Cybersecurity and the Changing Nature of Warfare in the 21st Century

Article

In the New World Order of the 21st century, the information age has revolutionized our lives, shrunk distances, and made societies more interdependent. Cyberspace and its underlying systems emerged as domains of profound influence on defense doctrines with the advent of communications technology, proliferation...

1. INTRODUCTION

In the New World Order of the 21st century, the information age has revolutionized our lives, shrunk distances, and made societies more interdependent. Cyberspace and its underlying systems emerged as domains of profound influence on defense doctrines with the advent of communications technology, proliferation of the Internet and networked devices so-called the “IoT“ (The Internet of Things). Virtual warfare, waged via computers and the Internet, became an essential aspect of military conflicts between adversaries, as the operation and management of warfare in the future has begun to change.1 To policymakers, possession of fastest computers is as crucial in the 21st century as possession of longest-range aircraft was in 20th century. Just as airpower had transformed battle scenes back then, the military utility of cyberspace has risen with diffusion of asymmetric warfare, which, in essence, is the goal of a war: One side will inevitably want to dominate over the other and make the balance asymmetric.2 As a form of smart power, cyberpower emboldens low profile actors, decreases threshold of turning points in crises, and multiplies kinetic power’s impact. Since the very orality of the Internet has a way of turning territorial battles into battles of ideas,3 transformation of modern battles utilizes de-territorialised cyber attacks as means of persuasion and winning hearts and minds on a mass scale.4 In the information age, what’s important is not just “whose army wins in battle, but whose story wins over people“.5

News headlines highlight incidents about private firms, government institutions, agencies, and critical infrastructure as frequent targets of increasingly sophisticated cyber weapons and techniques utilized by criminal organizations, state-sponsored terrorist, belligerent non-state actors, as well as national armed forces. Depending on an assailant’s motivation and desired impact on the target, malicious activities on cyberspace aim to subdue victims through data loss, financial gain, espionage, damage to commercial, physical assets, and disruption of supply chain, transportation, communication, and geo-location systems. Political actors are targeted during election campaigns through perceptual manipulation of public opinion over ads, spam, spoofing, and phishing attacks through cyberspace. The real power of cyber is in fact its potential cascading effects on other domains. Since it enables a strike directly and immediately aimed at the seat of the opposing will and policy, it diminishes the decisiveness of major wars.6 Missile tests, nuclear detonations, and advanced Artificial Intelligence (AI) platforms precipitate cyber responses that may spiral into a full-scale conflict in high-risk profile regions.


2. CYBERSECURITY AND HYBRID WARFARE

For 400 years, those who possessed the greatest power in the global commons, especially at sea, have been able to exert dominion over those who do not. Cyberspace, on the other hand, appears to empower challengers to resist against hegemony.7 Insurgents, armed groups, terrorists, political fractions of all sorts can exploit vulnerabilities of nations states by using “hacktivist“ techniques to further their cause and undermine the global order.8 Above all, cyberspace has the potential to promote social and political change, as seen by the transformative effect of social media on politics in the Middle East and North Africa, and furthermore to “alter the configuration of the global commons“.9 The Internet is the new battlefield, social networks are the weapons, and states, non-state actors, and citizens are its combatants.10

Cyber warfare may not resemble conventional war but damages can be as crippling. Perhaps most importantly, since cyberspace is ubiquitous, it affects all aspects of life, rendering it highly unlikely that future conflicts will unfold in exclusively one domain. Due to its low buy- in cost and as a multiplier of physical force, cyber warfare can generate “catastrophic cascading effects through asymmetric operations“.11 A cyber attack can target a nation’s “ner vous system“12 behind the protective barriers of physical battlefronts, and as such, its principal goal is to persuade and subdue the enemy through strategic communication without fighting, thus framing a conflict in an ideologically advantageous way that enables direct influence over societies.13 Iran, for instance, uses a mix of threats and forces to employ intimidation as a form of asymmetric warfare.14 A cyber espionage group linked to the Iranian government recently attacked energy, military, and aerospace targets in Saudi Arabia, South Korea, and the U.S.15 A war does not necessarily involve conflict, and, as Sun Tzu says in his famous work “The Art of War“, Iran’s aim is to win the war without fighting the war.16

It is taken from TASAM Publishing's book named “New World Architecture Of Economy and Security“
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