The New Atlantis, Fall 2010
March 9, 2011
by Christopher Ford
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These are early days in the age of cyberwar. In the developed world, nearly every sphere of life now depends upon computers and networks, a fact that has introduced great vulnerabilities. The United States in particular — with a modern infrastructure, a plugged-in population, numerous enemies and competitors around the world, and a military whose overawing conventional prowess is heavily reliant on computer networks — has reason to feel exposed to cyber attack.
U.S. Department of Defense computer systems are already probed millions of times a day by would-be computer intruders. Some succeed in becoming more than would-be intruders, such as the still-unidentified assailants who not long ago managed to access terabytes of files related to the new F-35 Joint Strike Fighter jet. Computer espionage is already an established tool of twenty-first century geopolitics, and attacks upon computer systems and networks are now emerging as a powerful tool of warfare. When Russia invaded the Republic of Georgia in 2008, Georgian computer systems were subjected to crippling attacks intriguingly coincident with the sudden Russian offensive — an event some consider to be the first wave in the new tide of cyberwar. Palestinian and Israeli hackers reportedly attacked each other’s computer systems during the Gaza conflict in 2008-09. And more recently, the Stuxnet computer worm seems to have damaged work on Iran’s nuclear reactor at Bushehr and the country’s ongoing uranium enrichment operations at Natanz. Computer attackers — whether they be hacker-activists aligned with no government, cyber privateers quietly encouraged by a government, or authorized governmental cyber soldiers — seem likely to play increasingly important roles in future conflicts. . . .
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Christopher A. Ford was formerly Senior Fellow and Director of the Center for Technology and Global Security at Hudson Institute.
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