America’s next major war will be waged in cyberspace. The world’s powers have the ability to create a nuclear holocaust, and mutually assured destruction has deterred all-out war. But if warfare’s goal is to gain an advantage over the enemy — and that can be achieved through less violent and more efficient means — why not pursue the alternative?
What if warfare involved neutralizing enemy weapons, rendering the other side incapable of fighting? What if the enemy’s banks, electric grids and essential services could be disrupted or shut down?
An aggressive cyber attack can paralyze a nation. Alternately, one country’s successful cyber techniques can compromise a rival country’s weapons systems, giving the aggressor the ability to copy those systems or find ways to render them useless.
This isn’t science fiction. The Washington Post reported last month that Chinese hackers have accessed major U.S. defense sites, acquiring information about many of the latest weapons. Compromised systems include those intended for missile defense in Asia, Europe and the Persian Gulf. Also on the list are aircraft and naval vessels.
The Post report draws upon a secret portion of a government analysis released earlier this year. The public portion warns that the American military is unprepared for a major cyber war; details revealed by The Post show how that conclusion was reached.
Also of note: Many cyber thefts appear to have been through computer systems of private companies, rather than the military itself. This shows the work that government and industry must do not only to prepare for virtual battlefields but to shore up security. The old saw says loose lips sink ships. So too loose computer firewalls.