Cyber warfare

Published: October 5, 2010
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The writer is a freelance journalist

The writer is a freelance journalist

Going face to face with the enemy appears to have taken a back seat when it comes to attempting, rightly or wrongly, to bring Iran into line as far as its nuclear capabilities are concerned. While troops of an unspecified nation remain grounded in this respect, top notch computer experts are in full flight: their tool a specifically created software smart bomb designed to infiltrate and take over computer program of targets, including the controversial Bushehr nuclear facility whose operational launch date has been inexplicably delayed.

Long the stuff of science fiction novels, the ‘Stuxnet worm’ as it has been christened, is specifically instructed to target operational systems designed by German company Siemens, which is responsible for computer management systems in a number of nuclear facilities, power plants, oil rigs, water supply systems, high-speed railway networks and a number of other important services. Stuxnet has the capability to completely hijack nuclear and other important facilities, remaining undetected by on the spot experts to whom infected systems will appear to be functioning normally.

The worm is suspected to have infected over 30,000 internet provider addresses in Iran, including computers owned and operated by staff members at the Bushehr nuclear facility. Stuxnet has also turned up in Pakistan, India, Indonesia plus some other ‘secret’ locations and has the frightening capacity to instruct machinery to overload and, ultimately, self-destruct. The annihilation caused by, for example, a nuclear facility unexpectedly blowing sky-high, doesn’t bear thinking about but Stuxnet can, quite conceivably, make this happen with the finger of blame being pointed, one expects, towards the perceived inefficiency of the country where the facility is located. The spectre of ‘unknown’ hands controlling all manner of strategic facilities and utilities on a global basis has suddenly become a distinct reality as, in all probability, Stuxnet is only one of a myriad of such malware program on the launch pad or already unleashed. Such sophisticated ‘smart bombs’ are not the brainchild of ordinary hackers; the intelligence behind them denotes a superior team of experts with knowledge of the intricate systems they intend to target.

Cyber warfare, as it undoubtedly is, could result in global and inter-stellar domination by a core group of specialists operating on behest of a single nation, a group of nations or, as in numerous Clive Cussler novels, by a single megalomaniac out for their own ends. Massive conventional armed might, along with army recruitment centres and the expenditure of billions of dollar’s by countries who can ill afford it could, within a reasonable span of years, become a thing of the past along with munitions and other associated industries and whilst this may be welcomed by some segments of society the outcome of cyber warfare will depend on which computer genius decides to press ‘Enter’.

Published in The Express Tribune, October 6th, 2010.

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Reader Comments (2)

  • Dr.Habibullah Chaudhry
    Oct 6, 2010 - 12:35PM

    Cyber attacks are a reality. Defence against them is being created but attacks on armaments and nuclear weapon systems is frightening for mankind. This may endanger space programmes.Recommend

  • Sampson
    Oct 6, 2010 - 11:06PM

    Good article – till I got to the end where it suddenly turned into a puerile sci-fi flick (‘Hackers’, anyone?). Cyber warfare is a reality. The US military has several specialized programs dedicated to both cyber attack and defense. Cyber attacks were used – sparingly, so as not to trigger an open cyber arms race – in Iraq. Most militaries have similar programs. Successful cyber attackers need an array of resources, so a mad-genius Bond villain bringing the world to its knees by hacking away at a keyboard is a scenario verging on the impossible. Simply sifting the data required to execute a successful cyber attack often takes scores of specialists. Less glamorous attacks on bank data etc has the potential to allow smaller networks of saboteurs to cause massive devastation (e.g. Citibank alone transfers 3 trillion dollars each day. Imagine if that data got wiped). But even here security efforts have been massively ramped up. But cyber attacks will always supplement shooting wars, not replace them. War is about the power of life and death, not run and reboot. Recommend

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