Cyber-warfare is emerging as the most sophisticated battleground of the 21st century.
“In fact, the military in all major countries make it a priority,” Ernest Worthman of Semiconductor Engineering recently observed. “Collectively they are spending tens of billions of dollars on education and building a knowledgebase of how attacks can be perpetrated and what defenses are needed.”
As Worthman notes, the entire effort is based on technology, both legacy and new, starting on the defensive side with semiconductors, hardware IP, memories, and a full stack of software.
“[It] builds outward from there across an ever-expanding knot of interconnected networks that are the basis of the Internet of Everything,” he explained. “From the offensive side, the most advanced technology is used to analyze where the flaws are, to crack the uncrackable code, and to reverse engineer or engineer entry points and strategies.”
Paul Kocher, president and chief scientist of Rambus’ Cryptography Research division, concurs with Worthman’s assessment that countries have significantly increased their cyber warfare capabilities.
“The question is how and when will those things start getting used,” he stated. “We haven’t seen many examples so far, but the number of countries that had those was limited. When there is a regional conflict, the question is how you respond.”
Specifically, asks Kocher, does a nation choose to employ a conventional military response or content itself with other, more digital tools?
“It’s very attractive to use something that doesn’t draw blood, that isn’t necessarily attributable to you, and which will work in places that conventional military gear like mortars and troops can’t operate,” he continued. “If you’re a relatively small country, you can easily find a dozen smart scientists to go find bugs in critical systems, but you can’t launch a military attack.”
The giant question mark, says Kocher, is what happens as these investments turn into usable capabilities and how they will be deployed.
“In many ways that’s an area where industrialized countries are vastly greater targets than others. Yet the offensive capabilities are well within the range of every single adversary we have,” he added.
As Worthman points out, warfare has become more destructive, deadly and horrendous ever since the first caveman clubbed his rival for the prime cave location.
“Cyberwar will certainly follow those footsteps. Cyber-warfare isn’t just about code. It is about what the code controls—a wide range of technology, some of which was never meant to be connected to the outside world,” he concluded. “Certainly, disabling the eyes and ears of the military, or bringing down the stock market for a day, or taking over the servers that control utility systems is a concern. However, it isn’t all that likely unless someone, somewhere develops some methodology that is orders of magnitude more advanced than what exists today. So far, that isn’t happening.”
The full text of “What Is Cyberwarfare?” can be read on Semiconductor Engineering here.