Cyberwar Overhyped and Unlikely, Report Says
The threat of cyberwar, and in fact the term itself, is overhyped and unlikely, according to a pair of British researchers.
Contrary to popular beliefs spurred by current fears, cybercriminals have little power to carry out large-scale, devastating attacks, argue Dr. Ian Brown of the Oxford Internet Institute and Prof. Peter Sommer of the London School of Economics.
If you look at the way it is covered, the computer scare story of the week, you might get the sense that such a disaster is just around the corner, Sommer told the New York Times. It is unlikely that there will ever be a true cyberwar.
The report, released Monday, was commissioned for the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development.
Sommer downplayed recent security crises that have gotten lots of press, including the WikiLeaks diplomatic-cable release and cyberattacks on WikiLeaks' behalf by the hacktivist group Anonymous, which he likened to Greenpeace.
Sommer said future conflicts between nations were bound to have a cyberspace component, but they will be just a part of the battle, not the entire war.
In an interview with the British computer magazine PC Pro, Brown supported Sommer's stance.
Between well-equipped states, like the U.S., China, U.K. and so on, certain cyberweaponry would likely be a part of any future war, said Brown. Less capable states and sub-state actors, like terrorist groups and individual hackers, will not be able to have an equivalent damaging effect using cyberattacks.
Brown said cyberweaponry has probably already been by the U.S. during the invasions of Iraq and Afghanistan.
We don't help ourselves using 'cyberwar' to describe espionage or hacktivists blockading or defacing of websites, as recently seen in reaction to WikiLeaks, Sommer told The Guardian. Nor is it helpful to group trivially avoidable incidents like viruses and frauds with determined attempts to disrupt national infrastructure.
On the other side of the coin, Brown and Sommer believe online attacks are not going to slow down and advised governments to secure their infrastructures to defend against targeted attacks.
Critical systems that are controlling power grids they should not be connected to the Internet at all. They really are running a great risk by doing that, Brown told PC Pro.
He argued that systems that control the power, water and telecommunication grids should be set up to ensure that software is kept up to date and that if a system fails, there is a backup that can immediately take its place.
In a related development, a former Pentagon official on Tuesday, speaking at the Black Hat D.C. hackers' conference, called for the creation of a skunk works, a loosely organized group of experts from the technological and political fields.
We need to bring policymakers like me and techies like you together in a wonk-geek coalition, said Franklin Kramer, former Assistant Secretary of Defense for International Security Affairs under President Clinton, during his keynote address to the assembled hackers.