As our society developed and evolved, advancements were made in technology to keep up with people’s needs. Innovations were important for us to thrive and today, humans and technology have become inseparable from each other.
Our lives have been taken over by technology to such a degree that we are fighting virtual wars now. It may sound far-fetched, but it is closer to the truth than we may realize or want to admit. Wars are not fought on battlefields anymore; they are fought behind computer screens.
We are not armed with swords and guns, but with classified and highly sensitive information, the disclosure of which can seriously damage other countries. We are in the age of cyber warfare now.
What is cyber warfare?
Post the world-war era, several countries came together and mutually agreed to prevent wars and outlaw them. Many agreements, protocols, and treaties were signed to resolve international conflicts peacefully.
They were mostly successful but in the past few decades, the tension that has been brewing between nations has found a virtual outlet. Nations have begun engaging in cyber warfare now.
Cyber warfare refers to a digital attack of any kind carried out by one country against another. These attacks take the form of hacking and/or usage of cyber weapons to corrupt, change or destroy crucial computer software, websites, systems, and information network of other nations.
The acquired information is then used to spy on the nation and leak their secrets, thereby causing substantial harm to their infrastructure and economy.
Why and how do states sponsor cyber-attacks?
There are several reasons why a country resorts to offensive and intrusive cyber-attacks against another country. State-sponsored cyber warfare is not necessarily fuelled by a financial motive.
Depending on the severity of the attack, it is done to gain power, warn other countries by setting a precedent and establish global dominance. Most of them have political, economic, and cultural motives behind them. Some of them involve an aim to create military superiority.
Countries take advantage of their governing authority to arrange and execute such cyber-attacks very discreetly. They indirectly fund these attacks by employing skilled hackers to top-secret missions.
These skilled employees are not military personnel but regular civilians of a country with excellent know-how of such technology. They are equipped with state-of-the-art resources and receive full support from the country’s government to reach their goal.
Since this is not conducted officially and there is no formal documented evidence of it, nations can deny any kind of responsibility if they are blamed.
Moreover, the secret nature of it all still helps the nations in maintaining diplomatic relations. There are no defined international laws on cyber-attacks, hence, blurring the line between what is criminal and what is not.
The different types of state-sponsored cyber attacks
Cyber espionage refers to the act of spying on rival nations to gain political, military, and economic advantage. Cyber-attacks are launched to discover and steal classified information and official encrypted information.
It can include anything ranging from country secrets, economic and trade secrets, reports on technological innovation, national security, intellectual property, etc.
Attack on infrastructure
This type of cyber-attack directly targets the network, computer systems, and/or infrastructure of the country whose activities the attack aims to disrupt or derail.
Power grids, oil refineries, manufacturing units, and nuclear plants are some of the most common victims of state-sponsored cyber-attacks.
Attacks on businesses
High-profile businesses have become common targets of state-sponsored cyber warfare. Since businesses are one of the main pillars of a nation’s economy, a serious data breach that halts or disrupts company activities causes damage to the nation, too.
Psychological and propaganda warfare
Cyber-attacks misuse political propaganda campaigns to spread disinformation. They manipulate people’s psychology to influence public opinion and create unrest and division among the people.
This is mostly done during elections to paint a favorable or negative image of a party.
Prominent state-sponsored cyber-attacks in the past
- Stuxnet is a computer malware that was built to cause comparable harm to Iran’s nuclear program. It targeted centrifuges that produced uranium – a fuel used by nuclear plants and reactors. Although no country ever owned responsibility for it, it is generally thought that the USA and Israel propagated this attack. It was a non-violent altercation to prevent Israel and Iran from engaging in a nuclear war. It is regarded as the world’s first-ever cyberweapon and became a turning point in state-sponsored cyber warfare activities.
- Russia’s interference in the 2016 US elections made headlines worldwide. This cyber-attack was fuelled by a political motive as the Russian government benefited from the alliance with presidential candidate Donald Trump. It created several fake social media groups and proxy voter accounts that supported Trump and campaigned against Hillary Clinton. It attempted to hack the voter rolls and state electoral systems to manipulate votes.
- In 2010, Google accused the Chinese government of hacking into its system and trying to steal their Intellectual Property rights. Countries like Canada, India, Australia, and the USA have also accused China of cyber spying and attempting to damage their commercial, industrial, military, and research organizations via cyber-attacks.
How to deal with state-sponsored cyber attacks?
The anonymity of this entire process is the biggest roadblock in combating cyber warfare. If a nation is a victim of warfare once, it will likely be attacked again.
Even if they have strong suspicions about who is behind it, they cannot blame them or charge them for it. It is nearly impossible to make their own responsibility for it because there is no significant evidence implying their involvement.
Organizations have started becoming proactive in their defensive approach. They adopt the principle of the saying ‘Prevention is better than cure.’
It is always better to be prepared for an attack rather than dealing with the aftermath of it. They will not only have to tighten their security measures considerably but also be on the constant lookout for the next possible attack.
If the organization’s security team manages to identify a hacker’s techniques and begin to think like him, they can recognize their system and infrastructure vulnerabilities and limitations and work on fixing them.
SecureTriad offers several different penetration testing services that effectively determine what loopholes are present in systems, what the impact will be if exploited, and how to resolve them. To get a bearing on your organization’s security posture, get in touch with an expert today