Photo: Gizmodo

Ever since I presented at a national security conference, I have taken a personal interest in cyberwarfare in the media and beyond. Through my past research, this topic now sheds a new light in today’s international diplomacy. Here is my article published in The Miami Student, where I was an editorial editor, in 2012 on this ongoing issue:

It’s debatable if we’ve made “progress” in the Middle East since the unwarranted 9/11 attacks on US soil. But what many fail to realize is that there is a different war upon us, intangible yet detrimental in its efforts to seize information: this would be the dawning age of cyberwarfare, however, it’s not such a new concept as everyone makes it out to be.  Since the creation of the Internet (originally ARPANET, which was created by the US Department of Defense to strengthen informational data systems and communication), some countries have challenged our development in the cyber universe, working strenuously to extract information to not only use against the United States, but also one other. In the last two years, some of these countries have been rumored to be Russia, Iran, China, North Korea and Israel to name a few.

This past October, journalism professor Cheryl Heckler and I had the pleasure of attending and speaking at the National Cryptologic History Symposium — “Cryptology in War and Peace: Crisis Points in History” in Maryland. On the first day of the conference, Gen. Keith B. Alexander, the director of the National Security Agency, and Lt. Gen. James R. Clapper, the director of National Intelligence, both spoke to audience members about their outlook for strengthening our defenses at home as well as overseas. Predictably, both addressed how the US will now be working harder than ever to fightcyberwarfare.

Presenters at the symposium addressed both classified and unclassified information, but I suppose the one presenter that really gave a mind-blowing description of cyberwarfare in the future was Stewart Baker, author of Skating on Stilts: Why We Aren’t Stopping Tomorrow’s Terrorism and former first Assistant Secretary of the United States Department of Homeland Security under the Presidency of George W. Bush. Seeing as some of his information may have been deemed “classified,” I will provide the basic highlights.

Baker showed us an industrial machine solely operating from a computer, but no one controlled the computer — the computer thought for itself. It was somewhat equivalent to what occurred in June 2010 with a computer virus called Stuxnet: a virus (that can read a system, copy it and then operate entirely on its own) that targets industrial software and equipment. Imagine a country, unable to be tracked by our defense systems, targeting industrial factories, water plants, food distribution plants, etc., just shutting down each facility, or even worse … infecting it. We would be hopeless to even know how to address such an issue or even survive it. That was the image Baker put in my mind that day.

So why have I waited so long to write about what was addressed? For one, this information scared me to think it was possible. And two, I wanted to see if what I heard would become reality, so I gave it a couple months to see if these theories manifested into more than just rumors. So have they?

Forbes contributor E.D. Kain addresses in his article, “Cyber Attacks Take Down Two Israeli Websites – Is Cyber Warfare The Next Front In The Middle East Conflict?” that this conflict in the age of Internet hacking leaves, “… many Israelis [rattled] by the attacks which represent a new front in the Israeli Middle East conflict, so far defined by more traditional terrorist attacks.” He quotes Yoni Shemesh of the Tel Aviv Stock Exchange saying, “It is a real cyber war.”

Just this week, NPR published “US Not Afraid To Say It: China’s The Cyber Bad Guy,” in which China seems to be “super aggressive” in its attempts to “cyber-intrude” economic espionage. In the article, former director of National Intelligence and prior to that, the director of the National Security Agency, Mike McConnell states, “We know, and there’s good evidence … of very deliberate, focused cyber-espionage to capture very valuable research and development information, or innovative ideas, or source code or business plans for their own advantage.”

Has it shut down our way of living? No. But is cyberwarfare a threat? Yes, one that the American public should familiarize itself with fast. It’s not just a question of what or who is stealing information but how far an enemy is willing to go for this information. Civil liberties and privacy issues will be threatened in escalated attempts to retrieve things we take for granted. Furthermore, our involvement in the Middle East will change if cyberwarfare persists between these warring countries. As Kain says politely but boldly, “The more hyper-connected we become and the more interdependent we become, the more we rely on technology for all of our day-to-day needs. But that very hyper-connectivity makes us more vulnerable to cyber-terrorism and other threats.” Inevitably, as Shemesh said, it is real.

Regardless of which country cyberwarfare attacks are endemically leading, it is in everyone’s best interest to become more informed on this subject before we find ourselves in an even more problematic state; or worse, involved in another war, but a war undoubtedly much different from any other.

By Oriana Pawlyk

Editorial Editor

Published: Monday, February 20, 2012

Updated: Monday, February 20, 2012 22:02