In the past, these attacks were often treated as decentralized, anonymous, and less serious than kinetic “real world” warfare, but are now seen as highly orchestrated, quietly destructive, and often financially, psychologically, and even physically costly once a campaign’s attacks have been detected and assessed. Also known as Cyber Warfare, digital warfare campaigns are typically fought remotely, often appear without warning, can be difficult to track, and are sometimes unnoticed until their destruction has already taken place or is nearly impossible to prevent or counter if sufficient security technologies and protocols have not been put in place beforehand.
What are examples of digital or cyber warfare attacks?
The advent of the internet and tremendous growth in new “smart” devices and systems controlled remotely or by artificial intelligence created many positive opportunities, but also opened the door to a range of digital warfare attacks against government and corporate data repositories and infrastructure operations. The types of attacks have varied and continue to evolve, but have included:
Data breach attacks – the theft of classified intelligence, asset identities, product formulas, emails, financial records, etc. – have disrupted military operations, caused unexpected market volatility, undermined national elections, exposed private agreements, and more when carried out against government agencies, corporations, political parties, and even individuals. It has become a trillion dollar industry, with hackers today being aided by bots – internet robots that crawl the web following programmed orders to find and exploit system vulnerabilities – as well as constantly-evolving spyware, cross-border ransomware, and more.
Cybertage attacks inflict deliberate damage on a governments or corporation’s data or facilities, which can be easier than stealing information and can cause more widespread and long-term disruptions. This approach could make bank records disappear, cause research equipment to destroy itself, remove computerized speed controls from a train system, and much more. This cyber sabotage can shut down an organization overnight and cost workers their wages for as long as it takes to replace the information or equipment. It can be achieved using computer worms, phishing ploys, malware, distributed denial-of-service (DDoS) hacks, or by importing – or tricking users into importing a virus.
Infrastructure attacks target a nation by “breaking” vulnerable elements of its civilian power, water, transportation, banking, medical, communications, and emergency management systems. By disrupting operations of a transit system, a metropolitan water authority, an emergency response system, or even a town’s local sanitation system – possibly all at the same time – digital attacks on infrastructure not only disrupt people’s lives today but also sow seeds of doubt and negativity about those systems into the future. Also, in many countries these systems are operated by a mix of municipalities, states, counties, federal agencies, and private companies, so their data and control systems are not always compatible and can be vulnerable to cyber intrusions. Their internet and other network connections also make those organization’s weaknesses potential points of entry for hackers to access more sensitive government or corporate data.
Can cyberattacks be prevented?
Cyberattacks and full digital warfare campaigns that threaten other nations and their major businesses are generally instigated from outside the target country, so preventing an initial attack is unlikely unless intelligence learns of it prior to launch. Further, major digital warfare campaigns are automated and augmented by artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning (ML) to make them more effective, so the vast data repositories of governments and their defense systems, as well as their network connections, are being assailed by ongoing torrents of cyberattacks, not just one or two at a time. However, taking a layered, variable-access security domain approach to prevent digital intruders from reaching their intended targets greatly reduces the likelihood of such attacks succeeding and can contain the damage of those that do get through.
In cyber security, this is called a Cross Domain Solutions (CDS) approach and it is used via integrated software-hardware systems to secure data and network interactions throughout the U.S. government, including the U.S. Department of Defense (DOD) and U.S. intelligence agencies, as well as other countries and many of the world’s largest multi-national corporations. According to the National Cross Domain Strategy Management Office (NCDSMO) of the National Security Agency (NSA), “Cross Domain Solutions through robust mechanisms enforce reliable compliance to Federal, DoD, and Intelligence Community’s information assurance policies.” Their policies require three qualities from CDS technologies and services:
- Data confidentiality: Assuring non-disclosure of sensitive information to unauthorized and malicious processes, users, and devices.
- Data integrity: Safeguarding information against non-legitimate alteration or destruction.
- Data availability: Allowing authorized users access to timely data and information services reliably.
Related topics to explore
Cross Domain Solution interoperability • Cyber Defense • Data Breach • Digital Attack Malware • Digital Attack Surface Execution Environment (DESI) • Field-Programmable Gate Arrays (FPGAs) • General Purpose Operating System (GPOS) • High Speed Guard Solutions • High Assurance Cross Domain Solutions • One-Way Transfer Diodes • Raise-the-Bar (RTB) protocols • Ransomware
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