by Dereck Lammers
What if I told you that World War III would be ignited by the internet? Would you believe it? That is what recent trends are guiding us to believe so. Asia, with China and North Korea leading their way, are responsible for several cyber attacks made to the United States’ government and defense contractors. Recent estimates have more than 90 percent of cyber espionage against the United States originates in China. Globally, China accounts for 35% of all cyber attacks. The Pentagon explicitly remarked at the Chinese cybernetic capabilities on their annual report to Congress, in which the Chinese government in deliberately trying to create strategies to steal intellectual property and gain strategic advantage. North Korea is the other culprit country relating to cyber attacks, although their infrastructure is lower than their Chinese counterparts and not strong enough yet to possibly breach U.S government networks. Despite this, North Korea has been actively pursuing cyber attacks against South Korea repeatedly. North Korea’ last big cyber attack on South Korea occurred on March 2013, when a malware shut down 32,000 computers and servers at three major South Korean TV stations, as well as three banks. This attack left 30 million customers without ATM access for days. It seems that the trend is for China to attack the big networks around the world while North Korea attacks the regional powers. Then, how China and North Korea employ their cyber attacks?
There are myriads of methods that China and North Korea utilize for cyber warfare. The distributed denial service (DDoS) attacks are the most common. DDoS attacks flood a target with traffic in an attempt to make the server unreachable, disrupting websites from operating correctly and ultimately take them offline. Some attacks send hundreds of gigabits of information per second to servers who are not used to this much content and crash. To give an example, in 2013, the infamous Spamhaus attack created more than 100Gbps in power –the biggest DDoS attempt in history. But on Feb 11th, 2014, an attack on US-based web performance and security CloudFlare saw more than 400 gigabits per second in power hitting their network, branded as the largest-ever cyber attack in the history of internet.
Although Asian cyber attacks are mainly thought to come from China and North Korea, it is quite difficult to find enough evidence to proclaim their governments as perpetrators. There can only be assumptions in the majority of cyber attacks since cyber criminals use servers all around the world to avoid detection. There are also sophisticated hackers for hire out of China who have in the past disrupted online security. Symantec Corporations, a U.S-based online security and research company, has identified a “professional cyber organization”, dubbed “Hidden Lynx” among one of the most advanced of several dozen organizations that come out from China. One of their most famous cases was Operation Aurora, in which hackers tried to read Gmail communications and change source codes for targeted companies. The ramification of cyber groups makes it difficult to know who is in command of these cyber attacks that prompt damages to the receiving end.
Not all cyber attacks are safe from the hacker’s point of view. Some cyber codes are so powerful that they could easily backfire and create permanent damages to both parties. According to Yonhap News (South Korean news agency), South Korea would push their cyber warfare tools to wreak havoc into North Korea’s nuclear facilities and to possibly destroy their nuclear arsenal, just as how Stuxnet did to Iran some years ago. Stuxnet was a computer virus that damaged Iran’s uranium enrichment facilities. If this is successful, it would seriously cripple North Korea’s missile and atomic facilities. But it would also come with a catch: a malicious code as powerful as Stuxnet was could easily backfire and end up damaging South Korean infrastructure since both Koreas share the same technology and wavelength. This code would certainly be so powerful that the damages would be irreparable, just as how Stuxnet was. And even worst, it could spread internationally.
Cyber attacks seem to be the new way of fighting across borders. The cyber attacks will only rise as technology improves and countries are more relied on computers and online networks, especially in the clouds. More online security systems are ramping up online protection to governments and home computers, but hackers are becoming more and more elusive and difficult to catch. It would be even tougher if governments are backing up the hackers. People with government knowledge could also impact the way in which countries cyber attack, as was made with the recent allegations coming from Edward Snowden’s documents. Snowden supposedly leaked documents showing plans of the U.S operations to hack into Chinese internet traffic and cellphone companies.
From a personal standpoint, I think that cyber warfare will be the culprit of international tension as countries are heavily relying on technology. That is why China and South Korea have created official cyber departments under their governments and schools to train students to protect against cyber attacks. It is necessary to also point out that the majority of hackers do their damage as a group that are not influenced by their government, so an attack could wrongly be blamed on the mother country, creating discontent. As people cannot survive multiple minutes without looking at their smartphones, checking their Facebooks and e-mails, withdrawing and accessing their bank accounts online, how can we protect ourselves from hackers invading our personal online space? Or even worse, how could a Chinese cyber attack to American computers play out politically and diplomatic in the international gambit? Anyone nowadays have access to computers, so a cyber attacks is only imminent. Hackers are becoming wiser at how and when to attack, so the best thing to wish is that a cyber attack won’t be the spark that will ignite WWIII.
This post reflects the author’s personal opinions, not the opinions of Arizona Model United Nations.