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The face of modern warfare changes along with the societies and the technologies that surround them. Theorists like Richard Clarke, the author of Cyber War, have long predicated a change where information technology, and through that information security, become an integral part of all military operations. To put it in a populist manner, Cyber War is coming, if it is not here already.
I shall be the first to admit that I do not like the term Cyber War. It gives the misunderstood impression that warfare will be technologized to the point where the brutality and horror of war no longer is a limitation to state conflict. That the brutality of nation state conflicts can be sanitized to the point where one decides the outcome of conflict through computer game-type military activities where nobody is hurt and none need die.
Unfortunatly this is not the case today and I fear, in spite of the allure it has to those of us whose job it is to risk our lives for our nations, it will never be the case in the future either.
What is true, however, is that cyber operations will be a natural and integrated part of any future military operations. This is acknowledged by Norway’s Government, the Armed Forces and our Cyber Defence organization. The reason for this is simply that modern military forces are so technology-heavy that the ability to influence their operational readiness and capability, thus facilitating subsequent kinetic attack, gives benefits too great to be ignored.
Likewise the technological dependency of modern societies is such that, should one seek to attack another nation’s territory, the use of cyber means can set off effects that make such an attack much more likely to succeed. To give some examples: How difficult would mobilization become if internet connections and telephone lines were not working; and which strategic benefits could one gain from attacking a nation that was hamstrung by nation-wide blackouts? The possibilities are close to endless.
Which is why many in our profession, as well as many political analysts, raised eyebrows when a cyber incident struck South Korea while the political rhetoric was getting increasingly heated on both sides of the Korean border. Admittedly the incident was aimed primarily at mass media and the financial sector, rather than military or militarily related targets, but the scope and impact of it still drew the focus of the world.
No military attack followed in the wake of this cyber incident. The consequences of the incident have probably been cleared up by now and systems integrity has been restored. So how, then, should one think of the incident that took place – what could the motivation be?
One possible scenario, of course, is that the incident is unrelated to North Korea, the North Korean leadership, or the current situation between the two neighbour states.
A second scenario is that of a digital show of force. “We have the ability and we have the will to influence you – so beware”.
A third option, also plausible, is that of the incident being a test aimed at mapping the response of the Government in Seoul so as to fine-tune future attacks.
Other options could include anything from runaway code to cancelled attacks – it is impossible to say for certain. What is certain, however, is that the decision to use a code-set of this type is not easily made. Producing what is, essentially, a cyber weapon is a process that takes time. And it is a one-off. By now it is reasonable to assume that most network sensors in the world will have been updated to stop the code used, and that whatever hole they used into the affected systems have been plugged.
What is also certain is that the first wave of future military operations will be digital, and that cyber attacks in the future will be aimed at closely supporting and facilitating, conventional military operations.
From this, a third certainty can be brought to light: Cyber security and cyber defence are important capabilities for any nation, both from a military and a civilian point of view - now and even more so in the future.
In the light of these notions, it is my please pleasure to recommend two articles that underline the seriousity of the challenges that I have adressed in this article, and hope that you will enjoy the articles.
Read the articles here:
PS: Are you interested in cyber? Make sure you don't miss out on the Cyber Conference April 18th 2013. For more information, visit http://forsvaret.no/aktuelt/hva-skjer/cyberkonferansen/Sider/default.aspx.
*Major General Roar Sundseth is the Commanding Officer for the Norwegian Armed Forces Cyber Defence. For a complete bio, visit http://forsvaret.no/aktuelt/hva-skjer/cyberkonferansen/Sider/default.aspx