The issue of cybercrimes and cyberattacks is more consequential today in relation to the threats caused by malware and viruses that were common during the early years of the growth and development of computing. In particular, the expansive growth of the Internet is identified as a factor that contributes to cyberwarfare. Various Internet-based stages provide opportunities for cybercriminals to facilitate the collapse of websites, the thieving of sensitive data, or engagement in fraudulent activities. Considering that at least 46% of the global population has access to the Internet, the issue of cybersecurity is of paramount concern since it affects a considerable majority of the world’s population (Singer & Friedman, 2014). Notably, devastating cybersecurity threats such as ISIS’ cyber caliphate require governments to establish structures that mitigate cyber terrorist activities because they have a detrimental effect on global peace and coexistence. As this paper argues, the need for enhancing international relations calls for the establishment of cybersecurity reinforcements that prevent cyberattacks such as the ones conducted by China on the United States’ universities, as well as the African Union. In this respect, this paper explains what cyberwarfare entails before reviewing several major threats, their devastating outcomes, and the potential ways of mitigating them.
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Cyberwarfare denotes conflicts being witnessed between two or more countries facilitated by computers or networks. Specifically, it involves military activities undertaken within cyberspace to inhibit an antagonist, whether a state or a non-state actor, from effectively using an information system, weapons, or structures supported by IT experts for the sake of achieving a political goal. Unlike in the past where countries would engage in battlefield confrontations, technological developments provide various cyberspaces as grounds where conflicting nations fight for their political, military, or financial interest (Srivastava & Dube, 2018). In this light, without technological advancements, cyberwarfare would not be in existence.
During a cyber feud, a given nation-state may apply technological advancements to interfere with the plans and activities of rival agencies. In most cases, parties that engage in cyberwarfare seek to secure military or strategic aims and cyber spying agendas (Singer & Friedman, 2014). Therefore, nation-states that are experiencing differences may apply cyberwarfare to disrupt the activities of their rivals, thus gaining political mileage. In this light, cyberwarfare has revolutionized the way in which nation-states in conflict undertake their attacks by incorporating computer-based assaults. Cyberwarfare may also involve non-state actors, including terrorist groups, as well as hacker groups that launch cyberattacks on particular nations to secure their interests or the safety of the nations they represent.
The commonly applied methods of cyberwarfare include sabotage, espionage, and security breaches. The disruption approach focuses on the distraction of the normal operations of a given country’s military or financial computer structures. The cyberwarfare technique is very detrimental because it has the capability of destabilizing a state’s national security, as well as its economic wellness. For example, in 2012, the U.S. was blamed for using the Stuxnet cyberweapon to attack Iran by sabotaging industrial SCADA systems (Srivastava & Dube, 2018). On the other hand, espionage and security breaches facilitating cyberwarfare apply illegal exploitation methods to attack rival governments and corporations among other parties to secure military, political, or fiscal gains. Illegal exploitation methods applied in espionage include the stealing or acquisition of confidential data by interfering with networks, software, and computers that regularly use Internet connectivity. In this respect, in 2012, the U.S. and Israel were accused of using the Flame cyberweapon to conduct espionage on Iran and other Middle Eastern states (Andress & Winterfeld, 2014). The two methods of cyberwarfare have been applied by various nations in conflict in the recent past.
Notably, in some cases, it is difficult to identify parties that are behind cyberattacks carried by non-state actors. Notably, cyberwarfare conducted by non-state elements has the potential of causing a significant loss of lives while at the same time triggering the devastation of property arising from the underlying chaos (Andress & Winterfeld, 2014). For instance, cyberterrorism is a form of virtual warfare undertaken by non-state actors that seek to achieve specific political ends. As such, the attacks made by terrorists using the cyber war approach may result in devastating outcomes, including the relocation of multitudes and the loss of lives. Therefore, nation-states in the contemporary world identify the need for integrating cyberwarfare techniques into their military organizations as crucial towards fostering the efficiency of cybersecurity systems.
In addition, cyberwarfare may involve governments, terrorist bands, criminal groups, and corporations that seek to realize their interests using technological advancements deployed by the majority of the world’s population (Andress & Winterfeld, 2014). Amid the virtual nature of cyberwarfare, outcomes of such conflicts can be felt in the physical world. Further, through undermining the political authority of some nations, cyberwarfare has the potential of causing an economic slowdown in the affected countries, especially when terrorists and criminal groups take control. Furthermore, cyberwarfare initiated by corporations can interrupt the economic well-being of the targeted nations to a considerable extent (Singer & Friedman, 2014). Thus, concerned parties, including governments and corporations, need to introduce systems that protect them from politically motivated cyberattacks.
