Monday, September 12, 2016

Cyber, just as old as ancient human history

Recently I visited a seminar on which the question was asked about what was new on the phenomenon cyber. Although I somehow find we still should #ditchcyber, I started thinking about that question. After some internal computing time I came to the conclusion that cyber is nothing new and that is just as old as ancient human history. Well, that is, the paradigm in which cyber resides is ancient.

Fifth paradigm of warfare

In June 2016 the NATO officially declared the cyberspace as the fifth domain of warfare. The other four are land, sea, air and space. With the ongoing attacks and governments ranking up their cyber-capabilities, our precious infrastructure is becoming ever more a potential zone of conflict. But why is this a development that needs real attention?

Every paradigm strengthens the other

Once there was merely conflict on land. People attacked each other with ordinary weapons. First it was all melee combat which ‘soon’ was strengthen by ranged combat. But still, everything was done on land and defenses grew in time to withstand such attacks. When the second paradigm, sea, came into play battles changed quickly. Not only were battles fought on sea, but sea was also used to strengthen land combat. Troops could be sent in through ships in (at first) defenseless harbors.

The third paradigm took a while to arise in our arsenal of conflict zones, but it came with devastating capabilities. Through the air many defenses became almost pointless (like city walls) and aerial combat strengthen both land and sea warfare. Even planes could take off from carriers to strike on land, sea and in the air.

Space was the fourth paradigm, and as far as we know all countries uphold the international treaty about not bringing warfare to space. Often people do not know that the treaty is only about ground-to-space and space-to-space combat and that it does not include space-to-ground combat. So it is ‘allowed’ to use satellites for ground bombardments, but you will have to violate the treaty to take down the satellite that is attacking.

We should be thankful for countries upholding the treaties so far. When you look at the four paradigms combined with our increasing capabilities you see that the potential casualties of conflict increase. And I want to emphasize on the potential part, because since 1945 the absolute casualties due to conflict has been decreasing ever since (Our World in Data).

Screenshot of Kaspersky Lab Cybermap
Cyber, the fifth paradigm, recently emerged from our endless increasing capabilities in computing, storage and networking power. The Internet came to life and our lives and everything else are becoming ever more interconnected. But also already present land, sea, air and space capabilities are strengthened by the use of cyber technologies. Just think about drones that are bombing regions remotely and critical infrastructures like power grids that are taken offline through the means of cyber. The potential damages (most often economical for now) are increasing all the time. And sooner, rather than later, casualties will also be the result of cyber-attacks.

Casualties just might seem far-fetched, but think about remotely interrupting pacemakers and taking down critical infrastructure like electricity and fresh water. Taking does down in regions suffering from extreme heat might result in many fatalities due to dehydration and overheating. But also driverless cars crashing into each other, or planes that can be hacked from the ground.

Cyber is not new, but it has a key new characteristic

Most often our government is taking care of the defense of land, sea, air and space. There is an army for external intruders, and there is often a police-force for internal advisories. Countries also have intelligence agencies that feed the governments they represent with intel on what (potential) enemies our doing and planning. We as citizens might have a good night sleep without worrying to much about being invaded, knowingly that this sadly does not apply to all of us.

The new aspect of the cyber domain is that we cannot depend on the government alone for proper protection of, well, kind of everything and more than that. Companies and individuals alike also have to contribute to the overall safety of our world. It is imperative that those with power use such powers with responsibility. And I do not mean superheroes, but nation leaders, CEOs, CIOs, CTOs, CISOs and everyone else that can influence budgets to rank up the cyber defense. And in essence, they just might be the modern-day cyber-heroes.

So is Cyber new? No, it’s paradigm is ancient, just like any other. It has opportunities, risks, weapons and defenses. But the fact that it needs to be protected by everyone, instead of only the government, with the power to influence its security is new.

Oh, and again #ditchcyber, it most often clouds (no pun intended) discussions on the things that matter.