How Cyber-Warfare has Revolutionized 21st Century Conflict

Madelyn Streisfeld - Teen Aspect - June 11th, 2022
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Sure, war may seem like a timeless phenomenon. After all, it is possible to trace the first human conflicts back to the Stone Age, when cavemen utilized primitive technologies to convey individual or group superiority. We could acknowledge the use of spears in ancient Sparta, grenades in World War I, and atomic weaponry during the Cold War era, all of which illustrate how war - although a constant in our world - is ever-evolving.


The changes in war tactics reflect the level of mechanization experienced by a particular society. So while it may seem fitting to characterize conflict by physical battles, such a stereotype no longer reflects our daily interactions… most of which have gone digital. But just as mobile technology usage can pose a threat to individuals, cyberwar has added yet another dangerous and unprecedented layer to modern-day conflict.


As media professor Katharina Niemeyer and colleagues write for The Conversation, cyberwar “refers to all operations taking place on the internet, and to the physical infrastructure that supports it,” namely including attacking networks, jamming websites, and distributing new types of propaganda (2022).


The current Russian invasion of Ukraine is a case study for such tactics. Microsoft reported that before the incursion began in early 2022, Russian cyber actors attacked Ukrainian energy and IT providers with destructive computer viruses, impacting accessibility to devices and data (Bing & Pearson, 2022).


But cyber-warfare is unique in its implications, for it not only poses a threat to those on battlefields, as is the case with conventional warfare. Rather, its existence has created a contemporary total-war hybrid, in which every conflict is now capable of targeting private entities and civilians.


And far too often, the governments intended to protect individuals are incapable of shielding against these novel tactics. In a survey conducted by internet security firm NordVPN, only 19% of respondents revealed having faith in the United States’ ability to protect its citizens against cyber-warfare (2022).


Citizens can also be indirect targets of digital misconduct. Reuters journalist Raphael Satter described that on February 24, tens of thousands of satellite modems, including many found in Ukraine, underwent a “digital sabotage” that disabled communications (2022). Simultaneously, Russian forces began their invasion, leading accusations for the cyberattack to be placed on Putin. The loss of communications significantly impacted the coordination of Ukraine’s war effort, while also preventing Ukrainian citizens from accessing the internet and news sources at a time when they desperately needed both for safety.


What makes cyber-warfare even more alarming is that it can be difficult to trace the source. Rather than being limited to state-sponsored espionage activities, cyberwar includes hacktivism - digital security breaches by an individual or group with a political agenda. Thus, the proportion of a population that is now on the offensive has grown drastically, for war has become a private operation as well.


As young individuals who utilize automated technology more than any other previous generation, we are at the greatest risk of encountering the reverberations of cyberwar. Therefore, it is imperative that we comprehend the implications associated with conflict in the Digital Age. Computerization may be a valuable asset in combat, but we must learn how to navigate it and acknowledge that advancement does not always mean improvement.


References

Bahar, Z. (2022, May 3). Could Russia-Ukraine cyberattacks start a cyberwar in America? NordVPN. Retrieved from https://nordvpn.com/blog/could-russia-ukraine-cyberattacks-start-a-cyberwar-in-america/

Bing, C., Pearson, J. (2022, May 10). The cyber war between Ukraine and Russia: An overview. Reuters. Retrieved from https://www.reuters.com/world/europe/factbox-the-cyber-war-between-ukraine-russia-2022-05-10/

Niemeyer, K., Trudel, D., Tworek, H., Silina, M., Matviyenko, S. (2022, March 28). The Russian invasion shows how digital technologies have become involved in all aspects of war. The Conversation. Retrieved from https://theconversation.com/the-russian-invasion-shows-how-digital-technologies-have-become-involved-in-all-aspects-of-war-179918

Satter, R. (2022, March 15). Satellite outage caused 'huge loss in communications' at war's outset - Ukrainian official. Reuters. https://www.reuters.com/world/satellite-outage-caused-huge-loss-communications-wars-outset-ukrainian-official-2022-03-15/


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