10 things you didn't know about cyberwarfare

Military experts explain current thinking about politically motivated network attacks

3. Cyberwarfare may involve subtle, targeted attacks rather than brute force.

Most people equate cyberwarfare with the massive denial-of-service (DoS) attacks that Russian activists aimed at Estonia in 2007. But cyberwarfare doesn't need to be waged on such a large scale. Instead of taking out the entire electric grid, a hacker could take out a substation that supports a particular air defense system. Much as we have precision-guided missiles in conventional warfare, we may have precision-guided cyberattacks.

4. The enemy's goal may be to cause chaos rather than destruction.

We tend to think about an enemy blowing up buildings or transportation systems during war. But the political objective of cyberwarfare may be to generate chaos among citizens rather than to destroy infrastructure. For example, what if an enemy launched a cyberattack against a country's financial systems and it appeared that everyone's money was gone from their banks? That kind of attack wouldn't require bombing any bank buildings to create chaos.

5. Data manipulation -- rather than data theft or destruction -- is a serious threat.

During the Persian Gulf War, a group of Dutch hackers allegedly penetrated dozens of U.S. military computer systems and offered to provide their help to Saddam Hussein. When the breaches were discovered, the military had to stop some deployments and verify that the data in their databases were accurate and hadn't been manipulated by the hackers. This incident demonstrates how misinformation inside hacked computers systems could harm a country's ability to respond to a cyberattack.

6. Private networks will be targets.

Most of our country's critical infrastructure -- energy, transportation, telecommunications and financial -- is privately owned. The companies that operate these networks need to understand that they are certain to be targeted in cyberwarfare, and they need to spend money accordingly to secure their networks, systems and data. This is one reason military experts recommend that operators of critical infrastructure engage with government officials and set up procedures and protocols before they are attacked.

7. When private sector networks are hit, the Defense Department will assume control.

There's a misconception that the owners and operators of critical infrastructure are responsible for cybersecurity. That perspective won't hold up in the face of cyberwarfare, experts predict. Just as the military is responsible for securing the airspace and ground around an electricity plant, so it is going to assume responsibility for the cybersecurity of that plant if a cyberattack should occur, they warn.

8. Private networks might be used to launch a cyberattack.

If companies don't properly secure their networks, their systems may be taken over by a botnet and used in a cyberwarfare incident. For example, two-thirds of the computers used to launch DoS attacks against Estonia were inside the United States although they were controlled by Russian hactivists, experts say. Typically, the machines used in a cyberattack are not owned by the attacker. Most companies don't realize they are vulnerable to having their network assets being used for cyberwarfare.

9. Don't ignore the insider threat.

One of the biggest vulnerabilities in networks is from insiders with legitimate access to computers and data. The same threat exists in cyberwarfare. One way this threat might occur is for the enemy to kidnap a family member of a network operator and then force the network operator to install malware. That's one reason government agencies and private companies running critical infrastructure need adequate security controls over their employees.

10. Cyberwarfare is warfare.

Looking at cyberwarfare as separate from traditional warfare is a mistake; it has to be tied to physical warfare, experts say. For example, an enemy might blow up a building on the ground that disables a satellite, which in turn disables Internet access. In a cyberwar, network attacks will likely be combined with physical attacks. So protecting against cyberwarfare needs to be considered as part of a broader military strategy.

Join the newsletter!

Error: Please check your email address.
Rocket to Success - Your 10 Tips for Smarter ERP System Selection

Tags cyber warfare

Keep up with the latest tech news, reviews and previews by subscribing to the Good Gear Guide newsletter.

Carolyn Duffy Marsan

Network World
Show Comments

Most Popular Reviews

Latest Articles


PCW Evaluation Team

Ben Ramsden

Sharp PN-40TC1 Huddle Board

Brainstorming, innovation, problem solving, and negotiation have all become much more productive and valuable if people can easily collaborate in real time with minimal friction.

Sarah Ieroianni

Brother QL-820NWB Professional Label Printer

The print quality also does not disappoint, it’s clear, bold, doesn’t smudge and the text is perfectly sized.

Ratchada Dunn

Sharp PN-40TC1 Huddle Board

The Huddle Board’s built in program; Sharp Touch Viewing software allows us to easily manipulate and edit our documents (jpegs and PDFs) all at the same time on the dashboard.

George Khoury

Sharp PN-40TC1 Huddle Board

The biggest perks for me would be that it comes with easy to use and comprehensive programs that make the collaboration process a whole lot more intuitive and organic

David Coyle

Brother PocketJet PJ-773 A4 Portable Thermal Printer

I rate the printer as a 5 out of 5 stars as it has been able to fit seamlessly into my busy and mobile lifestyle.

Kurt Hegetschweiler

Brother PocketJet PJ-773 A4 Portable Thermal Printer

It’s perfect for mobile workers. Just take it out — it’s small enough to sit anywhere — turn it on, load a sheet of paper, and start printing.

Featured Content

Product Launch Showcase

Latest Jobs

Don’t have an account? Sign up here

Don't have an account? Sign up now

Forgot password?