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The destabilizing effect of growing cyberwar capabilities, Part I

Over 60 countries already have some digital warfare and/or intelligence gathering capability

In previous posts, I’ve mentioned the potential for a future cyber attack that could destroy critical infrastructure in the U.S. and/or other nations of the world. The resulting economic and social implosion is almost unimaginable. It would take many months, even years to reestablish power grid functionality.

A rising threat

According to several recent Wall Street Journal articles, this potential is by no means limited to major state players like the U.S., China and Russia. Over 60 countries already have some digital warfare and/or intelligence gathering capability; 49 nations have purchased offensive cyber tools. Even in the West, domestic surveillance–a related problem–is rapidly expanding.

There are powerful forces driving this cyber-arms race, creating a tenuous balance and growing instability.

Destabilizing forces

  • Less powerful governments like that of North Korea are hard at work developing cyberwar capabilities in an attempt to even the odds against larger countries like the U.S. Last year’s Sony attacks demonstrate that government’s resolve and potential for doing harm.
  • Unlike conventional weapons, cyber attack tools are illusive and hard to track. For this reason, once released on the Internet, they can be hijacked, reverse engineered and duplicated by other nations for use against the nation of origin.
  • Our government recently admitted to having offensive cyber war capabilities, creating a potential cyber theft vulnerability comparable to that of our conventional weapons being captured by ISIS in Iraq.
  • Still more alarming–over time such tools are likely to fall into the hands of terrorist organizations like ISIS as well as run of the mill criminals for use against civilian populations and businesses. There’s no way to insulate cyber military technology from the rest of the Internet.
  • In short, Cyber has emerged as now the fifth military domain, joining land, air, sea, and space warfare. Military budgets for cyber war defensive and offensive capabilities are in the billion, though the exact amount is not public information. It is known, however, that the U.S. annual security spending exceeds by at least 200% that of any other nation.

In my next installment, I’ll provide an overview of U.S. efforts to develop cyberwar ‘rules of engagement’ and what we understand of U.S. and other nations’ military cyber operations.

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