AfterBites: Cyberwar Hypewatch
--German Magazine Says Armed Forces Establishing Cyber Warfare unit
(February 9, 2009)
German magazine Der Spiegel Reports that the country's armed forces are
in the process of establishing a unit dedicated to cyber warfare. The
unit will take on responsibility for protecting German IT infrastructure
from attacks as well as conduct reconnaissance and interventions on
foreign and "enemy" computer networks.
I'm sure there are lots of countries setting up "cyberwar" units. Why? Because they're so very, very l33t!
Seriously, though, I suspect that a lot of the "cyberwar" units being set up around the world are just cheesy scams in which some clever person thought, "hey, maybe we can get a really cool NOC with lots of flat panel displays, new laptops, and a refrigerator full of RedBull!" Reading between the lines describing some of these cyberwar efforts, they'd be more accurately titled "incident response expertise centers" or something like that. I have no problem with that but - please - guys, don't giving badly socialized cybergeeks the tools to initiate acts of war, OK?
Following the link, you read:
...will both protect the German IT infrastructure from attacks and carry out reconnaissance missions and interventions on foreign computers and "enemy networks."
What is an "enemy network" unless there is a declared state of war or the state has identified an enemy? I know I'm old-fashioned, but as a citizen of a democracy, I do not like the thought that political leaders (or military bureaucrats) are going to be arbitrarily deciding whose network is an "enemy network" or otherwise targeting government-sponsored military forces against other countries' civilian or government systems. Again, I'm old-fashioned, but in the absence of a state of war, I'd call that "state-sponsored cyberterrorism" not legitimate activity. That's distinct from cyber-espionage, by the way, which is non-offensive covert operations/intelligence-gathering.
It's absolutely critical for governments to be establishing competency centers surrounding computer security - it's going to be an important problem in the future - but I think it's dangerously silly to be spinning up offensive-sounding forces, while the world still has not sorted out decent definitions of what constitutes valid targets and clarified the line between cyberterror and cyberwar. Right now, it's a complete muddle and I'm afraid that a lot of people want it that way because it makes them feel like badass l33t warriors instead of deskjockeys who install patches and clean up malware for a living.
My "cyberwar is bullsh*t" talk at HITB ruffled a lot of feathers from true believers, and I'm (I promise!) eventually going to write the whole argument up a bit more formally, and post it here and elsewhere. The short form, though, is that it behooves the governments that are worried about coming under attack to help clarify and define now (before it happens!) what they consider an act of war, versus terrorism, and whether or not civilian infrastructure systems are "military targets" versus targets of opportunity for economic harrassment attacks. I do not believe our leaders are acting responsibly in this matter.