Not so long ago, the word ‘cyberwar’ would have seemed more at home in science fiction than news headlines across the world. Yet here we are in a digital age, where the majority of us find ourselves attached to some sort of mobile device connected to the World Wide Web for hours a day. Our personal details are sprawled across numerous social networking sites and countless memberships. Government data is written, saved and accessed in digital formats and entire infrastructures are dependent on computers and wireless technology, not least many national defense systems. It makes sense then that cyberwar is in fact something very real indeed and it is happening as we speak.
By definition, cyberwar refers to the use of computer technology to disrupt the activities of a nation-state or organisation, especially the deliberate attacking of communication systems. Methods of attack are similar to those used in conventional warfare such as espionage and sabotage. The former refers to the obtaining of sensitive or classified information and can result in breaches of national security that expose nation-states to levels of extreme vulnerability. The latter is far more brutal and can literally bring infrastructures to a standstill through the interference of systems of just about any kind, from national power grids to air traffic control and satellite communications.
Until recently, cyberwar was perhaps more closely associated with acts of terrorism. However as the conflict between Ukraine and Russia unfolds, news of cyber-attacks and spying is appearing more frequently with reports of incidents occurring on both sides.
It has also been revealed that Britain’s Ministry of Defense (MoD) is currently in the process of developing a multimillion-pound research programme into the future of cyberwarfare. What is particularly unique about this programme is its investigation into emerging technologies such as social media and how psychological techniques can be harnessed by the military to influence people’s beliefs. We already know about the power of censorship from China’s ongoing fight for control over its population’s access to information. What we are only just beginning to realise however is just how vulnerable we are in a society that merges freedom of speech and information with perpetual marketing strategies from every angle.