War in cyberspace – more and more countries are contemplating the inevitable

Two recent articles demonstrate how seriously more and more countries are taking the possibility of war in cyberspace, either by developing their own offensive capability or by strengthening internet security and resilience.  There are even talks about a new international treaty to “demilitarise” cyberspace.

According to Reuters, Major-General Amos Yadlin, Israel’s chief of military intelligence, has placed vulnerability to hacking in the same list of security threats to the State of Israel as the Iranian nuclear project and Syrian and Islamist guerrillas attacking across Israel’s borders.

He also made it clear that Israeli armed forces had the means to provide network security and launch cyber attacks of their own, pointing out that:

The cyberwarfare field fits well with the state of Israel’s defense doctrine  …. This is an enterprise that is entirely blue and white (ie. Israeli) and does not rely on foreign assistance or technology. It is a field that is very well known to young Israelis, in a country that was recently crowned a ‘start-up nation’.”

Reuters says that:

“Cyberwarfare teams nestle deep within Israel’s spy agencies, which have extensive experience in traditional sabotage techniques and are cloaked in official secrecy and censorship.

They can draw on the know-how of Israeli commercial firms that are among the world’s hi-tech leaders and whose staff are often veterans of elite computer units in the conscript army.”

Meanwhile, the New York Times reports that the United States has begun talks with Russia and a United Nations arms control committee about strengthening Internet security and limiting military use of cyberspace.  According to the New York Times:

“Many countries, including the United States, are developing weapons for use on computer networks that are ever more integral to the operations of everything from banks to electrical power systems to government offices. They include “logic bombs” that can be hidden in computers to halt them at crucial times or damage circuitry; “botnets” that can disable or spy on Web sites and networks; or microwave radiation devices that can burn out computer circuits miles away.”

The Russians are apparently arguing that the increasing challenges posed by military activities to civilian computer networks can be best dealt with by an international treaty, similar to treaties that have limited the spread of nuclear, chemical and biological weapons.

So where is the UK on all of this?

Well according to Major-General Yadlin, Britain is setting up a cyberwarfare command, and this demonstrates why Israel needs to have its own “soldiers and officers” dedicated to this field.

I have to admit that the existence of a UK cyberwarfare command is new to me – not that I (or many other people either – apart presumably from Major-General Yadlin) would necessarily know if it did exist.

My concern has usually been the opposite and that until recently at least the UK has seemed naively complacent about the scale of the cyber-threats faced.

The publication of a national cyber security strategy has been a welcome first step in the right direction (as I have commented before) and there are also signs of increasing Parliamentary interest in the matter (although when I sat in on the last part of the latest House of Lords hearing on internet security in Europe the main preoccupation seemed to be that Heraklion – where the relevant EU agency is based – is awfully difficult to get to from London).

Nevertheless, these two articles do show that the rest of the world recognises the problem, so the UK probably ought to be doing more as well (unless we really do have a cutting edge cyberwarfare command based in a bunker underneath Cheltenham).

6 thoughts on “War in cyberspace – more and more countries are contemplating the inevitable”

  1. GCHQ, but doesn’t the UK spy on e-mails anyway? isnt that the hallmark of a surveillance state? We already see a huge presence in cyberspace of the far right. The Resistance isn’t lagging behind in this respect. Still, all that “police intelligence” on Phoenix, A,B,C and D grades. Basically it is gossip isn’t it? That is what is held on ones files.

  2. I have commented on the UK Cyber Security Strategy. What it describes for the CSOC is essentially defensive and reactive. Major-General Yadlin seems to be suggesting something else: a Cyberwarfare Command that is proactive and offensive.

  3. In theory, that would still be a responsive rather than offensive – ie denial of service to persistent offenders. I acknowledge that of course the same techniques could be used proactively and offensively.

  4. Agreed.

    I’m sure they will do (and have done) offensive work (particularly in Afganistan), but given the agency leading on CSOC I suspect it’ll remain black.

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