Well-funded and highly trained individuals and groups seeking to secure the interests of particular countries conduct modern cyberwarfare. As such, it is important to consider the establishment of highly effective preventive mechanisms because cyberattacks are no longer done by geeks for fun. For this reason, currently, the cyberwarfare issue has forced governments to introduce cybersecurity as a fundamental aspect of military training and operations. Furthermore, the integration of systems procedures that bar nations and companies from politically motivated cyberattacks (Srivastava & Dube, 2018). For instance, organizations today launch internal attacks on their systems to identify the extent to which they are vulnerable to cyberattacks motivated by either economic or political interests. In the recent past, the world has witnessed an array of cyber threats that have the capability of undermining the military, political, and financial well-being of different nations. Nations such as the U.S., China, and Russia have been leading in terms of cases of cyberwarfare, a finding that uncovers the degree of conflict existing among various countries today (Kozlowski, 2014). In this light, it is crucial to review various incidences of cyberwarfare to understand the extent to which cyber threats undermine the growth and development of the contemporary world.
Review of the Main Cyber Threats
ISIS’ Cyber Caliphate
Today, many cyber threats raise significant concerns regarding the global security. The Cyber Caliphate is one of the hacking groups that pose danger of virtual terrorism because it supports the values and ideologies of the ISIS, an organization that has been interfering with global peace in the recent past. The Cyber Caliphate, also referred to as the Islamic State Hacking Division (ISHD), is a hacking establishment affiliated to the Islamic State (ISIS). The Cyber Caliphate poses substantial cyber threats in today’s world following its capacity to support the activities of ISIS, an organization that upholds extreme political, economic, and religious ideologies (Liang, 2015). In particular, the Cyber Caliphate conducts hacking cyberattacks on behalf of ISIS against governments and agencies perceived to contradict values and political ideologies of the terrorist group. In this light, supporters of ISIS identify the Cyber Caliphate as an important body that secures the group’s ideologies at the global scene by launching attacks on institutions that oppose its principles and philosophies, which are controversial in most instances.
Pro-ISIS hackers at the Cyber Caliphate possess advanced skills in information technology systems that enable them to launch attacks, which facilitate the realization of ISIS’ ends. Notably, hackers at the Cyber Caliphate show conversance with encryption communication networks, including Telegram and WhatsApp (Liang, 2015). Furthermore, they demonstrate expertise in undertaking denial-of-service attacks on important websites, thereby posing an extensive threat to institutions that contest the creed of the ISIS terrorist organization. It is believed that the Cyber Caliphate is continually growing and may pose greater cyber threats in the near future.
Notably, Cyber Caliphate’s expansion strategies have made it try to recruit skilled American hackers through Facebook among other social media platforms. Additionally, the ISIS-affiliated hacking collectivity has been reported to secure the services of Russian military hackers to facilitate its attacks on target nations, as well as institutions that challenge the political, social, and economic values embraced by the terrorist organization. Furthermore, cases of American military personnel linked to the Cyber Caliphate have emerged, thus raising concerns about the potential cyber threats posed by ISIS. Recently, the Cyber Caliphate has been blamed for attacking websites of several non-governmental organizations (NGOs) and redirecting Internet users to their own web pages (Liang, 2015). The despoilment method among other cyberattacks conducted by the hacking group denotes the degree to which it poses cyber threats today. Therefore, mitigating the operations of the Cyber Caliphate is crucial since the measure will go a long way in lessening the harm caused by ISIS, a group that disrupts world tranquility.
The Syrian Electronic Army
The Syrian Electronic Army (SEA) is another collection of hackers that poses significant cyber threats in the world. The SEA emerged in 2011 to show its support for political ideologies of the Syrian government under the Presidency of Bashar al-Assad (Al-Rawi, 2014). The state-supported collective of computer hackers uses an array of methods to disrupt the plans, as well as activities of nations and institutions that seek to intervene in Syria’s political issues. The notable cyberattack methods conducted by the SEA include website disfigurement, denial-of-service attacks, spamming, malware, and phishing. The SEA mainly targets institutions that contravene the political demands upheld by the Syrian government.
