What Is Cyber Warfare?

1088 words | 4 page(s)

Advancements in internet technology coupled with the integration of cyberspace with the physical space have reshaped not only how nations relate but also presented a new war front used by the government against their perceived opponents (Armistead el at. 1). Cyber warfare is a computer or network-based conflict involving politically motivated attacks by a country on another nation’s computer and information systems. The more a state expands its capabilities in cyberspace, the more vulnerable it becomes. As a result, countries such as China are trying to separate from keeping crucial state infrastructure isolated from internet reach. Countries such as Russia have thrived on the cyber war front by developing the expertise to infiltrate computer and internet systems of other countries such as the United States with a view of negatively influencing public opinion or gaining access to important military and strategic information. Cyber warfare is, therefore, a critical tool in the information era because it either exposes a country to espionage or it equips them with sufficient tools to gain control over their opponents.

Cyber warfare involves sabotage, which targets military and financial computer infrastructure to disrupt a nation’s standard operations. The attacks also extend to equipment such as power, communication infrastructure, and energy supply among others. It may also include espionage and security breaches which exploit information systems by disabling networks, national or organizational computer software or the internet to steal classified information from rival institutions or state for military, financial or political advantage (Thompson et al. 43). Cyber-attacks can be selective with controlled ramifications. For instance, a cyber-attack may target a nation’s economy without destroying the available infrastructure or may target both the infrastructure and the economy. An attack on the economy may paralyze economic productivity of a country, create public panic and negatively affect lives of the citizens.

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Cyber warfare is evolving into a more progressive domain by enhancing the capabilities of weaker states to take on stronger ones on the cyberspace strategically. The offensive capability of weaker countries against the cyberspace of countries with stronger military capability disrupts the traditional power hierarchies as weaker nations gain influence on the internal affairs of other countries. The cyber warfare is attractive to states because it can be planned and executed without the possibility of targeted states getting to learn of it prior to the attack and hence rendering them incapable of deterrence. Powerful countries such as the United States, Russia and China depend more on their elaborate cyber-infrastructure for economic and political stability, making cyber-attacks on their cyberspace more effective.

Cyber warfare provides a strategic advantage for asymmetric warfare to the states that are weaker on the military front to disrupt the information infrastructure of stronger states and use stolen information as deterrence against potential attacks. For example, the United States has adequate military and other war resources but will often be worried about potential cyber-attacks from radical regimes such as North Korea or Syria. While symmetrical warfare is not possible between the United States and these weaker states, the cyberspace provides a platform for the smaller states to wage asymmetrical warfare against the United States. The United States economy, as well as its military, is highly networked, leading to an absolute reliance on the cyberspace for its national security and global geopolitical strength. Using proactive safeguards, however, the United States and other powerful nations ensure that cyber-attacks do not reach any target of consequence since it is not wired and its digital assets are not networked to the outside world or because the networked assets are of little importance to the government.

Cyber warfare is also important in the 21st century because it achieves maximum damage at minimal cost compared to military combat. For instance, 21000 machine botnet is less expensive yet can easily cause damage and disruption more hundred times its cost. As a result, it eliminates the cost of purchasing the conventional weapon as well as the operational risks. Sabotaging a country’s cyberspace or infiltrating classified data often leaves the affected countries more susceptible to external attacks or economic damage in a cheaper and more convenient manner than a military combat.

Taking the example of Iran and United States, asymmetric feature of cyber warfare can have significant ramifications. For example, the Iranian military would rely on cyber warfare to attack US targets because such attacks would be less costly execute; they are more covert and result in greater economic and political impact. The use of cyber warfare may lead to a higher asymmetrical outcome because it is much easier for a small state to gather together few bright individuals to cause severe loss to a more powerful nation provided the attacked country is dependent on its cyberspace and information infrastructure (Colarik et al. 40). Unlike the yesteryears when the war relied on sophisticated weaponry, tanks, and revered generals, the 21st-century war relies on the computer, the internet, information technology and just a few tech prodigies.

Cyber warfare has also gained prominence as countries strive to bridge the digital gap that persists on the global technological stage. Countries that have the stronger technical know-how and greater control of the global cyberspace enjoy a better military advantage. Powerful nations have also realized the fact that developing sophisticated cyber warfare tools requires less human, economic and geographical resources than building a nuclear capability. A greater internet capability enables countries to intercept classified enemy data and mitigate attacks before they happen. Cyber warfare equally allows less powerful countries with inadequate resources to stage sustainable wars with stronger ones using relatively less expensive resources to stage asymmetrical warfare with stronger states.

Cyber warfare does not incur any human casualty, unlike the traditional war where opponents contended with greater loss of lives. Cyber-attacks can be launched with just a few tech gurus from any place regardless of geographical location of the attacker. Most importantly, cyber warfare has made it possible for countries to spy on the activities of perceived enemies or plans to enable it to take necessary action before the rival strikes. Cyber-attacks can disrupt energy, water supplies, payment transaction and lead to more considerable damage to the economy and the society (Thompson et al. 43).

  • Armistead, Thomas, and Leigh Armistead. “A new Frontier in war: Cyber Warfare in Estonia.” Iccws 2015-The Proceedings of the 10th International Conference on Cyber Warfare and Security: ICCWS2015. Academic Conferences Limited, 2015.
  • Colarik, Andrew, and Lech Janczewski. “Establishing cyber warfare doctrine.” Current and Emerging Trends in Cyber Operations. Palgrave Macmillan UK, 2015. 37-50.
  • Thompson, Marcus. “The ADF and cyber warfare.” Australian Defence Force Journal 200 (2016): 43.

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