Monday, October 19, 2009
Defending virtual borders
Estonia is an online savvy state and champion of so called 'e-government,' a paperless system with many government services online. The population can even vote via the web.
In 2007 a large number of Estonian government and financial websites were brought to a standstill as they came under sustained online attack.
On 4 July 2009, US and South Korean government websites and those of certain banks and businesses ground to a halt as they came under denial of service assaults. In the United States, the Pentagon and the White House were also targeted.
These cyber attacks were all initially thought to be orchestrated by countries unfriendly to Estonia, South Korea and the US and to date have been the highest profile examples of so-called cyber warfare.
Conventional warfare relies on tanks, troops, artillery, aircraft and a whole gamut of weapons systems. Cyber warfare requires a computer and an internet connection.
Professor Sommer claims that most of the attacks are over the internet
Rather than sending in the marines, the act of typing a command on a keyboard can have a devastating effect on computer systems and networks.
According to Clive Room of Portcullis Computer Security: "It is possible to bring an entire state to a standstill theoretically and we've seen it done on a small scale practically, so the threat ahead of us is very big indeed."
From criminal gangs trying to steal cash, to foreign intelligence services trying to steal secrets, the threat of cyber warfare is now very real.
Nato suspects that along with the tanks and troops involved in the conflict in Georgia in 2008, Russian forces also engaged in cyber attacks against Georgian government computer systems.
Professor Peter Sommer of the London School of Economics explained that cyber warfare should just be seen as a part of modern warfare in general:
"[Carl Von] Clausewitz said war is diplomacy conducted by other means. What cyber warfare gives you is a whole range of new types of technologies which you can apply."
These international attacks are not isolated instances. Everyday government and corporate websites fend off thousands of attempts to infiltrate hack and cause disruption.