August 16, 2012
The days of Neo and Morpheus manipulating physical laws in the Matrix through cryptic codes in order to defeat enemies may not be as far away as we think. Although the Matrix may have been a fictional story created in 1999, events over a decade later suggest that this could very well be the future of the world – and at the very least is something that’s already beginning.
Welcome to the new front of fighting
The success of the Internet and the growing appeal to be a hacker, whether in secret or as a profession, has cultivated the beginning stages of the Matrix’s environment. The term cyber warfare has been continuously thrown around since 1991, but what exactly does it mean and how does it affect businesses, the average citizen and everything that resides in a nation?
Cyber warfare is a political or organizational digital attack for information (spying) or destruction (sabotage of an information network). These attacks can steal or alter data, disable websites, damage networks, and even cripple an entire nation’s information infrastructure. Unlike physical attacks, however, it’s a lot harder to detect a cyber threat since well-developed worms/viruses can go unnoticed in codes and infect a system instantaneously.
Powerful, secret punches
Cyber attacks aren’t necessarily brand new. In 1998, the US government hacked into Serbia’s air defense system to alter air traffic in order to initiate bombings on targets. In 2007 a security breach in one the US’s nuclear facilitates was traced back to a Chinese organization trying to get confidential defense information. Most recently, hackers infiltrated Iran’s nuclear facilities and implanted a worm that blasted AC/DC’s Thunderstruck at set times throughout the plants.
These attacks aren’t just propelled by government agencies though. Cyber attacks can originate from a group, or even an individual. One of the most prominent cyber organizations is Anonymous, a “hacktivist” group that opposes Internet censorship and surveillance, and believes in justice as the members wage against corruption. In January of 2012 Anonymous gave the world a preview of what the group is capable of by retaliating after the US Department of Justice and FBI shut down Megaupload.com for copyright infringement. Anonymous responded by swiftly shutting down the websites of the Department of Justice, Universal Music Group, Recording Industry Association of America, Motion Picture Association of America Broadcast Music, Inc and the FBI. The group is also credited for the arrest of Internet predator Chris Forcand with their launch of “Operation Darknet” to stop child pornography websites through a denial-of-service attack (DoS) that took sites offline.
Gearing up, a different way
In today’s information and digital driven society, a cyber attack on a government agency or on a private firm can have significant ripple effects on the general public. Governments all across the world are now gearing up for this next front of fighting by employing computer/program savvy individuals.
During the Def Con hacking conference, the director of National Security and head of the US Cyber Command, Keith Alexander, introduced “the most important person for our future”. This individual was CyFi, a well-known hacker who also happens to be 11 years old. CyFi is amongst hundreds of hackers’ ages 8 through 18 who attended Def Con to show off and learn new hacking tricks of the trade.
Although little is known about Anonymous, the group claims “Anonymous does not have a membership list, and you can’t really ‘join’ it either. If you identify with or say you are Anonymous, you are Anonymous. No one has the authority to say whether you are Anonymous or not, except for yourself.” Since the start of the organization, it has appealed to more individuals, leading to a growth in the number of Anonymous members.
Looking overseas, China stated in The Economist that it “plans of winning informationized wars by the mid-21st century”. China isn’t the only contender in this arena. Russia, Israel and North Korea are all assembling their cyber-armies in preparation for this next frontier. These countries are pouring in money to ensure that they have the foundation to prevent a catastrophic cyber attack, as well as preparing to lead an attack of their own.
So now what?
In a Department of Defense press release, Keith Alexander states that America isn’t prepared for a cyber attack, as it should be. Alexander gave the example that on a scale from 1 to 10 in preparedness for a cyber attack, America is currently standing at a 3.
But these cyber attacks aren’t just limited to governmental fronts. As an innovative country, America holds major world powerhouses like Google, Wall-Street, Apple, Goldman Sachs and Exxon Mobil Corp. Cyber attacks can be directed at these companies and cripple them.
This in turn will harm America’s infrastructure as companies begin to lose control of private information. Depending on the size of the attack, a huge dent in America’s economy or an energy crisis for the American people can all occur. All of this leads to a chaotic state as the average citizen tries to understand what’s going on as government and company officials try to defend and reverse an attack.
The most dangerous part of a cyber attack is often overlooked. Databases can eventually be recovered and be rebuilt. But during the frenzy of an information blackout, America will be extremely vulnerable for a physical attack. Governments and corporations are still trying to figure out the cyber arena in order to protect precious information from slipping into the wrong hands.
Maybe the cyber-sphere will eventually become like that of “The Matrix” and The One will come to press the reset button. But until then, what are your thoughts on how the US Government & corporations can better train and prepare for cyber attacks?
*Catchfire Media does not condone any malicious activities.