We are in the midsts of a massive, global war campaign.
There aren’t any corpses (that we know of), no open-plain battlefields, no guns to see. I’m talking about the daily battles being fought in cyberspace between people, groups and nations. Now, these kind of attacks are indeed talked about, but barely at all compared to the scope of what is being carried out. I believe there needs to be more exposure to the dangers of cyber-terrorism and government malware attacks. To ignore, provide dumbed-down explanations or categorize these attackers as solitary lurkers is dangerous and is letting the enemy take the upper hand. Let me explain.
“War is not merely an act of policy but a true political instrument, a continuation of political intercourse carried on with other means” – Carl von Clausewitz.
Hacking traces its roots longer than you’d expect. In 1988, a graduate student from Cornell introduced a worm to ARPAnet (the precursor to the internet), infecting 6,000 government and university servers with a worm. He was fined $10,000 and sentenced to three years of probation (New York Times).
In 2010, Stuxnet was first discovered, and believed to be a sophisticated cyber-weapon jointly built by American and Israeli military forces designed to destroy Iranian nuclear centrifuges.
In 2011, the PlayStation Network was hacked, exposing the private information of 77 million players, in one of the largest data breaches in history. (CBC News).
Earlier this year (2017), the malware WannaCry infected over 230,000 computers, demanding a Bitcoin ransom payment in order to unlock the computer. Over $130,000 was collected by the hackers. The money was laundered through a Chinese bitcoin network -making the money impossible to trace, and the hackers remain at large.
Hackers, and malware they use, have become increasingly complex, with a larger set of victims at stake. Money has been the primary goal of these hacking attacks, but what would happen if our connected devices become the target?
All these examples are astounding, but none can compare the to the recent hacking attack on Ukraine that devastated the country’s infrastructure. Banks, airports, companies and utilities were knocked out in what is appearing to be a state-sponsored attack by Russia. If this attack were done with target missile strike, it would have classified as an open declaration of war.
Now why am I painting such a bleak picture here? Because it’s reality, it’s what’s actually happening in the world, and yet we still forget our passwords, struggle using computers and continue to use passwords like “12345”, and “password” (seriously, these were some of the top-used passwords in the world last year. Please change your password now if it is like any one of these).
John Steinback once said that “all war is a symptom of man’s failure as a thinking animal.” I can whole-heartedly disagree. There is a lot of thinking behind warfare, and the technical complexities involved in creating malware are a testament to the capacity for man to use his/her reason to inflict damage. In fact, there’s another term for kind of action, it’s malice, and it’s the last (and worst) ring of hell in Dante’s inferno. Even in hell, there’s a special place for those who use their intellectual faculties for evil purposes.
Let me go back to my opening quote by Clausewitz. Although hacking started as a solitary activity for edgy computer programers, it has evolved to become part of every country’s defense strategy. Leaders will come to see cyberwarfare as an undercover way of obtaining information, sabotaging enemy assets, smearing campaigns (look no further than the 2016 American Presidential Election) and much more. Computer programming is far beyond the realms of engineers and nerds, it is an essential component of society, and must be embraced by its population as an essential skill to learn. Many times, we interact with machines more than we interact with other humans. It is common sensical therefore, to know our tool’s nuances and workings.
A carpenter knows his tools well and knows when and how to fix them should they fail for some reason. Computers are unfortunately immensely complex machines, created by some of the smartest people in history and machined down to the individual atom. We are hopeless to know how a computer works as we could with say, a hammer. However, I still believe it is our duty to try, and in doing so, we could be better informed and protected from attackers that might want to steal our data.
Since every computer is connected to the internet, and the internet connects every device on earth, it creates a highway whereby anything can interact with the raining streams of data criss-crossing one another. We must shift our mentality from seeing things in a physical dimension and switch instead to a digital dimension. Updating our computers and not clicking on phony emails is good, but not enough. We must engage in a holistic campaign to protect our infrastructures, businesses and personal devices, and that starts with the population having the basic knowledge to protect themselves from these kind of attacks.
The United State’s 2nd amendment allows militias the right to bear arms, it is time that this understanding expand for its citizens to arm themselves with the necessary defenses from malware attacks -for the sake of themselves, their business, and their country.