Media reports claim that the US is secretly claiming the right to launch pre-emptive cyberattacks in “credible threat” scenarios, in the wake of the attacks on US media outlets. But how credible are those threats?
The damage done by cyberattacks is not always immediately apparent, even after they have been carried out. Many were surprised when the New York Times, the Wall Street Journal and the Washington Post announced recently that they had been hit for over four months by cyberattacks, in part coming from China. Perhaps more alarmingly, the US Department of Homeland Security said that one power station had been knocked out for weeks by a cyberattack, though it declined to say which.
The US has of course launched a number of digital onslaughts of its own, most notably on Iran’s nuclear enrichment facilities. And that attack was not risk-free, as the so-called Stuxnet virus injected into Iranian systems ended up being leaked onto the Internet and copied millions of times.
A number of security firms and analysts have warned that cyber warfare will escalate in 2013, with some warning that it could be only a matter of time before a cyberweapon takes lives like any other weapon would. “Nation-state attackers will target critical infrastructure networks such as power grids at unprecedented scale in 2013,” predicted Chiranjeev Bordoloi, CEO of US security company Top Patch, speaking to CNN. “These types of attacks could grow more sophisticated, and the slippery slope could lead to the loss of human life.”