By Ginnia Cheng
Over the past couple of weeks, nations and corporations alike have been hit by an unrelenting wave of high-profile, internationally prevalent security breaches, causing some of the world’s most powerful country leaders and CEOs to seriously reconsider their foreign policies and corporate strategies. It therefore comes as no surprise that cyber warfare has never been more of an impending threat than now.
Only last week, US officials announced plans to treat cyber attacks as ‘acts of war’ which may provoke real world military responses. So when it emerged that hackers who stole hundreds of login details from Google’s Gmail system originated from China, the world waited for reaction from the US Government with baited breath.
One cannot help but draw similarities to conflicts past, as a “war of words” between these two international giants escalated over the past week. While the US simply stated it was “looking into” the Gmail security breath, the Chinese government categorically denied any involvement with the attacks. It has also been reported that US Defence Secretary Robert Gates announced “we are not trying to hold China down”, and that only last month, a top Chinese general declared that China has no intention to match US military power.
Yet hostility again arose this week when a Chinese government newspaper opined that the allegations were motivated by the "vicious intent of sparking new disputes concerning Internet security between China and the US”. This recent to-ing and fro-ing is no doubt reminiscent of Cold War exchanges, especially now that the US government is moving to classify cyber warfare as real world acts of aggression.
The recent antics of “hacktivist” groups like Anonymous and LulzSec, who target corporations, organisations and governments worldwide, have also attracted the attention of intergovernmental military organisation NATO, which has indicated that “the [Anonymous] groups will be infiltrated and perpetrators persecuted”. LulzSec reached the heights of notoriety when it repeatedly attacked Sony’s websites and swiftly moved on to Nintendo and other organisations it took offence with, while Anonymous most recently hacked Iranian government servers.
It’s hard to tell whether there is a degree of fear mongering occurring in the media at the moment surrounding the threat of real world conflicts resulting from cyber activity, and it remains to be seen how and when – or if at all – any hacking attacks translate into real world warfare. Indeed, I think I speak for everyone when I say that I sure hope it remains nothing more than a cyber cold war – but it seems very clear that we have a reached a new chapter of the world of cyber warfare.