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Can CyberWarfare Actually Cripple a Nation’s Infrastructure?

As cyber attacks become more sophisticated, we face the very real possibility of crippling cyberwarfare. Are we ready for it?

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There’s an old 80’s Mathew Broderick movie that caught the public’s imagination. The movie is WarGames, in which Broderick’s character hacks into a military computer and starts playing a game of global thermonuclear war.

He soon realizes that he can’t control the supercomputer as it begins reacting to various nuclear combat scenarios as if they were real. The US military is alerted to the hack, but is powerless to stop it. So it’s forced to escalate the nation’s DefCon nuclear defense system as if a world war is imminent.

Scary stuff. Bit it’s just a movie. Right?

Why cyberwarfare?

Cyberwarfare is the use of computer technology to attack another country. In a cyberwar, a country can launch attacks against another country’s government, military, financial institutions, or critical infrastructure. They can be launched from anywhere in the world, disabling computers and networks, stealing data, or destroying information needed to keep key infrastructure running.

In the past, military size, hardware and the ability to project it to areas of conflict were the classic yardsticks that measured military might and effectiveness. But maintaining it is very expensive.

Today, military superpowers can be seriously undermined by a small group of hackers employed by a tiny country across the world bent on everything from idealogical or religious differences to simple economic revenge.

The rise of cyber attacks

In recent years, cyberwarfare has become increasingly common because it levels the playing field. Big or small, countries and hacker groups are probing and attacking each other’s networks, companies are being hacked, and personal information is being stolen.

So, can cyberwarfare actually cripple a nation’s infrastructure? The answer is yes –and several isolated examples of this have occurred in recent history. For example, the Stuxnet virus was reportedly used to attack Iran’s nuclear program by infiltrating their computer systems and sabotaging key components of their nuclear centrifuges.

In this case, the results could have been much more serious.

Taking down a nation

What about an attack on our nation’s power grid? Without electricity, water treatment plants can’t run, medical devices are rendered non-operational and hospitals are forced to close their doors.

Or imagine waking up one morning and the entire banking system is inoperable. No debit or credit card transactions are possible. Since many of us carry little to no cash in our pockets anymore, then what? Now think if that’s still the case a week later.

These types of attacks could seriously cripple a country. And when they occur, how long before panic and full economic, and for that matter, societal collapse occurs?

Countries are going on the offense

As you’ve likely figured out by now, using hackers is much cheaper to achieve military gains than a full invasion of a country. While these scenarios may sound like something from a spy movie, they’re not all that far-fetched.

Governments and militaries around the world are investing in offensive cyberwarfare programs to launch attacks against other countries’ infrastructure and governments. While most people would hope that an attack of significant magnitude would never happen, the fact is, it’s only a matter of time until it does.

Cyberattacks are becoming more common and more sophisticated. And it’s not just hackers looking to steal your credit card information anymore. These attacks are well-planned and carried out by skilled individuals supported by host governments.

And they’re only going to get better at it. Are we ready?

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