Some experts believe that cyber war is the next great frontier in nation-to-nation combat, and from all indications that appears to be true, for such “cyber attacks” have the potential to be just as destructive as bombs, missiles and bullets.
And for a lot less money, too.
The hack attack against filmmaking giant Sony is a perfect example of how cyber war is conducted. In fact, some have said that the Sony hack was the opening electronic salvo in the new conflict environment of the 21st century, and the United States lost the first cyber war. More on that in a moment.
As reported by film industry mag Variety in its online edition, Sony Pictures decided not to release its film The Interview, a spoof about two reality TV journalists who land an interview with North Korea’s youthful dictator, Kim Jong Un, but are recruited by the CIA to assassinate him when they arrive in the secretive, Stalinist country.
Reports are that the plot — which climaxes with the assassination of a fictional Kim Jong Un – upset the little man. As such, some experts believe the hack attack was summarily conducted by Pyongyang, with Chinese assistance. If that is true, then it can, of course, be considered an act of aggression, for certain, if not an outright act of war, because attacking U.S. commerce is an attack on the U.S. itself.
But the hack attack is an act of aggression, no matter who is responsible. At this juncture, it is easy to suppose that North Korea is the guilty party.
As for whether America has lost its “first cyber war,” that’s not entirely accurate, on a couple of levels.
First, in July 2012 The New York Times, citing classified source material from unnamed officials, reported that from his earliest days in office, President Obama ordered “increasingly sophisticated attacks on the computer systems that run Iran’s main nuclear enrichment facilities, significantly expanding America’s first sustained use of cyberweapons….”
The program, which was begun during the Bush Administration under the code name “Olympic Games,” was further accelerated by Obama, “even after an element of the program accidentally became public in the summer of 2010 because of a programming error that allowed it to escape Iran’s Natanz plant and sent it around the world on the Internet,” the Times reported.
The element was a destructive, disruptive virus that cyber experts came to call “Stuxnet.” They believe it was co-developed by the U.S. and Israel, but the point is that it is the first known use of a cyber weapon against a nemesis for the purpose of destroying critical infrastructure. A “cyber attack,” if you will.
In all, after a series of increasingly powerful cyber attacks, various cyber worms, were able to take down 1,000 of an estimated 5,000 centrifuges Iran had spinning at the time to purify uranium for a suspected nuclear weapons program. Thus, the potential of this new form of “combat,” for which the United States and our nearest peer competitors continue to hone, was unleashed.
As to whether Sony should have opted to pull The Interview from theaters in advance of its anticipated Christmas Day preview in 2014, that depends on where you are sitting. If you’re in Sony’s corporate offices, it looks like a prudent move, given threats by the hackers that they would unleash further repercussions, perhaps even against theaters showing the film.
Should there have been some sort of response? Absolutely — at a minimum, one that is commensurate with the Sony hack.
That said, did we lose our first “cyber war”? No; But we may have lost an early battle.