“Cyber War”

by on May 30, 2007 · 2 comments

Via Yglesias, Robert Farley thinks that we’re not giving enough attention to economic “cyber war”:

Lots of work has been done on “cyber war”, the promise and vulnerability of networked military organizations. Less attention has been paid to the economic prospects of cyber warfare, and to the ability of states to exert power and coercion through a new set of tools. When Russia tries to coerce its neigbors through threatening to destroy their economic and governmental activity, it becomes a problem for NATO and consequently the United States.

Frankly, I think this is silly. Most of the IT infrastructure that’s really critical for the functioning of a modern economy—power plants, ATM networks, air traffic control, etc—is physically separated from the public Internet. Even semi-critical infrastructure like stock exchanges and supply chain systems tend to be over-engineered for fault tolerance.

And indeed, this is confirmed by the news coverage of the incident. The opening bullets report that “parliament, ministries, banks, media targeted.” But when you get further down the story, you learn that the websites of these institutions were targetted. Now maybe the Estonia is different, but I doubt most people would even notice if Congress’s website were brought down for a few days by a DDOS attack.

I suppose it would be a bit of a pain if I wasn’t able to check CNN or my bank account balance. But that’s not “cyber war.” It’s petty vandalism. It deserves the attention of network security experts at the companies whose websites were targetted, of course, but it’s ridiculous to get NATO involved or to act as though Russia engaging in this kind of “cyber warfare” is even remotely on par with Russia launching cruise missiles against Estonian targets.

  • http://enigmafoundry.wordpress.com/ enigma_foundry

    Frankly, I think this is silly.

    It is indeed silly, but not laughable. The dangers from those who will propose various means to ‘protect’ us from these imaginary events are very real.

    Essentially, what they propose is the construction of a quite vast infrastructure of control that would potentially but big brother to shame.

    Now, we may feel that those in charge now would not misuse this infrastructure, but we do not know who will be in charge tomorrow. More importantly, when such an infrastructure exists, it will attract those to power who would misuse it.

    At first, this seems a tangent from your post, however, I have noticed this alarmist descriptions of ‘cyber’ war are (often) followed by proposals to ‘fix’ the problem.

    It is the distribution of polonium by the manifestly evil regime of Vlad Putin that concerns me, not so much the DDOS attacks, which are, it is true, a nuisance.

    But just wait–we will surely see those who want to introduce treacherous computing use this attack by ‘terrorists’ as a justification.

    Again, people look at the tool (the computer network) when it is the man (Vlad Putin) who is a most evil murderous despot.

  • http://enigmafoundry.wordpress.com eee_eff

    Frankly, I think this is silly.

    It is indeed silly, but not laughable. The dangers from those who will propose various means to ‘protect’ us from these imaginary events are very real.

    Essentially, what they propose is the construction of a quite vast infrastructure of control that would potentially but big brother to shame.

    Now, we may feel that those in charge now would not misuse this infrastructure, but we do not know who will be in charge tomorrow. More importantly, when such an infrastructure exists, it will attract those to power who would misuse it.

    At first, this seems a tangent from your post, however, I have noticed this alarmist descriptions of ‘cyber’ war are (often) followed by proposals to ‘fix’ the problem.

    It is the distribution of polonium by the manifestly evil regime of Vlad Putin that concerns me, not so much the DDOS attacks, which are, it is true, a nuisance.

    But just wait–we will surely see those who want to introduce treacherous computing use this attack by ‘terrorists’ as a justification.

    Again, people look at the tool (the computer network) when it is the man (Vlad Putin) who is a most evil murderous despot.

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