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Countering cyber war

Timothy Shimeall, Phil Williams and Casey Dunlevy argue that defence planning has to incorporate the virtual world to limit physical damage in the real.

Viral attack: Disruption of information infrastructures is an attractive option for countries that lack the capacity to compete on the traditional battlefield

or many, the term cyber war conjures up images of deadly, malicious programmes causing computer systems to freeze, weapon systems to fail, thwarting vaunted technological prowess for a bloodless conquest. This picture, in which cyber war is isolated from broader conflict, operates in an altogether different realm from tra- ditional warfare and offers a bloodless alternative to the dangers and costs of modern warfare, is attractive but unre- alistic. Such a scenario is not beyond the realm of possi- bility, but it is unlikely. Cyber warfare will almost certain- ly have very real physical consequences. F

ners have come to see it as both a target and a weapon, exactly like other components and forces. Like other ele- ments of the modern military, cyber forces are most likely to be integrated into an overall battle strategy as part of a combined arms campaign. Computer technology differs from other military assets, however, in that it is an integral component of all other assets in modern armies. From this perspective, it is the one critical component upon which many modern militaries depend, a dependence that is not lost on potential enemies.

As computer technology has become increasingly inte- grated into modern military organisations, military plan-

Timothy Shimeall is a senior analyst with the CERT Analysis Center of Carnegie Mellon University, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, with specific interests in cyber war and cyber terrorism. Phil Williams, a former NATO fellow, is a profes- sor at the University of Pittsburgh and a visiting scientist at the CERT Analysis Center. Casey Dunlevy is a former intelligence analyst, and leads the CERT Analysis Center.

Countries around the world are developing and imple- menting cyber strategies designed to impact an enemy’s command and control structure, logistics, transportation, early warning and other critical, military functions. In addition, nations are increasingly aware that the use of cyber strategies can be a major force multiplier and equaliser. Smaller countries that could never compete in a conventional military sense with their larger neighbours can develop a capability that gives them a strategic advan- tage, if properly utilised. As a RAND Corporation study pointed out in the mid-1990s, the entry costs for conduct- ing cyber war are extremely modest. Not surprisingly,

16 NATO review

Winter 2001/2002

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