In the recent past, the SEA uncovered the political situation in Syria by launching attacks on various media houses. The targeted news agencies, which have been victims of cyberattacks from the SEA, include BBC News, Al Jazeera, CNC News, The Washington Post, The Daily Telegraph, and Financial Times among others (Al-Rawi, 2014). Such cyberattacks aim at “Western” media agencies that seek to uncover the underlying details of the Syrian political status that is now characterized by intensified chaos. Moreover, the SEA attacked Facebook pages of former U.S. and French Presidents, Barrack Obama and Nicholas Sarkozy, respectively, after they made comments about Syria’s political instability. Furthermore, the SEA has been facilitating Syria’s global espionage by conducting cyberattacks on foreign diplomats and embassies, the U.S. defense contractors, allied military procurement officers, and technology and media corporations (Srivastava & Dube, 2018). Attacks made by the SEA denote the cybersecurity threat modeled by this government-funded computer hacking group.
In addition, the SEA seeks to protect Syria from its enemies. However, the computer hacking group supported by the administration has been reported to attack institutions that seek to expose various underlying political issues that undermine the well-being of the Syrian people (Al-Rawi, 2014). In this light, bearing in mind that Syria has experienced a difficult political time characterized by chaos in the last few years, it is important for the country to consider reshaping its international relations approaches to fit the interests of people. Therefore, engaging in cyber war with state and non-state actors seeking to bring positive political change in Syria is a serious threat that may destabilize the world’s political strength.
Institutions and governments may fund hacking groups to interfere with the voting process conducted in a given democracy. Prior to the 2016 presidential elections in the U.S., it was alleged that Russian hackers interfered with the country’s voting systems in multiple stations in different states. According to Ward (2017), such hackers targeted various aspects of polling materials, including election devices, electronic voter rolls, and software applied in collating and auditing results. Russians also interfered with elections in France, Ukraine, and the Netherlands through cyberattacks on the electoral frameworks. Most of the attacks sought to boost political candidates who supported the interests of Russia (Ward, 2017). Therefore, cyberattacks carried out by Russians in the past elections in America, France, Ukraine, and the Netherlands indicate the extent to which cyberattacks have the potential of impeding the transparency of democratic processes conducted in different countries.
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Furthermore, data breaches and sabotage arising from hacking the voting process may prompt political instability during elections, thus demoralizing national security matters during electioneering periods. Cyberattacks on electoral processes also destabilize the confidence of autonomous processes to the extent of affecting the fundamentals of democracy negatively. The development of unconstructive perceptions regarding the fairness of electoral processes following poor data protection systems has the potential of discouraging citizens from exercising their egalitarian rights. Furthermore, the hacking of elections aims at triggering social and political divisions that suit the interests of the nation behind the attack. Moreover, cyberattacks targeting electoral processes aim at spreading falsehoods about particular candidates or political parties. Such interruptions aim at confusing voters when they head to various polling bases (Mazanec, Stavrou, & Whyte, 2018). As a result, it is important for governments to regard the hacking of elections as a serious cyber risk that challenges democracy in modern societies.
The Growth of Artificial Intelligence
Artificial intelligence (AI) has witnessed a rapid rise in the recent years since it is identified as a development that facilitates the efficiency of technology systems applied in various sectors. Notably, AI is identified to contribute positively to the information technology (IT) security sector. For this reason, many agencies in public and private sectors continue embracing machine learning (ML) systems to facilitate the application of AI (Agrawal, Gans, & Goldfarb, 2018). ML structures have so far been useful in facilitating the detection of cyber threats, as well as the automatic assessment of computer systems. As such, AI has been applauded for effectively enhancing the prevention of zero-day attacks, which destabilize the security of nations and organizations. Furthermore, AI and ML assist IT experts in the surveillance, tracking, and discovery of anomalies that usually subject systems to potential cyberattacks.
Nonetheless, when AI and ML land in the hands of individuals with criminal minds, they create significant cyber threats that have the potential of disrupting political, social, and economic structures at the global level. Cybercriminals may apply AI to conduct ambushes before exploring networks, which they use to undertake their operations (Dua & Du, 2016). Traditional cyberattacks do not go beyond the exploration of the victim’s networks because of the labor-intensive nature of such assaults. Nonetheless, IA makes it possible for attackers to gain access to the targeted victims’ networks, thus conducting greater levels of espionage, sabotage, and data breaches (Agrawal et al., 2018). For instance, cyberattacks aimed at a particular government’s computer systems may go beyond disabling the functionality of various structures by acquiring information about the state’s plans, as well as its close allies and adversaries’ confidential data. Therefore, as much as AI provides important solutions to IT security issues, it also subjects the sector to substantial threats when it is applied by cybercriminals.
