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IT leader’s guide to the threat of cyberwarfare

Originally Published:
Oct 2017

As we become increasingly reliant on digital infrastructure, the possibility of a crippling cyberattack continues to mount. Communications and banking systems, power grids and factories—all face an increasing risk of state-sponsored attacks. This ebook looks at how today's security threats have expanded in their scope and seriousness—and how cyber weapons may define international conflicts in the future.

From the ebook:

At its heart, cyberwarfare involves digital attacks on the networks, systems and data of another state, with the aim of creating significant disruption or destruction. That might involve destroying, altering or stealing data, or making it impossible to access online services, whether they are used by the military and broader society. These digital attacks may also be designed to cause physical damage in the real world—such as hacking into a dam's control systems to opening its floodgates.

Such attacks can form part of a more traditional military campaign or be used as a standalone attack.

A wider definition of cyberwarfare could also include some elements of what is also known as information warfare—including online propaganda and disinformation, such as the use of 'troll armies' to promote a certain view of the world across social media.

There is no settled legal definition of what cyberwarfare is and there are no laws that specifically refer to it. That doesn't mean the concept isn't covered by international law, or that it is considered trivial. Among western states there is a general consensus that an online attack on a state can—if it is severe enough—be the equivalent of an armed physical attack.

NATO has, for example, updated its rules of engagement so that an electronic attack on one of its members could be considered an attack on all of them—triggering its collective defense clause. Increasingly it is seen as another potential battlefield alongside land, sea, air and space.

But cyberwar remains a shifting concept, one that describes a shadowy world—the domain of spies, top-secret military projects and hackers often working at arms-length from their own governments.

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