Cyber Theft and Cyber Warfare – the cost can be high, or maybe worse

cyberwarCriminal cyber attacks have been used to distract banks from significant thefts. Recently, it was reported that three banks were targeted with Denial of Service attacks, distracting them from the theft of millions. Christmas 2012, another attack distracted the bank from a $900,000 heist.

In 2007, the country of Estonia was cyber attacked by Russia, shutting down government and commercial infrastructure that relied on the Internet. Widely regarded as the First Cyber War, it should be noted that even in 2007, in Estonia, 75% of all grocery stores, gas stations and retailers there, relied on the Internet.

A vast amount of press coverage has been devoted to the recently disclosed NSA spying efforts, but keep in mind, there were reports back in the late 1990’s about China starting up a special branch of their military devoted to cyber warfare. Russia does it. China does it. The USA does it, and undoubtedly, so do many, many other governments to one degree or another. The STUXNET worm was a cyber attack against Iran’s nuclear program, while at the same time, there are reports that Iran has waged cyber warfare against US banks and Arab energy firms.

On a different note, a recent outage of only a few minutes is reported to have dropped internet traffic by 40%.

While not reported as an attack, on August 22, 2013, the NASDAQ exchange went down for three hours, due to a “technical glitch.” News networks were abuzz and the outage was something of an international crisis.

The point, of course, is that Western Civilization – and our daily lives – are terribly dependent upon the technology we’ve built for ourselves. And terribly vulnerable. It seems like everything we do, from putting gas in the car to buying groceries to the work that we do, is now inseparable from our technology and the Internet.
Whether the threat is “simply” criminal, or, of a more ominous governmental or philosophical origin, the cost of future attacks will surely only grow in scope and cost, and shattered lives and blood and tears.

In the 1990’s when I helped build the then largest aggregator and distributor of audio and video in the world, (before Yahoo! bought us out), I had the opportunity to speak at events from Beijing to London to New York. Everywhere I went, there was such innocent hope and zeal surrounding the capabilities of the web and what it would mean in the coming years for society. At the time, it seemed to me that the ability to share audio and video and content of all types, to the peoples of the world, would bring about a global epiphany, an awakening and enlightenment.

What I’ve learned since, is that the introduction of the web to the world is something like the emergence of life on land. At first, a few things must have grown unimpeded to be wildly spread and popular. Over time, niches and competition sprang up, to eat that which came before. Like warfare, it is measure and countermeasure. The yin and yang of life both corporal and digital. Like the atmosphere that was formerly dominated by carbon dioxide tipping in favor of an oxygen-nitrogen dominated atmosphere – and the die-off of the old and rise of the new, life, all life, goes in these cycles.

The digital infrastructure has exploded across the fabric of our lives. It is everywhere and we must evolve along with it, to protect it from predation and keep our synergy with it a strength and advantage rather than a blindsided weakness.