The Level of Devastation Associated with Cyber Threats
Cyber threats have the potential of causing a wide range of damages on nation-states, organizations, groups, and individuals. Some of the devastating outcomes of cyberattacks include the loss of civic trust, the disruption of public service, political or personal embarrassment, economic slowdown, and the loss of integrity of information resources among other detrimental outcomes. In this respect, analyzing the damages caused by cyberattacks is crucial towards facilitating an understanding of the issue of cybersecurity in the present time.
The Loss of Public Trust
Cyberattacks weaken people’s trust in governments, institutions, and groups that facilitate the provision of important services. The sabotage approach to cyberwarfare has an extensive influence on the confidence that populations have in key institutions in the society. For instance, cyberattacks carried by Russians on American voting systems ahead of the 2016 presidential election contributed to a considerable loss of citizens’ trust in the government. For this reason, the sabotage influenced the population’s perception regarding the transparency of the electoral process.
Falsehoods propagated by cyberattacks also have the potential of weakening the public’s trust in major governmental agencies. For instance, the use of AI to facilitate cyberattacks helps adversaries to gain key information about a country’s networks, thus creating falsehoods to tarnish its image at the global scene. As a result, the public may lose faith in the respective government after the breaching of classified data that provides information about its set of connections and allies. The loss of trust may go beyond national borders by creating negative perceptions about a country’s intentions. For example, cyberattacks carried out by the SEA raise concerns regarding the trustworthiness of the action conducted by the Syrian government since the group tends to oppose media houses that unearth the truth about the country’s political situation. Consequently, the loss of public trust towards the Syrian government at the global level is a demonstration of the devastation arising from cyberwarfare.
Cyberattacks conducted for financial gain may influence people’s confidence negatively. For instance, an assault targeting a nation’s economic giant can lead to data breaches that weaken the level of public trust. Such instances interfere with the operations of multi-national corporations (MNCs) and, consequently, the economic development of a country. Investors also develop a negative perception about conducting business in a country that frequently engages in cyberwarfare. Therefore, cyber incursions that undermine public privacy and security may lead to the loss of trust in various institutions in the economy, thereby slowing the rate of economic growth and development. In this light, the level of devastation created by cybersecurity threats hampers people’s dependence on various political, social, and economic institutions to the extent of ruining a country’s financial development.
The Disruption of Public Service
Cyberattacks targeting computer systems that facilitate the functioning of various institutions in an economy may disrupt the provision of public services. Governments in various nations today consider the deployment of information technology systems as crucial towards fostering the efficiency of service delivery. Nonetheless, such computer structures usually become targets of cyberattacks by enemies seeking to realize specific political and financial goals (Srivastava & Dube, 2018). For this reason, computer hacking groups representing specific actors (state or non-state) frequently focus on public service institutions such as the military, healthcare providers, higher learning institutions, electoral commissions, and banking agencies among others. Enemies attack these departments electronically since they form key areas that offer important services to the public.
Cyberattacks can destabilize the services of military establishments and, consequently, the quality of security delivered by armed forces departments. The 2007 ambush by Israel on Syria’s nuclear reactors provide a useful example of the extent to which cyberattacks ruin national security. In particular, Israeli Air Forces penetrated into the Syrian territories before bombing its nuclear plants and leaving unnoticed. It is believed that Israel hacked the Syrian air defense radars without causing any suspicion before it ambushed its enemy (Mazanec et al., 2018). As such, this cyberattack reveals the extent to which cyberattacks may interfere with the functionality of a state’s military forces. In this regard, cyber wars may trigger physical confrontations that pose adverse consequences on national security.
The healthcare sector is now a common target of cyberattacks today. Notable issues arising from cyberattacks in the healthcare system include compromising the privacy of patients’ data, ransomware, distributive denial of service (DDoS), data breaches, insider threats, and fraud (Parwani, 2017). Such ambushes disrupt the ability of healthcare facilities to offer services to clients. Furthermore, cyberattacks targeting health systems may lead to an upsurge of financial costs associated with the sector, thus affecting the economy adversely. Since the healthcare sector plays an important role in any given financial system, compromising its operations may lead to destructive public health outcomes.
The issue of cyber war has also infiltrated the education sectors of various countries in the world following the move by antagonists to identify channels of securing their political, military, and financial ends. In most instances, cyberattacks directed towards educational institutions weaken the quality of services provided in the sector. In the recent past, China has been applying computer-based methods of collecting data regarding the efficiency and effectiveness of the American education system. As such, many of its professors allege that the country has been infiltrating American colleges and universities with the aim of collecting important information about the functional aspects of the United States’ research and development setting (Mazanec et al., 2018). Therefore, this kind of cyberattack creates a sense of insecurity in the U.S education sector.
