The fifth domain of warfare – Cyber Space

This post is a follow-up to the previous post on cyberterrorism.

After land, sea, air and space cyber space has become the next platform for warfare. Cyberwarfare is defined by Richard A. Clarke (government security expert) as ‘actions by a nation-state to penetrate another nation’s computers or networks for the purposes of causing damage or disruption.’

What makes cyberwarfare the next big threat to many countries? In this electronic age almost all government activities have gone online giving way to the concept of “e-government”. E-Government is an easy and transparent interaction platform between citizens/companies/other governments and government. This means that an excessive amount of data is communicated through internet. These data together with other official information/systems are named as “digital assets” (e.g. official documents, trading systems, personal data…) and are treasured by nations. According to President Barack Obama, U.S’s digital infrastructure is considered as a “strategic national asset”. In fact in 2009, this cyberwarfare market was estimated at around 8.2 billion dollars.

On one hand digital assets are crucial to countries but on the other hand cyber weapons are so easily affordable, launched at low cost and deployed within minutes. Cyber attacks are becoming more common, frequent, sophisticated and intellectual.

We all know that internet was initially designed for connectivity and convenience rather than security. But the ever expanding internet network over unsecure platforms and growing dependence on computers only multiply the opportunities for cyber-attacks. Also, Internet has reduced distances between countries which is convenient for hackers since now states are just a firewall away. Manipulating trading systems and financial data, attacks on power grids may lead to financial chaos and economic damages within days. Cyber weapons are just too effective and are able to massively destruct, disrupt or manipulate digital content which worries governments.

The question is how are these countries fighting against cyber-attacks? More governments are planning to develop defensive and offensive cyberwarfare strategies and capabilities. In July 2010, about 15 countries (including US, UK, China and Russia) have signed an agreement to follow the norms of accepted behaviours in cyberspace imposed by the U.N. This is the first official agreement to fight cyberwarfare.

Singapore had a recent conference in June 2010 which discussed about the measures our country should adopt to be prepared and be able to fight cyberwarfare if such situation occurs. The chief executive of the International Institute of Strategic Studies, Dr John Chipman said that “the cyber space is unregulated and there is no law of cyber conflict, and no accepted rules or norms of engagement”.

In my opinion, cyberwarfare is probably the most dangerous that our world has seen so far. Cheap, fast and efficient weapons are what nations fear about. I think that countries should start taking more actions and at a faster pace. Hopefully, the first U.N. agreement will encourage more in the future.

Cyberterrorism and Google Earth

Cyberterrorism is often considered as a subset of Cybercrime and it is the “convergence of terrorism and cyberspace” as cited in Denning’s Testimony before the Special Oversight Panel on Terrorism (Denning, 2000). Though there is no universally agreed definition for the term, in short it is the activity of using Internet to plan and/or execute terrorist attacks. It can either mean attacks on computers or network in order to steal crucial information or the use of Internet technologies to plot attacks. This post talks about the later aspect of Cyberterrorism.

Terrorists use a wide range of technologies to plot an attack like specialized softwares (e.g. for hacking), but also freely available tools used by any internet user –such as Google Earth.

Google Earth offers very clear and accurate satellite images of almost every part of the planet which is creating more and more concerns among the governments. Their stand is that Google Earth captures very sensitive sites of their countries such as army camps, government buildings and so on. They worry, doubt and sometime even confirm that terrorists use these images to study the sites in detail and plan their attacks accordingly.

In fact, the only surviving terrorist from the 2008 Mumbai attack has confessed that they used Google Earth to study their target sites and synchronised their acts accordingly.

Google’s take on this is that Google Earth’s noble uses outweigh the misuses of the tool. It says that the tool is used for many life-saving situations during natural disasters e.g. earthquakes, forest fires and so on.  This can be related to the misuse of Craigslist mentioned by Anand during lecture.

The current solution is that many governments blur out images showing sensitive areas and other countries just ban the tool (such as in Iran and Sudan).

But to what extent can the governments, especially for large countries, hide the numerous sensitive places from Google Earth images? And for those countries that ban the tool: aren’t they missing the good uses of the tool as well? What can/should Google do to overcome this issues and complaints? And finally to what extent can Google or Craigslist be responsible for the misuses, considered as cybercrimes, which have occurred?