The innovations in technology have brought infinite benefits to the modern life. Today, the world is interconnected as never before. But, inspite of having all technological advancements, there is a bleak side to it; the cyber age is reshaping the warfare. The age where weapons and threats were once identifiable and visible are now anonymous and invisible. Where, there were clear boundaries and rules of warfare; cyber age has borderless and anarchic warfare. This evolving threat landscape by state and non-state actors calls for a new collective security discourse.
According to the Europol 2018 report, terrorists misused more than 150 social media platforms for their propaganda dissemination. They not only used file sharing sites which were used to disseminate and store terrorist messages, and content but bot services were also misused to advertise links for streaming content to many other social media platforms. As a counter-measuring mechanism, law enforcement agencies have tried to minimize the abuse of mainstream social media platforms like Twitter, Facebook and YouTube by the terrorists. Besides being active on the online surface, there are few terrorist organizations which are active on Darknet. These activities mostly concern with fundraising campaigns, and use of illicit markets for the purchase of malwares and botnets.
Studies suggest that few terrorist organizations have turned to online criminal markets using crime-as-a-service industry to buy cyber capabilities which they are lacking. If it holds true, the cyber capabilities of terrorist organizations would grow rapidly and they may strike and launch a cyberattack which may create the real-world-impact such as cyberattack to disrupt emergency or essential public services.
The terrorists’ use of cyberspace besides using internet to identify the followers and disseminating the messages, remained active. The Austria reported large number of females including minors who left or moved to war zones. They were radicalized through the use of internet. Some of females married to foreign terrorists’ fighters via social media platforms.
The cyber espionage activity was reported during French presidential candidate Emmanuel Macron’s campaign last year. In 2016, the San Francisco was destroyed by the ransomware attack which caused great concern over the security and safety of transport network system of United States of America. In the same year, half of the UK businesses suffered huge breach in their electronic systems. On May 12, 2017, the cyberattack named ‘WannaCry’ affected hundreds of thousands of systems worldwide. The WannaCry was basically a ransomware which was launched with five to ten ransom attempts and affected over 190 countries. In the same year, the Electronic Ghosts of the Caliphate (EGC) of Islamic State (IS) claimed and threatened to launch a great cyberattack in December 2017, but it did not materialize.
In cyber war, enemies can strike anytime from anywhere in the world. It is mostly done by small dedicated group or groups who wear uniform with no identity. They are armed with invisible malwares and unknown codes having no borders and boundaries. The problem of identifying a cyberattack is mostly multifaceted by the fast advancements of malicious codes. The launch of cyberattacks are gearing up with the rapid progress in connectivity escalation between people, and organization all over the world.
In this cyber war, the ideal response would be to match technology with technology; in other words, the cyber-arm race. In this cat-and-mouse game, the evermore lethal weaponry is to be developed to counter the latest arsenals being deployed. The time of taking a paradigm shift has drawn near. The warfare toady is no more a question of weaponry rather it is a matter of strategy. Only a strategic approach can triumph against this never-ending futile battle.
*The writer is a Research Associate at Institute of Maritime Affairs (IMA), Bahria University Islamabad, Pakistan. Her areas of expertise are cyber warfare, cybersecurity, cyber terrorism, cyber threats, regional security, maritime security, and non-traditional security threats. She can be reached at [email protected]