Monday, June 11, 2012

A New Kind of War

Time was when many of us thought about a computer virus in the context of the inconvenience it caused. Perhaps it looked up our computer or harvested names of friends from our digital address book. Not to make light of the hassle the viruses may have caused, but after being attacked by some online miscreant, with a little work most of us were able to put our cyber house back in order. Computer viruses and cyber attacks are now making their way to the top of the list of things we need to really worry about.

Recently the “Flame” virus has been getting a lot of attention. This is no pesky computer program lurking on the Internet seeking to attack your home computer. Rather it is a very sophisticated set of complex programs aimed at spying on governments and large corporations. Not only is it able to retrieve sensitive information surreptitiously from corporate data banks, reports indicate that it can actually take control of a desktop computer activating the microphone and recording conversations within the offices. All of this happens without the user noticing that their system has been compromised.

It is unclear who developed Flame. Some analysts point to Israel. Others implicate the United States. To be sure, it is not some high school kid camped out in his parents’ basement. The recent discovery by Iran that their networks have been infiltrated causing some of their nuclear systems to malfunction adds to the intrigue.

The shift of international conflict morphing from dropping bombs and shooting guns to cyber warfare should come as no surprise. Bombing a bridge to disrupt an enemy’s ability to move troops and armaments has now moved to cyber attacks aiming not at the purely physical infrastructure but at the computer systems that now control most every aspect of modern life.

Our communications, our water and power systems, our traffic lights and our financial systems are now computerized and interconnected. There is hardly any facet of modern life that does not have as its operating core our computer networks and the Internet. For sure there are smart people in government who realize that the next major war will be less about armed troops and more about our enemy seeking to disrupt the social fabric.

It is not hard to imagine the economic damage even a short interruption of our systems would cause. This goes for major systems like air traffic control and minor inconveniences of not being able to use a credit card or ATM. Look for more emphasis being placed on adding more levels of security to our systems and building redundant and duplicate networks for our most critical requirements.


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