Use of cyber security attacks as a military weapon to increase in frequency

13 Aug 2008

The current conflict between Georgia and Russia over the Georgian province of South Ossetia has been marked by an accompanying form of cyber warfare. But this type of online aggression may just be the tip of the iceberg, with security firm McAfee predicting a rise in the use cyber security attacks as a weapon in tandem with actual physical attacks.

Earlier this week, Georgia accused Russia of carrying out cyber security attacks against a number of its official websites.  The Georgian presidential website and other government sites were apparently subject to a distributed denial of service attack(DDoS) – whereby websites are bombarded with millions of hits causing them to crash.

In response, the Georgian Government set up a temporary Ministry of Foreign Affairs website on the Google-owned ‘Blogger’ service and Estonia is currently playing host to the ministry’s official website.

But according to the third edition of McAfee’s Virtual Criminology Report, which was published in November 2007, such a rise in international cyber espionage should not come as a surprise. The report predicted that this type of online activity would represent the single biggest threat to national security in 2008. Chillingly, the report also predicted that governments and allied groups would launch cyber attacks targeting key national infrastructure network systems such as government computer networks, air traffic control, financial markets and electricity. 

“We can expect to see cyber attacks being increasingly used as a weapon alongside physical attacks. The benefits of using such methods are that no one is directly physically hurt or killed and it is much harder to pinpoint the source and who is involved,” said Greg Day (pictured), security analyst with McAfee.

“Furthermore, cost makes this a really appealing option as it is far less expensive and more simple to instigate than a full-scale military attack, yet still creates maximum levels of destruction. As well as being a critical resource for government ministries, the internet also plays an important role in the running of countries and this disruption can damage economies and severely impact the running of services. Governments need to have in place strategies to prepare for this type of attack and to ensure that resources can be sustained at all times.”

For proof of the disruptive effects of cyber security attacks just ask Estonia, the poster-nation for e-Government, which in May 2007 suffered a three-week wave of attacks bearing a remarkable similarity to those Georgia is currently weathering.

By Jennifer Yau