During political unrest, an invisible army is hard at work vying to hack into computer systems with the aim of disrupting what they can in the name of politics. It could be a city's website, and hackers shut it down. Also, hackers could attack a county's electrical power grid, causing power outages and furthering chaos during a protest or an election.
It's not a myth. It's not an urban legend. It's cyber warfare, and, unfortunately, it's a reality in our modern highly-connected world. As author George J. Stein said, "Information Warfare, in its most fundamental sense, is the emerging theatre in which future nation-against-nation conflict at the strategic level is most likely to occur."
First off, what is cyber warfare and what drives politically motivated cyber attacks? More important: what can businesses, government organizations and beyond do to protect themselves during times of heighten tensions? In this blog, we will take a closer look and offer tips.
What is cyber warfare?
Cyberspace is used as a battlefield for an invisible army of hackers. They are swift, calculating and dangerous because they can do their dirty work from nearly anywhere there's an internet connection.
Author Richard Clarke of "Cyber War," aptly describes cyber warfare as actions by a nation-state led group using cyber weaponry to attack other nations. Nation state attacks are reportedly on the rise and becoming more sophisticated.
In other words, cyber warfare doesn't use military-style airplanes and physical bombs. Instead, nation-state led groups, which share a political ideology, use technology to attack a nation or enterprise. Further, any country can wage an attack even with limited resources and funding. It's much cheaper to use technology to infiltrate a nation or organization.
The politically motivated cyber attacks are intended to intimidate a civilian population, with the aim of influencing a government's policy-making in some scenarios.This occurs especially between two countries with opposing political agendas. The more tension there is, the more the likelihood of nation-sanctioned attacks.
In other cases, political retaliation is the sole motivator and this sort of attack could happen to any organization, not just the government. The activities are carried out for sabotage and destruction.
A cyber war differs from cyber warfare. A cyber war is broadly defined as a series of back and forth actions between nations in cyber combat. It could be used in a combination of traditional military operations, although a cyber war at scale as yet to be reported.
Cyber warfare does not include physical violence. Here are some examples of cyber warfare attacks:
- Send malicious emails to infiltrate cities, federal government agencies and private enterprises.
- Target and shut down critical infrastructure such as electrical power grids, telecommunications networks and transportation systems. Safeguarding the nation's critical infrastructure is always a key priority for countries and infrastructure providers.
- Disrupt supply chain and distribution companies with malware to cause chaos.
- Disable media websites and networks of essential services.
- Steal data, intellectual property and sensitive classified information.
- Target financial systems and hurt the stock market.
Now for a few statistics
When it comes to information security, it's best to think ahead and truly understand what's at stake. No matter which industry you're in, it's ideal to be cyber resilient to combat evolving threats.
Don't think this could happen to you? Before we offer best practices on defense, let's take a look at a few statistics:
- Worldwide, cybercrime and espionage costs an estimated $600 billion in damages.
- In the U.S. alone, cyber warfare has cost upwards of $109 billion in 2018.
- Verizon's Data Beach Investigations found that 75% of breaches and attacks on the United States, were done from outside the country.
- In 2016, the U.S. Pentagon increased its staff to 6,000, from 1,800 in 2014.
- The money gained by cyber criminals - $300 billion - has been re-invested for future hacking attempts.
- Cyber espionage -- the theft of sensitive information -- is the top data breach and it greatly affects manufacturing, education and public administration.
- Nation-state actors wanting to stay competitive in the marketplace routinely target manufacturers to steal intellectual property.
Get cyber defense ready
First off, figure out what's vulnerable within your organization. Think about how political tensions could impact your security.
Do you have any sensitive information a nation-state hacker would want to steal? Is your organization politically involved or doing something that's deemed by some as controversial? Do you have any adversaries? If yes, try to understand their position and ideology.
NIST has a cybersecurity framework that can help you develop a solid cybersecurity strategy. You can watch this video for helpful best practices:
Further, you'll want to debrief with your entire staff and figure out if they are ready for a cyber attack. We previously covered essential tips on this, in this blog post.
Train your security team with a cyber range
A cyber range is an excellent way to train security teams. The training is conducted in a simulated environment and offers realistic hacking scenarios and how to tackle them. To understand if a cyber range fits your organizational needs, visit this blog post to learn more.
We also have a video explaining how a cyber range can help you. You can watch it here:
While cyber warfare might not be on the top of your mind, remember that such incidents increase during times of political tensions. It's best to be prepared and think ahead by getting your entire staff involved and trained on cyber hygiene to help safeguard your organization, political or not. We are all in this together.
24By7Security offers a host of cybersecurity services. Let us be your first line of defense by calling us today.