Cyberwarfare: Evolution & Impact

Ila Avinash, Summer Intern

In the late twentieth century, the widespread use of the Internet revolutionized the speed at which information was collected, computed, and shared. Suddenly, the standard of life became an instantaneous one--where a singular thought could be seen by the rest of the globe in seconds. However, this revolutionary concept did not come without setbacks. Breaches in security to obtain information illegally were done at the individual, corporate, and even global scale in order to weaken and exploit an enemy, or what is commonly known as cyberwarfare.

Conceptions & Development of Warfare

When most people hear the term “warfare”, their mind immediately goes to a battlefield fought with weapons, explosions, and even hand-to-hand combat. Traditionally, these aspects were all crucial requirements in order to determine a conflict as warfare, where weakening an enemy meant the significant loss of life was unavoidable. This type of combat is known as kinetic warfare and, until the turn of the twentieth century, was the only type of feasible conflict available.

The development of the internet and how ingrained it is in our society has caused there to be a new way for countries to be left vulnerable for attacks. Unlike traditional warfare, cyberwarfare does not always mean causing casualties to another country: oftentimes it revolves around shutting down communication systems, industrial power plants and other important aspects of a country’s infrastructure. Although cyberwarfare is a relatively new method of warfare, there are many examples of it in modern history, and they show how detrimental cyberwarfare can be to a country.

Historical Context

The implementation of the Geneva Conventions in 1949 became the first major turn of events in shifting the battlefield from a physical to a cyber location. Comprised of four treaties, the Conventions outlined the standards for international law when it came to humanitarian treatment during wartime. As a result, the guaranteed safety of civilians became the tipping point for modern warfare, as a country, enterprise, or individual could not intentionally attack another without physical casualties. This, in turn, paved the way for cyberwarfare attacks, as they are non-lethal in nature and did not explicitly break any of the Geneva Convention’s laws.

However, this path did not come without severe disadvantages. Despite cyberwarfare’s potential to impact a target without loss of life, it broadened the battlefield as well as the unpredictability of an attack. Once the Internet became more common in everyday life, hacking subsequently became more widespread, with less technique needed in order to achieve their goals. Hackers were no longer using their skills to test the Internet’s limits and weaknesses for educational purposes—as they had in the 1980s—but rather, to profit from exploiting those weaknesses. Suddenly, the only thing worse than losing civilian lives was the loss of crucial information that could be used to exploit a country’s weaknesses if it were to fall into enemy hands.

Historical Context

A cyberwar most often has more than just financial implications on the economy or any single company that is under attack. With the way cyberwarfare has been introduced, many still do not know the direct effect it can have on the individual. Ignorance and unawareness can be an enemy’s most lethal weapon, making it easier for them to successfully obtain what they are after—whether it be monetary or information-based.

Data is information, and information is power. Companies that individuals are connected to have been collecting individual’s data for years. Everything from login credentials, credit card information, social security, and incriminating messages or photos are being stored away, and in some cases, can be legally sold to the highest bidder or taken by force. Nonetheless, hackers are after it, as to own an individual’s, a company’s, or even a nation’s crucial information is to own them. In order to keep up, risk management becomes an ever-growing field within cybersecurity in order to ensure that from individual to the nation, it is easier to identify threats and mitigate them as soon as possible. Strategies such as multi-factor authentication, data encryption, creating encrypted data backups and updating firewalls regularly are all ways to help lessen one’s vulnerability.

Cyberwar is inevitable. Due to the rapid expansion of the Internet, there is plenty of room for weaknesses to be targeted and exploited. Through building awareness and creating a culture of cybersecurity throughout society, one can take personal steps to mitigate an attack at their front steps.