In the 1984 hit sci-fi movie The Terminator
, the artificial intelligence network Skynet becomes self-aware and initiates a nuclear world war against humankind. In the real world of the early 21st Century, the nations of the world are preparing for very different sorts of cyber-war threats, which could arise from terrorists, hactivists, rogue states or organized crime. The U.S.-dominated North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) in 2008 even established the NATO Co-operative Cyber Defense Centre of Excellence
in Talinn, Estonia, which held cyber-war-games
in late March.
NATO’s choice of locale was intentional: In what is called Web War I
, Estonia’s banking, media and government websites were shut down by Distributed Denial of Service (DDOS) attacks over a three-week period in 2007, probably initiated by pro-Russian hacktivists angered by the removal of a Soviet-era statue from downtown Tallinn.
While Web War I opened many people’s eyes to the dangers, the 2010 Stuxnet virus focused the issue more sharply. Stuxnet, which spread over the world while causing little damage to most computers, was designed, probably by Israeli or American security agents, to infect and disable the uranium enrichment machinery used by Iran in its nuclear program. This cyber-war effort was successful, likely delaying Iran’s progress by about 2 years.
As more and more high-tech systems are integrated into the Internet, the list of targets potentially vulnerable to cyber-attack likewise grows. Richard Clarke, who advised President Bill Clinton and tried to advise both presidents Bush on counter-terrorism and cyber-security, points out that “Sophisticated cyber attackers could do things like derail trains across the country…They could cause power blackouts - not just by shutting off the power but by permanently damaging generators that would take months to replace. They could do things like cause [oil or gas] pipelines to explode. They could ground aircraft.”
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