Cyberattacks Being The Invisible Battlefield


  • Research firm estimates that cyberattacks would cost the global economy $6 trillion in 2021.
  • The 25-nation Group of Governmental Experts finalized the framework, which takes into account the law of armed conflict for cyberspace activities.

The computer systems of government agencies and major corporations are increasingly being hacked, vital and sensitive information is being stolen and the risk is rising of major destruction to economic infrastructure, says an article published in Daily Maverick.

Cyberattacks could be lethal, for example, if a cyberattack were to impair a nuclear power plant’s cooling system, causing a meltdown and the release of dangerous radiation into the environment. Cybersecurity Ventures, a research firm, estimates that cyberattacks would cost the global economy $6 trillion in 2021, more than doubling the 2015 figure. It is predicted that the damage caused will far outnumber all natural disasters this year, and that cybercriminals’ revenues will far outnumber those from all major illegal drug trades combined.

The destructive cyberattacks

Hacking has become commonplace. However, numerous particularly devastating cyberattacks have occurred in recent years, causing significant damage to many firms, government organizations, and political parties in the West. In 2016, a group known as Cozy Bear (or APT 29) – which the US identified as a front for Russia’s SVR intelligence agency – stole and released a trove of embarrassing emails from the US Democratic National Committee, ostensibly to hurt Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign and help Republican Party candidate Donald Trump, whom Russian President Vladimir Putin appears to support.

Many organizations and institutions were attacked by the WannaCry cyberattack in 2017, which took down substantial portions of the UK’s National Health System. The United States, the United Kingdom, Australia, Canada, New Zealand, and Japan all blamed the North Korean regime for the attack. NotPetya, a particularly nasty ransomware virus, crippled scores of major corporations in Europe, Asia, and the Americas in the same year. The most recent culprit fingered by US security agencies was another Russian ransomware firm, REvil, which attacked several hundred US corporations, including one of its largest beef producers, JBS. REvil – short for Ransomware evil – then demanded millions of dollars to unlock the accounts of these companies. 

The intensifying cyber attack

Rising geopolitical tensions between the West and Russia and China are reflected in these increased attacks. They appear to be techniques employed by Russia and China in their “hybrid” battle against the United States, NATO, and the West in general. This grey area of espionage, theft of state or industrial secrets, or attempts to destabilize Western democracies causes disruption, confusion, high costs, and some destruction, but it does not amount to the kind of aggression that would justify a military response, which Russia and China are likely to lose. China, according to the US, is particularly focused on stealing industrial and military secrets in order to advance ahead of the competition in advanced technology.

A diplomatic solution

Weapons of mass destruction – nuclear, chemical and biological – have been subject to arms control because they are owned and developed by governments. Most disruptive cyberactivity falls below that threshold, since it doesn’t rise to the level of a use of force that could give rise to an armed conflict. The framework asserts that international humanitarian law – the law of armed conflict – applies to states’ activities in cyberspace. Moliehi Makumane, who represented the Department of International Relations and Cooperation in the negotiations, said the rising volume of cyberattacks globally made South Africa realize the importance of regulating state behavior in cyberspace and so to seek membership of the 25-nation Group of Governmental Experts which finalized the framework.

Biden has responded more strongly than Trump

Joe Biden has gone further than Donald Trump in responding to Russian cyber aggression. On April 15 the US expelled 10 Russian diplomats from the US and imposed sanctions on 32 Russian officials and other entities. Biden warned that he could have gone further but did not want to start a downward spiral of retaliations. And on July 15 the US laid formal criminal charges against four hackers of China’s Ministry of State Security, which the US said had been behind the huge Microsoft email hack and other cyberattacks.

After another REvil attack over the July 4 holiday, The New York Times wrote that officials had revealed to it that the first major retaliation in kind by the US was expected over the next three weeks, “with a series of clandestine actions across Russian networks that are intended to be evident to President Vladimir V Putin and his intelligence services and military but not to the wider world”. The newspaper quoted Biden’s national security adviser, Jake Sullivan, as saying a mix of public sanctions and private actions was the most likely combination to force a “broad strategic discussion with the Russians”.

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Source: Daily Maverick


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