Cyber-Warfare: What Are the Potential Ramifications for Americans? - 2012 Commentary

ABSTRACT: As the recent discovery of the Flame virus demonstrated, cyber-warfare between countries is growing. The United States might benefit from using cyber-technology to damage military targets; however, it should proceed with caution.

A mess of characters - found on corrupted dumb terminals (1)
Media outlets are still buzzing over the Russian discovery of the Flame computer virus, which, per CNET, has mainly targeted computers in Iran. It was designed to spy on that country and was likely created by the United States or one of its allies, though no one has yet come forward to take credit for its creation. As CNET notes, the computer virus is not the first piece of malware used by a government agency to spy on another country; however, it is unique in its level of sophistication and in its size. Regardless of who created the virus, it provides yet another example of the increasing tendency of nations, including the United States, to utilize cyber-tactics to conduct spying and sabotage operations against other countries. What are the potential ramifications for Americans?

An article in Ars Technica asserts that cyber-weapons are relatively cheap to produce. As the Stuxnet virus demonstrated, cyber-warfare can also be effective at damaging a country's military and energy infrastructures. Additionally, nations may be able to launch malware attacks against each other without getting caught. If that is the case, as the CNET article implies, the United States might be able to cut military expenses and save the lives of American soldiers if it were to focus on further developing its cyber-program. What is more, the U.S. would run less risk of incurring the wrath of the international community if it relied on covert cyber technologies to destroy enemy military installations instead of missiles and bombs.

As the CNET article notes, the United States is potentially vulnerable to cyber-attacks by other nations or terrorist groups. Countries like China almost certainly utilize malware to steal information from the U.S. and will continue to do so. More worrisome, a nation or terrorist group that is not able to strike at the U.S. with conventional weapons may be able to create a computer virus that will damage key American installations. It is also possible that a hostile entity can decipher a U.S. sponsored computer virus and use that information to create its own cyber-weapon.

However, a Slate article asserts that Americans should not worry overmuch that a nation or terrorist group will use a computer virus to damage American military or civilian targets. It notes that these types of cyber-weapons are cost prohibitive for all but the wealthiest countries. Further, a hostile entity would be hesitant to use a computer virus to cripple an American facility because it would be afraid that the U.S. would respond with a devastating conventional attack. Slate might be correct in its analysis of the current situation; however, a cyber-terrorist action might become more likely in the future if the technology becomes cheaper.
While the United States might benefit by using computer viruses to accomplish its military objectives, it should proceed with caution. There are a lot of unknowns with regard to cyber-warfare.

1. Photographer/Creator: Anonymous
    Date: October 13, 2006
    Title/Description: A mess of characters that would be found on corrupted dumb terminals with green
    Location/Permission: Wikimedia Commons - Author's notes (click on the title or caption to see the
    photo, credits, and permissions).

-- Anthony Hopper

#technology #computers #Internet #freedom #rights #privacy #opinion

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