“The Non Smoking Gun”

Cyber attacks are increasingly ubiquitous in the contemporary world of information technology. It becomes both unprecedented and insidious threat to the international security as well as to the global economy. Though, it is comparatively benign, with lesser probability of destruction of property and no direct threat to human beings, unlike the physical warfare. But its consequences in the long run are much damaging and enduring. The primary objective of the cyber attack or cyber espionage is to steal sensitive information, intellectual property, defence secrets, weapon designs, and financially beneficial information.

In the recent year there were prevalent cyber attacks by international actors against each other. It is alleged that most of the cyber attacks were state sponsored to gather high level sensitive information by intruding into adversaries’ cyber space. More and more states are investing in new dangerous cyber arms race. Predominantly, China has been criticized for creating this new warfare by attacking numerous Western and American multinational and even government controlled organizations. For example Reserve Bank of Australia’s computer system have been successfully hacked in a series of cyber attacks and it was presumed that attackers were state sponsored and wanted to infiltrate sensitive information of pre-G20 event which will held in November 2014. Before this more than 150 computers of French Ministry of Economy and Finance was hacked to penetrate into same high profile G20 event’s sensitive information which was held in France in February 2011. And obviously both times the alleged guilty was none other than China. Reports showed that the cyber virus contains the characteristics of Chinese origin.

The United States, in particular, appears to have run out of patience with the flow of cyber attacks targeting it, when Google and The New York Times being the victims of cyber attack. Leon Panetta, US Secretary of Defence, said that the cyber space is the “battlefield of the future, where adversaries can seek to do harm to our country, our economy, and our citizens.” She further said “US reserves the right to pre-emptively cauterise cyber menaces with force and/or through its arsenal of digital weapons, which have been privately listed for first time.”

Before going ahead in this debate that what is happening in cyber space or what precautions should be taken to evade the threat of cyber attack. One should be known to the origin of this so called dangerous cyber warfare that where it actually stems from. Obviously it has decade’s long history but as it has been mentioned that cyber war is a kind of war with lesser probability of physical destruction but the time has changed the phenomenon and it can be physical, too. Let it be clear, when after so many sanctions and warnings from America and Israel, Iran refused to derail its nuclear program so as ultimate option Israel threatens Iran to attack it with the same dangerous warplanes to destroy Iranian nuclear plant which Israel had already used against Iraq and Syria. In 2006, to avoid this sinister conflict in Middle East, then president of US George Bush instigated the development of first known cyber weapon under the code name of “Olympic Games”. The project that had complete support and contribution of Israeli government was accelerated by President Obama and produced artificially-intelligent malicious software or malware with the sole aim of disrupting Iran’s nuclear program. The most well-known system which was designed is Surreptitiously Command the Supervisory Control and Data Acquisition or SCADA which is controlled by infamous malware Stuxnet. Although, it is the latest form of cyber malware but the kind of same technology have already been used in 1982 by CIA and caused a Soviet gas pipelines to explode.

This system SCADA supervises the centrifuges at Iran’s Natanz nuclear plant. The SCADA system violently accelerate the centrifuge spinning speeds and it is supposed to have destroyed up to 1000 centrifuges and stopped uranium enrichment on many junctures in 2009 and 2010. It is pertinent here to mention that it was the same time when Iran’s four leading nuclear scientists were being assassinated in different accidents. To retaliate on these attacks Iran build up A-grade cyber game and allegedly was responsible for derailing the services of different American leading organizations more prominently Bank of America and American stock exchange were attacked.

However, now many non-state actors have also jumped in the cyber warfare. And the problem goes further from international political issues to financial and infrastructural matters. The victims of cyber attacks are becoming increasingly sensitive as the numbers of suspected targets are increasing day by day specially in the West where power, transport, financial/economical management and infrastructures have been integrated into the internet. There may be anyone from anywhere attacking the high profile multinational and government institutions that may include banks or stock exchanges or social media.

Unfortunately if truth be told, it is really difficult for the victim to find out the blameworthy and to determine that whether the attack was state sponsored or not. Eventually it results in misapprehension between the states and accelerates the cyber space unrest. Resultantly governments are spending massive amount so as to enrich their web weapons and hastily building up cyber forces to defend their cyber space and to attack their adversaries. As it is shown by the history that without using a bullet or bomb, it can be dangerous physically so the possible targets are practically great in number. Until or unless states shall not start respecting one another’s cyber space sovereignty just like physical sovereignty and to start surveillance in cyber space by certain rules and regulations mutually agreed upon otherwise such regrettable incidents are likely to be happened in future. Many has predicted that cyber-attacks might lead to another Cold War for the internet generation but for this time America and Western World cannot use third world countries as their proxies because the possible targets would be under direct threat of being targeted.

the article was first published in Pakistan Observer: http://pakobserver.net/detailnews.asp?id=204997

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