “Advance Persistent Threats” stemming from China’s secretive Unit 61398. [1] According to CNBC, Mandiant’s own CEO Kevin Mandia accused China of involvement on this particular cyber warfare attack that targeted U.S. government agencies and companies [2]. This continues a long stream of accusations against China’s government actively using cyber warfare against U.S. companies and government. It seems that we have entered the age of cyber warfare.

These types of cyber security problems are by no means new. Probably one of the largest compromises in intelligence and cyber security occurred during the peak years of WikiLeaks, which affected the U.S. but embarrassed many other foreign governments. With the rise of groups such as these and Anonymous, cyber warfare is not only state based but involves individual groups as well. Even at a national level cyber security is still a difficult to issue to resolve. Recently in the U.S. SOPA, an act that was meant to target online piracy was prevented due to public outcry against infringement on internet rights.

Cyber warfare is a new weapon in the arsenal of many governments; and while it might seem futuristic there is cause for alarm. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta was quoted that there is a growing importance for Americans to become more aware of cyber war; “it is the kind of capability that can basically take down a power grid, take down a water system, take down a transportation system, take down a financial system” [3]. Although there has not been a case of such a severe incident; the recent report by Mandiant seems to indicate a clear escalation in cyber warfare.

Even more dangerous is that governments are beginning to accept the use of cyber warfare as a true instrument of war. In 2006 the Pentagon was set to consider cyber warfare as an act of war that could warrant military response [4]. Although China has been recently accused, they are not the only ones using cyber warfare. According to the New York Times, President Obama authorized secret attacks on Iran’s computer systems using the Stuxnet and Flame viruses to target and delay their nuclear program. [5]
While the cyber warfare seen in the last few years is a relatively new battle tactic, it has escalated quickly. There seems to be a potential for a second Cold-War, where nations covertly combat each other through third parties and secretly damage each other’s systems and networks. It seems that in our increasingly wired and electronic world, it is more important than even to determine what types of tactics are legal (if any) and how to present a catastrophic attack from occurring. At the very least, the international community needs to work to slow down the escalation that has already happened.

[1] http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-asia-china-21502088

[2] http://www.cnbc.com/id/100470478

[3] http://nation.time.com/2012/10/12/panetta-sounds-alarm-on-cyber-war-threat/

[4] http://www.nytimes.com/2011/06/01/us/politics/01cyber.html?_r=0

[5] http://topics.nytimes.com/top/reference/timestopics/subjects/c/computer_malware/stuxnet/index.html

[Image Credit: http://www.wired.com/images_blogs/beyond_the_beyond/2012/05/208193530.png]