Recent cyber attacks on Israel may appear to be an aspect of cyber warfare, but in reality they’re merely cyber activism.
From Globes online:
Quantity, not quality, is the guideline of hackers trying to shut down Israeli websites in response to Operation Cast Lead. Information security solutions developer Applicure Technologies Ltd. (TASE:APCR) reports a multifold increase in hacking at Israeli websites, as well as a large increase in attempts to hack protected websites.
We’re hearing more and more of cyber attacks associated with physical attacks; Estonia, Georgia, and now Israel. More often than not the attacks (usually website defacements or distributed denial of service (DDoS) attacks) are perpetrated by a lose-knit group of decentralized actors (open source warfare) rather than a well organized attack orchestrated by a military, government, or other hierarchal entity. But as the tactics develop and effectiveness increases, cyber attacks will become more mainstream, just as other technologies of warfare develop and we progress further into 5th generation warfare or 5GW.
But the key question is; in the grand scheme of warfare just how effective are cyber attacks? Current state of the art has for the most part been low-scale and minimally effective for several reasons. Obviously the more developed and connected a target is, the more potential cyber attacks have for disruption. Also, the better organized and developed the cyber ‘army’ is, the more effective they will be. That doesn’t mean the cyber army has to be centralized, merely organized in a way that provides meaningful intelligence, attack cohesion and relevancy, etc. Most cyber attacks that we’ve seen, that have been associated with armed conflict, have been largely disorganized, perpetrated by ad-hoc organizations, and have largely been centered around propaganda dissemination rather than system disruption.
In other words, the majority of what we’ve seen so far has mainly been cyber activism; defacing websites with propaganda, spamming propaganda, etc, taken by itself has minimal effect on the outcome of physical warfare and should probably be a sub-category of psychological warfare.
So what are the gains of cyber warfare when it’s properly implemented? I’ll organize a few examples into two categories; tactical and strategic gains.
Forget about website defacement, imagine if one could disrupt satellites and hinder GPS guided bombs, like the GBU-39 Small-Diameter Bomb (SDB) that Israel is currently deploying in large numbers. Better yet, imagine being able to control those satellites and redirect those bombs to a target of your choice (a hospital or baby formula factory if that’s your style). But let’s not stop there, now that we control the satellites, we don’t just have control of bombs, but to a lesser extent war planes, UAVs, and any other weapon system that relies heavily on GPS positioning.
Imagine compromising the enemy’s C4ISR infrastructure and not only knowing where all enemy assets are, but having the ability to provide false information (if at least a few times before being discovered).
Crippling the network of a carrier group would be a punch to the solar plexus, which would allow for a follow-up attack, such as a swarm attack or suicide attack by aircraft and small watercraft. The combination of the two less-conventional and relatively inexpensive attack methods stands a good chance of forcing the carrier group to disengage until they can repair damage, replace assets, and restore their data network. This kind of ‘more bang for your buck’ is one of the key advantages of cyber warfare.
Note that neutralizing a carrier group borders on strategic, as these are key assets in any expeditionary force of modern warfare.
Nearly all national economies are tied to the Internet and utilize a computer network of some sort. A concerted, long term disruption of these systems could seriously impact the enemy’s economy. Cyber attacks on oil bourses, stock exchanges, etc could reduce the ability of a country to generate revenue and fund their campaign. This could also help subvert the peoples’ hearts and minds, turning the populace against the war effort.
Cyber attacks on key industries could disrupt a country’s ability to produce weapon systems. For example, if an enemy were to continuously disrupt or outright destroy data and information systems for Northrop Grumman, they could have a severe impact on the production of UAV’s, which the US military as come to heavily utilize.
Theft of military and industrial secrets could provide a needed boost to a state. Just look at China, one of the leaders in emerging cyber warfare and certainly adept at espionage.
The list goes on; electrical grids (collateral damage to industry, economy, etc), cell phone grids, nuclear power plants (destruction of which would also be a physical attack), commercial shipping entities, etc.
Cyber warfare has huge potential and we’re only seeing the earliest stages of it now. As its effectiveness develops and as the world embraces ‘teh intarwebs’ we’ll begin to see a whole new way to wage war by smaller and smaller players, both state and non-state.