Cyberwar Defined

War is violent conflict on a large scale, often involving organizations on a national scale. There are many different forms of war and many different levels. We use the terms; civil, conventional, nuclear, chemical, biological, guerilla, asymmetric, urban, jungle, naval, air, desert, trench, psychological, cold and more to describe types of war. A “cold” war is one that is fought mostly by maneuver and threat of military action, with little or no actual physical conflict, but also through espionage and political and economic tensions and even proxy conflicts. In maneuver warfare, the threat of violent action can dictate the physical responses on the battlefield.

Cyberwar is also violent conflict on a large scale, often involving organizations on a national scale. When it is described as attack by computer systems on other computer systems, the violence is not as obvious. But just as in maneuver warfare or a cold war, the tensions created by one form of warfare often translate into physical violence in another form. War is not composed simply of tactical exchanges between kinetic weapons. Cyberwar offers an attacker the ability to take over control of the kinetic weapons of an adversary and turn them against their own forces. It also offers a myriad of branches similar to intelligence warfare or espionage.

Cyberwarfare has the following capabilities:

  • Take control of computer systems
  • Obtain information
  • Alter information
  • Deny use of computer systems
  • Deny use of information

The degree of damage from cyberwarfare often depends upon the nature of the computer systems and information that is involved. If they are related to weapon systems or any other critical infrastructure, the impact can be extreme. Perhaps most important of all is the possibility that these things may be accomplished surreptitiously. Attacks can be delivered in a slow and stealthy manner, persistently delivering damage in small doses until the sum total accumulates to a high level.

All of these functions can be leveraged in conjunction with other forms of warfare. Cyber attacks can be used as warfare “magnifiers” by amplifying damage or lowering defenses to reduce the ability to mitigate damage caused by more conventional warfare types. Either a stealthy cyber attack that compromises the integrity of stock trading platforms or an overt attack that denies access to them could wreak economic havoc by itself and could be used to amplify the damage created by a more conventional economic attack. Cyber attacks can be designed to disrupt the functions supplied by other computing systems, the flow of information they supply, or simply to create doubt about their effectiveness. Creating chaos with misinformation is not just the domain of terror attacks or asymmetrical warfare, but also a legitimate conventional military objective.

Cyberwarfare can be sharply focused upon a single target (system, information or individual) or launched indiscriminately against a large domain of targets. In the end, a weapon that can be used with either stealth or anonymity lowering the fear of reprisal, may be used far more often and create more actual damage than a kinetic weapon capable of vast devastation (nuclear weapons) that cannot be used without great fear of retaliation and even the possibility of self contamination.

“For to win one hundred victories in one hundred battles is not the acme of skill. To subdue the enemy without fighting is the acme of skill.”
– Sun Tzu

SEE ALSO:
Cyberwarfare
Cyberwar Plan
Attack Methodology
Attack vs Defense

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