• CERT Admin
  • Tue Sep 27 2016
  • Cyber Guardian Blog


What does Cyber warfare mean? 

It is any virtual conflict initiated as a politically motivated attack on an enemy’s computer and information systems. In simple words, cyber warfare is the use of hacking to conduct attacks on a target’s strategic or tactical resources for the purposes of espionage or sabotage.

Cyber warfare attacks can disable official websites, networks and also disrupt or disable essential services, steal or alter classified data and break down financial systems, among many other possibilities. 

How does cyber warfare work?  

Hackers that are in the military of a said state or hackers that are sponsored by the said state attack computers and networks that are involved with sensitive resources within a country. This procedure is similar to how a hacker works normally, they collect information about the system and find out loop holes and weak spots. The hackers then gain control of the said system or destroy it.

If hackers simply choose to gain control, then they can read privileged information not meant for them and they can exploit to gain advantage. And also sabotage people in various ways, from blackmailing them to luring them out of their security and killing them.

A good example of cyber warfare is in using DDoS (Distributed Denial of Service Attacks) to shut down access to government websites and social media, an effective tactic used by the Russians during the South Ossetian War in 2008. 

Who does it target? 

Will target any sensitive industry in your opponent’s infrastructure. This means obvious stuff like the military and defense and weapons manufacturers.

The worst part is that cyber warfare could target a country’s population; the most important strategic asset of a country. A hacker could launch terrorist attacks, i.e. doing scary things like hitting major financial sectors and causing economic damage to the country’s economic or abruptly terminating public communication. 

Controversy over terms 

Eugene Kaspersky, found of Kaspersky Lab, concludes that “cyber terrorism” is a better term than “cyber warfare”. He states that “with today’s attacks, you are clueless about who did it or when they will strike again. It’s not cyber war but cyber terrorism.”

In October 2011 the Journal of Strategic Studies, a leading journal in that field, published an article by Thomas Rid, “Cyber War Will Not Take Place” which argued that all Cyber-attacks motivated by politics are merely sophisticated versions of sabotage, espionage, or subversion and that it’s is highly unlikely that a Cyber war will occur in the future.

Some experts, however, believe that this type of activity already constitutes a war.  

Protection against attacks 

The most effective protection against Cyber warfare attacks is securing information and networks. Security updates should be applied to all systems -- including those that are not considered critical -- because any vulnerable system can be co-opted and used to carry out attacks. Measures to mitigate the potential damage of an attack include comprehensive disaster recovery planning that includes provisions for extended outages. 

Example of Cyber warfare 

• In 1998, the United States hacked into Serbia's air defense system to compromise air traffic control and facilitate the bombing of Serbian targets. 

• In 2007, in Estonia, a botnet of over a million computers brought down government, business and media websites across the country. The attack was suspected to have originated in Russia, motivated by political tension between the two countries. 

• Also in 2007, an unknown foreign party hacked into high tech and military agencies in the United States and downloaded terabytes of information. 

• In 2009, a cyber-spy network called "GhostNet" accessed confidential information belonging to both governmental and private organizations in over 100 countries around the world. GhostNet was reported to originate in China, although that country denied responsibility. 

Mandeera Karawita

Mandeera is an undergraduate of Institute of Information and Technology following Bachelor in Software Engineering and currently working as Intern - Information Security Engineer at Sri Lanka CERT|CC 

Last updated: Tue Sep 27 2016