Nation states have a new kind of weapon—how well is Britain preparing? (This article is from Prospect's supplement on cyber resilience)by Alex Dean / August 29, 2019 / Leave a comment
Warfare has always evolved. As weapons change so does the reality of conflict: spears gave way to swords, then to rifles and machine guns. Horses gave way to tanks and then fighter jets and now drones. Each had destructive new implications. The speed at which you can develop new technology puts you on the winning or losing side.
We are now into the next phase: cyber warfare. Nation states have a new weapon in their armoury. The internet provides for entirely new modes of conflict, and it is ubiquitous. So what will this new chapter look like, and what can Britain do to prepare? Having spoken to leading military and cyber experts, my view is that cyber resilience must be a first-order strategic priority.
Certainly, the challenge is unlike what came before. For Malcolm Rifkind, former foreign and defence secretary, “wars of the future will not just involve the armed forces of the combatants fighting each other. They will include economic warfare, propaganda, armed militias, terrorists and, most especially, cyber warfare.”
According to Admiral Alan West, former first sea lord and chief of the naval staff, “the development of the internet, and advances in digital control of growing areas of civil and military life, has changed things.” He added “the damage that can be caused to civilian networks and infrastructure [may] be immense if not properly guarded against.”
That potential for damage is becoming all too clear. Examples abound of malicious hackers inflicting harm, often on behalf of a hostile state. In 2015 the group “spearworm,” widely thought to be acting under instructions from the Kremlin, hacked the Ukrainian power system and disrupted the country’s electricity supply. They successfully infiltrated three different energy systems to do their damage. It was the world’s first successful cyberattack on a power grid.
This was not the first time Russia has used the cyber domain to strike against other countries. “The Russians [carried out] a massive cyberattack on Estonia some years ago,” said Rifkind, referring to the 2007 attack on the Estonian parliament, banking system and other critical infrastructure. And it would not be the last. The 2016 Russian interference in the US presidential election, and possibly in the Brexit referendum, indicated what is at stake. A full-scale cyberwar would be orders of magnitude more…