Is the “Age of Cyber War” at hand? This year, the fifth annual McAfee Virtual Criminology Report contemplates this question and others prompted by the fact that nation-states are arming themselves for the cyberspace battlefield.
Although there is no commonly accepted definition for cyber war today, we have seen nation-states involved in varying levels of cyber conflict.
Further, while we have not yet seen a “hot” cyber war between major powers, the efforts of nation-states to build increasingly sophisticated cyber attack capabilities, and in some cases demonstrate a willingness to use them, suggests that a “Cyber Cold War” may have already begun.
If a major cyber conflict between nationstates were to erupt, it is very likely that the private sector would get caught in the crossfire.
Most experts agree that critical infrastructure systems—such as the electrical grid, banking and finance, and oil and gas sectors— are vulnerable to cyber attack in many countries. Some nation-states are actively doing reconnaissance to identify specific vulnerabilities in these networks. In the words of one expert, nation-states are “laying the electronic battlefield and preparing to use it.”
Too much of the debate on policies related to cyber war is happening behind closed doors.
Important questions, such as where to draw the line between cyber espionage and cyber war, are being discussed in private, or perhaps not at all. Many governments have chosen to keep debate on cyber conflict classified. Since governments, corporations and private citizens all have a stake in the future of the Internet, it is time to open a global dialogue on how to manage this new form of conflict.