Warfare is no longer fought on land, sea, or air. Cyberwar and Cyberwarfare occur now in the digital realm. 

For many, the latest started in 2007, when it went from theoretical to practical. 

Right when the government of Estonia announced its new plan: move a Soviet war memorial. It wasn’t well-received. They got targeted with cyberattacks that took banks and government services down. 

But as severe as this sounds, such DDoS attacks didn’t harm Estonia physically. 

What it exactly did, then? Let’s first understand what both terms mean.

 

What is Cyberwar & Cyberwarfare? (Definition/Meaning)

The term “cyberwarfare” is different from “cyberwar.

First and foremost, “cyberwarfare” doesn’t scale or keep proactive violence. It remains on smaller tactics, techniques, and procedures that are typically associated with war…

But a cyberwar is the more aggressive, large scale period of back-and-forth cyber attacks between nations, with the common goal of causing every type of damage (including physical death). Being said, it seems like no action of this nature has occurred to date.

 

How Important Will Cyberwarfare and Cyberware Be

Then taking this into account, it’s noticeable that we don’t know what is cyberwar truly capable of. Unfortunately enough, we have been close to contemplating a new one several times.

While it wouldn’t look the same way (more like hackers writing code, alongside advanced but conventional troops), it would probably hit hard, anyway.

Just think about it: a world filled with spies and top-secret digital weapons. This increasingly common threat is the main fear proceeding from international conflicts

Both cyberwar and cyber warfare could affect anyone who relies on digital platforms to sustain their life, regardless of their geographical location or lifestyle. Believe it or not, we all mildly depend on technology these days.

As it was mentioned, we have been close to events labeled as such, especially now that most economies depend entirely on web-based services. If digital attacks took place in many parts of eastern Europe, then surely it will end up happening in countries with bigger capabilities.

Unless we all do something about it.

If not, the real risk of cyberwarfare and cyberwar could rapidly get out of control. That’s why governments keep evaluating and defining law acts to constitute what is different from normal cybersecurity activities.

Yes, that blurriness is real. Considering how new of a concept this is, then it makes sense that there aren’t international laws fixed about it. The few that aim to protect us all about it, are often open to interpretation. 

This grey area is at the same time, a green light to cyberwarfare exploit.

Now, the issue has been shrunk throughout the years by many big and small entities, one of them being a group of law scholars based on the Tallinn Manual (textbook backed by the NATO-affiliated CCDCoE), which translates international law to digital warfare.

While the first version of the manual only pointed out the severe cyberattacks, the second build a legal framework around those that don’t make use of physical force. 

It consisted of 154 rules aimed at governments, military, and intelligence agencies, to show when and how states should respond to assaults of this kind. By making the law around it clearer, then it’s easier for leaders to act properly.

This is remarkably powerful, considering the unpredictability of incoming cyberattacks. 

For the same reason, every single nation (with enough budget) is investing in cyber defense. And it also has rules, but those aren’t completely known by conventional soldiers.

 

Examples and Consequences of Cyberwarfare & Cyberwar

This game, which is played by tech experts, won’t only affect them. Instead, there is (and will be) serious collateral damage in every cyberattack.

So the worst part, is that there are plenty of examples for cyberwarfare scenarios, there are just a few agreements that regulate powers if hitting targets besides the valid ones. 

In the case of banks: one day like others, you notice that the balance of your account drops to zero. Wouldn’t that ruin your day?

The same would happen with the stock prices if a hacker makes the data flow up and down like crazy in the stock exchange. Or if the train you take every morning is hijacked, or if the traffic lights of your city get all stuck on red. 

Absolute madness, doesn’t it?

We didn’t see the COVID-19 crisis coming with much anticipation, and that’s why health care systems around the world got rapidly and massively damaged. The same will occur in the case of cyber warfare, due to how old medical devices (firmware and software) are.

Simply put, small hospitals can’t afford the frequent replacement or upgrade of equipment. For the same reason, those surgical procedures supported by machines, could malfunction (resulting in fatal injuries) if someone would want it to be that way.

That’s how cyber agents could cause chaos in your city or country, without executing physical damage, or getting punished for such crimes.

Thankfully, not many situations like these have occurred up to 2020.

And when they do, they often happen in the ways exposed below:

 

Types of Cyberwarfare

A) Espionage: The most frequent of them all; its goal is not to damage but to steal information (which will have a bigger impact in the long-term).  While they represent the biggest in number, they’re also punished the lesser under international laws.

 

B) Denial-of-service attack: DoS/DDoS attacks don’t occur so often, but they’re capable of causing much more mayhem the espionage. In short terms, it’s based on the overloading of an infrastructure to incapacitate it, be it servers, communication lines, or other important technology of a region that might be crippled.

 

C) Propaganda (Information Warfare): History has taught us an important lesson… Disinformation (by the use of stolen, hacked, or leaked documents) can be as dangerous a physical, targeted attacks. 

 

In short-scale: Cyberwarfare; In long-term: Cyberware. Both consist of cyberattacks that are happening right now, unnoticed by the public, while you’re reading this line.

And as with Fake News, much of the damage comes from the confusion and fear around it, when events are publicly distorted and cybersecurity experts can’t fight it with certainty.

Today’s read aims to make the topic clear, knowable, and probable. Only that way we’ll be safe, together. Being said: do you feel safe?