“Cyber War” is a term that gets tossed around a lot these days. With every new style of attack, someone will predict that we have entered into cyber war and all sorts of experts will try to figure out what that means, exactly.
Cyber war was the main topic at the Kaspersky Lab Cyber Conference, to which I was lucky enough to be invited. The conference, called “2012: IT Security in the Age of Cyber Warfare,” has covered a number of issues concerning when the first strike might have occurred — while many believe that it came in 2007 when Estonia was the victim of a massive cyber attack from Russia, not everyone attending this conference seemed convinced the attack constituted “war.” It also covered how we should approach the international problem of cyber threats, and whether or not there is a true definition to the term “cyber war.”
The question of what is cyber war was brought up during a panel discussion that included Eugene Kaspersky, CEO of Kaspersky Lab; Michael Moran, assistant director of cybersecurity and crime with Interpol; Alexander Ntoko, head, corporate strategy division, International Telecommunication Union; and Alexander Seger, secretary of the cybercrime convention committee, head of data protection and cybercrime division, Council of Europe. An impressive panel, to be sure.
Of course, there was no definitive answer on what constitutes a cyber war, just the educated and thoughtful opinions of four men well-versed in studying cyber crime who raised even more questions on how to define cyber war by the end of the conversation. There was agreement that we tend to get too caught up in semantics. As Moran said, words are easy to throw but definitions are hard to come by.
Do we even really need a definition? Will putting a label on a cyber attack make it any less or more destructive? I couldn’t help but think of one of my favorite TV shows during this panel discussion, “M*A*S*H.” In that show about the Korean War, viewers are often reminded that the military action in Korea was never actually called a war. It was called a “police action.” But as the show’s doctors and nurses often wondered, what was the difference between a war and a police action, because the results were pretty much the same.
So, perhaps cyber war is one nation purposely attacking another. Perhaps it is a nation retaliating against an attack. Maybe it is hacktivism or maybe it is when government leaders come together to squelch an uprising.
Whatever cyber war is, the panelists agreed on one important point: It will take a global effort to defend and prevent cyber threats. But that is not an easy task, either. Look for more discussion on that topic in the coming days.