What is cyberwar?
At its core, cyberwarfare is the use of digital attacks by one country or nation to disrupt the computer systems of another with the aim of create significant damage, death or destruction.
What does cyberwarfare look like?
Cyberwar is still an emerging concept, but many experts are concerned that it is likely to be a significant component of any future conflicts. As well as troops using conventional weapons like guns and missiles, future wars will also be fought by hackers using computer code to attack an enemy’s infrastructure.
Governments and intelligence agencies worry that digital attacks against vital infrastructure — like banking systems or power grids — will give attackers a way of bypassing a country’s traditional defences.
And unlike standard military attacks, a cyberattack can be launched instantaneously from any distance, with little obvious evidence in the build-up, and it is often extremely hard to trace such an attack back to its originators. Modern economies, underpinned by computer networks that run everything from sanitation to food distribution and communications, are particularly vulnerable to such attacks, especially as these systems are in the main poorly designed and protected.
The head of the US National Security Agency (NSA) Admiral Michael Rogers said his worst case cyberattack scenariowould involve « outright destructive attacks », focused on some aspects of critical US infrastructure and coupled with data manipulation « on a massive scale ». Shutting down the power supply or scrambling bank records could easily do major damage to any economy. And some experts warn it’s a case of when, not if.
What is the definition of cyberwarfare?
Whether an attack should be considered to be an act of cyberwarfare depends on a number of factors. These can include the identity of the attacker, what they are doing, how they do it — and how much damage they inflict.
Like other forms of war, cyberwarfare is usually defined as a conflict between states, not individuals. Many countries are now building up military cyberwarfare capabilities, both to defend against other nations and also to attack if necessary.
Attacks by individual hackers, or even groups of hackers, would not usually be considered to be cyberwarfare, unless they were being aided and directed by a state.
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