Cyber threats vary from simple hacking of an email to waging a war against a state.
Cyber threats can be classified broadly into two categories:
1. Cybercrime – against individuals, corporates, etc.
2. Cyber warfare – against a state
1. Cyber Crime:
Use of cyber space, i.e. computer, internet, cellphone, other technical devices, etc., to commit a crime by an individual or organised group is called cyber-crime. Cyber attackers use numerous vulnerabilities in cyberspace to commit cybercrime. They exploit the weaknesses in the software and hardware design through the use of malware.
DoS attacks are used to overwhelm the targeted websites. Hacking is a common way of piercing the defenses of protected computer systems and interfering with their functioning. Identity theft is also common. The scope and nature of threats and vulnerabilities is multiplying with every passing day.
Cybercrime may be divided into two categories:
i. Crimes that Target Computers Directly:
a. Spreading computer viruses
b. Denial-of-service (DoS) attack is an attempt to make a machine or network resource unavailable to its intended users. It temporarily or indefinitely interrupts or suspends services of a host connected to the internet.
c. Malware (malicious code) is software used to disrupt computer operation, gather sensitive information, or gain access to private computer systems. It can appear in the form of code, scripts, active content, and other software. ‘Malware’ is a general term used to refer to a variety of forms of hostile or intrusive software, for example Trojan Horses, rootkits, worms, adware, etc.
ii. Crimes Facilitated by Computer Networks or Devices, the Primary Target of which is Independent of the Computer Network or Device:
This can take many forms as listed below:
a. Economic frauds to destabilize the economy of a country, attack on banking transaction system, extract money through fraud, acquisition of credit/debit card data, financial theft and intellectual theft of property
b. Impairing the operations of a website or service through data alteration, data destruction
c. Spreading pornography
d. Copyright infringement
e. Cyber stalking, outraging modesty of women, obscene content to humiliate girls and harm their reputation
f. Threatening e-mail
g. Assuming fake identity, virtual impersonation
h. Breach of right to privacy
i. Misuse of social media in fanning intolerance, instigating communal tensions and inciting riots. Posting inflammatory material that tends to incite hate-crimes.
j. Information warfare
k. Phishing scams
2. Cyber Warfare and Cyber Terror:
It is said that future wars will not be like traditional wars which are fought on land, water or air. Snowden revelations have shown that Cyberspace could become the theatre of warfare in the 21st century.
While there is no agreed definition of cyber warfare but ‘when any state initiates the use of internet based invisible force as an instrument of state policy to sabotage and espionage against another nation, it is called cyber war’. Attacking the information systems of other countries for espionage and for disrupting their critical infrastructure may be referred as cyber warfare. It includes hacking of vital information, important webpages, strategic controls and intelligence.
The attacks on the websites of Estonia in 2007 and of Georgia in 2008 have been widely reported. Although there is no clinching evidence of the involvement of a state in these attacks, it is widely held that in these attacks, non-state actors (for example, hackers) may have been used by state actors. Since these cyber-attacks, the issue of cyber warfare has assumed urgency in the global media.
When an organisation, working independently of a nation state, operates terrorist activities through the medium of cyber space, it is generally called cyber terror.
Special Features of Cyber War Compared to Traditional War:
a. Independent Theatre of War:
The development of the internet and low- cost wireless communication is the contemporary equivalent of what airplanes were a hundred years ago. Their use in economic, social and political transactions has increased at a rate that far exceeds the growth in airplane use over the last century.
These technologies already play an important part in military operations in the traditional spheres of land, sea, air and the newer one of space. There are signs that they have been used for aggressive purposes by some states. There is also ample evidence of their use by criminals and terrorist groups. It is only a matter of time, like air power a hundred years ago, before cyberspace becomes an independent theatre of war.
There is one important nuance in the treatment of cyberspace as a fifth potential theatre of war, along with land, sea, air and space. The use of cyberspace depends on physical facilities like undersea cables, microwave and optical fibre networks, telecom exchanges, routers, data servers, and so on.
Protecting or attacking these is in the domain of the traditional arms of the military. Cyberspace, as an independent theatre of war, is about attacks that compromise the capability to use these facilities—they cannot be prevented by the security services in isolation.
b. An Undefined Space (No Specific Areas):
The defence of cyberspace has a special feature. The national territory or space that is being defended by the land, sea and air forces is well defined. Outer space and cyberspace are different. They are inherently international even from the perspective of national interest. It is not possible for a country to ignore what is happening in any part of this space if it is to protect the functionality of the cyberspace relevant for its own nationals. Moreover, a key part of this space, the global internet system, is still under the control of one country.
Hence, national defence and international cooperation are inevitably intermeshed. This means that a country’s government must ensure coherence between its security policy and the diplomatic stance taken by it in multilateral and bilateral discussions on matters like internet and telecom governance, human rights related to information freedoms, trade negotiations on Infotech services, and so on.
c. Disguised Attackers:
There is another feature of cyberspace that complicates the design of security structures and policies compared to the other theatres of conflict. In cyberspace, it is very easy for an attacker to cover his tracks and even mislead the target into believing that the attack has come from somewhere else. This difficulty in identifying the perpetrator makes it difficult to rely on the capacity to retaliate as a deterrent.
d. No Contact War:
The evolution of technology impacts the nature of conflict and war. Amongst the recent aspects of conflict is ‘no contact war’ wherein there is no ‘physical’ or ‘kinetic’ action across borders. Future world war will most likely be cyber war. Future war will not be like traditional wars which were fought on territorial borders or in air space.