In the modern world, warfare is no longer conducted with just weapons. Since everything from planes to smartphones are connected to computers, asymmetrical and non-traditional warfare programs stress the value of cyber security. Although worrying about a cyber attack from a foreign nation is always a threat, an even greater problem comes from hackers and online criminals. With just a simple software program, hackers can steal information, person data and financial details without the victim realizing it.

Why Does Cyber Security Matter?

Cyber security encompasses techniques that are designed to protect information, networks, computers and software programs from unauthorized access. It is an exceptionally important field because so much information is now stored in computers. The military, banks, hospitals and the government all keep information on computers and transmit it across a network. This data is often the target of sophisticated cyber attacks.

In March 2013, top intelligence officials from the United States warned the Senate that cyber attacks and online spying would become the top threat to national security. While terrorism has been the main focus of military defense for the last decade, cyber security has emerged as the top issue. Due to this, the government of the United States has allotted $13 billion a year to this field since the end of 2010.

How Cyber Warfare Works

Cyber warfare is different than basic hacking or cyber terrorism. It occurs when a different country tries to penetrate the government, military or commercial networks of another nation. While land, space, air and sea have been the traditional battlefields for warfare, online and network penetration has quickly become the fifth option. One example occurred in Iran’s nuclear plants. Since the plants were shut off from the Internet, normal hacking was impossible for the United States. Instead, they were able to shut down the plants by infecting the plant’s vendors with the Stuxnet virus. Afterward, the virus entered the Iranian nuclear plants through the vendors and shut down the centrifuges.

Another example occurred in the country of Georgia in 2008. During their war with Russia, Georgia’s infrastructure and government websites were crippled by a Russian cyber attack. These attacks do not always shut down a network. Often, another country will allow the network to keep running without an issue so that they can gather intelligence. If a war does start, the country can always use their penetration to actually shut down the network or interrupt the enemy’s infrastructure.

Cyber Terrorism: A New Worry for Nation-States

Normally, a terrorist network is not large enough to take on an entire country in the battlefield. Due to this, terrorists often use strategic military attacks such as 9/11 or cyber attacks. Terrorists may cause a distributed denial of service (DDoS) attack to put government and banking networks out of commission. In a recent example, Estonia was hit with a DDoS attack following the removal of a Russian memorial in 2007. Cyber attacks are not just limited to terrorists, however. The hacking group, Anonymous, will often attack American governmental websites like the FBI, CIA or Homeland Security.

Espionage, Spies and Infiltration

Beyond warfare techniques, the Internet and hacking are exceptional ways to gather intelligence about another nation or terrorist group. Instead of investing resources and facing the risk of having on-the-ground personnel, nations can conduct their espionage activities from a distance. This type of cyber security risk is a growing problem as nations like North Korea, Iran and China strengthen their technological capabilities. Another nation may use cyber espionage to gather information for a military, political or economic advantage. Another nation such as China could use hacking techniques to figure out the design or formula for specific products and gain a competitive advantage in the marketplace. Militarily, the threat of cyber espionage carries severe costs. State-sponsored hackers could learn about the capabilities, location and objectives of American troops without ever having to leave their offices.

For businesses, countries and individuals, cyber security remains a serious concern. The threat to intelligence communities and intellectual property rights surpasses anything that could have occurred before the development of the Internet. Cyberspace has been exceptionally difficult to keep secure because of the number of possible attacks that can originate from anywhere across the globe. As a major threat to infrastructure, cyber attacks have received a growing focus from the commercial and government entities.