The road to war 2.0
Technological trickery has been a part of warfare since the Greeks climbed into a wooden horse and saw off the Trojans. Today, IT and the military are as intertwined as a squaddie’s bootlaces. Depending on your definition, cyberwarfare now encompasses everything from network eavesdropping and remotely detonating roadside bombs to attacking enemy computer networks, developing nano-sized robo-snoopers and manipulating the media.
Out-tech enemy forces and you’re halfway to victory, which is why the US pumps $78bn into military R&D every year. The UK is the world’s third-biggest spender on military research – the MoD alone contributes £2.6bn – according to government figures quoted by the ethics group, Scientists for Global Responsibility.
Outside the imagination of Hollywood scriptwriters, cyberwarfare has been deftly downplayed by governments, but it’s hard to ignore recent attacks and pledges of multibillion-dollar cyber defence programs. Cyber troops – from computer hackers to combat soldiers – are coming out fighting.
“Adversaries can effectively manoeuvre within cyberspace and therefore find opportunities to exploit it,” says US Air Force secretary Michael Wynne. “They can communicate globally with their agents, spread propaganda and solicit support worldwide, attack opponents’ cyberspace presence (crashing servers and defacing websites), and even conduct tactical operations that have kinetic effects, such as jamming GPS frequencies.”
In this feature, we’ll examine how the cyberwar is being waged and why it’s changing, if not defining, the outcome of modern conflicts. We’ll also explore the futuristic technologies that could soon be making their way to the battlefield, and find out how IT professionals are becoming as crucial as frontline forces.
Click to read ‘The future tech of war’
Click to read ‘The hi-tech territorials’
Hacking the enemy
With military hardware, communications and weaponry all linked via networks, the concept of cyberwar extends from propaganda to automated missile defence systems. However, relatively old-fashioned hacking remains the chief objective of the modern security services. “The biggest use of cyberwar is the computing equivalent of eavesdropping,” says Dr Martin Libicki, a senior policy analyst with the RAND Corporation, a multinational government-funded think-tank. “Every advanced intelligence agency does hacking, even if they say they don’t. There isn’t any evidence, because if there was they wouldn’t be doing their job properly. China is always in the files of the US, but it always denies it, and Russia has the world’s best mathematicians and cryptographers.”
Earlier this autumn, newspaper reports alleged that strategic computers in London’s MoD, as well as German and Pentagon systems, had been hacked into. Experts believe the People’s Liberation Army to be behind the attacks, although China has denied it. As usual, the attacks were played down, with the governments involved insisting nothing classified had been accessed, but then they’re hardly going to admit that important secrets had leaked.
Eavesdropping might be the biggest use of cyberwar tactics, but the stakes are higher when one nation takes direct action against another. Earlier this year, the Estonian government accused its Russian counterpart of an “act of war” over alleged state-sponsored hacking, following a wave of advanced DoS attacks.