Cyberattacks may cause embarrassment to political figures, as well as parties in a given society. The U.S. political system has on several occasions fallen victim of embarrassment arising from cyberattacks conducted by its enemies, especially Russia. During the 2008 campaigns, spies from Russia embarrassed presidential candidates, Barrack Obama and John McCain, after the installation of computer software that led to the leakage of important information about the strategies of the two politicians. Such events offer a particular politician a competitive edge over the rival who, consequently, suffers major embarrassments after a cyberattack. Furthermore, as Ward (2017) reveals, in the 2016 presidential elections, Russian hackers also interfered with personal e-mails of the Democrat presidential candidate, Hillary Clinton. The cyberattack discomfited the politician considerably to the extent of costing her presidential victory. In this view, cybersecurity vulnerabilities provide enemies with an opportunity to realize their political ends by embarrassing key politicians who oppose their interests.
An economy may record slow economic growth following the deterioration of its national security after a cyberattack on its key institutions. In particular, ransomware assaults have been identified to cause significant destruction in an economy. The Lazarus Group, a North Korean collection of hackers, has been responsible for causing substantial damages to various economies by using ransomware cyberattacks on major institutions. In 2014, the cyber hacking group launched an assault on Sony Pictures, thereby disrupting the financial position of the company negatively. Additionally, in 2016, the Lazarus Group invaded the Bangladeshi Central Bank before escaping with at least $80 million (Volz & Wagstaff, 2016). The Ukraine National Bank has also fallen victim to a similar attack (Srivastava & Dube, 2018). The same group has further conducted cyberattacks on various American companies by introducing ransomware into various companies’ computer systems, thereby undermining their stock prices among other detrimental financial outcomes.
From the above findings, various damages induced by cyberattacks undermine the integrity of information resources. In this respect, there is a need for governments to embrace measures that prevent information resources in various industries from becoming vulnerable to cyberattacks. As a result, the public will gain more trust in the affected institutions. Furthermore, nations will provide services more efficiently without disruptions from cyberattacks. As a result, economies will also grow without the slowdowns caused by computer hacking cases. Moreover, politicians would be spared from the embarrassment arising from the leakage of private data.
Mitigating Cybersecurity Threats
Cyber threats can trigger destructions in a wide range of ways. In this concern, it is crucial to establish measures that can mitigate major threats induced by computer-based vulnerabilities. As such, it is important to consider alternatives such as the adoption of cybersecurity practices in governments, enhancing education and research on the issue, integrating appropriate measures in businesses and industries, and raising public awareness of this global phenomenon. Therefore, identifying ways in which various interventions may address critical cybersecurity matters is imperative in this paper’s context. For instance, the need to foster education and awareness regarding cybersecurity is one of the important moves of mitigating cyber threats. Such an approach is fundamental in addressing cases such as the non-traditional data collection mechanism adopted by Chinese spies who have been infiltrating colleges and universities in the U.S. In addition, raising awareness about the issue in public and private agencies may go a long way in mitigating the damaging outcome resulting from cyberattacks (Mazanec et al., 2018). As such, education systems in a given economy need to embrace courses that provide knowledge about the essence of upholding appropriate cybersecurity practices.
Planning and preparation form an important measure of mitigating cybersecurity threats. Institutions in any given country need to demonstrate their level of readiness for cyberattacks. They should have management systems that address cyber threats. In addition to adopting policies regarding various best practices or doing regular auditing of IT systems, they should assign qualified experts to handle cybersecurity operations. This strategy is instrumental towards fostering the preparedness this global aspect. For example, the adoption of planning and preparation structures would have secured Estonia from the wrath of cyberattacks undertaken by Russians in various important institutions of the country’s economy in 2007. Amid the Estonian case being the first cyberattack to demonstrate massive economic destruction, Kozlowski (2014) holds that the adoption of planning and preparation would have mitigated its damages to a considerable extent.
The early detection of cyberespionage is crucial towards mitigating the development of detrimental outcomes. Timely detection also calls for prompt responses to cyberattacks to minimize various adversities associated with computer system intrusions. The approach would have secured the African Union from the spying undertaken by China for five years before technicians at the headquarters detected data leakages channeled to servers located in Shanghai (Mazanec et al., 2018). If such technicians had detected the cyberattack early, the damage witnessed would have been minimal since response measures would have been put in place promptly. Therefore, discovery and recovery form an important strategy for mitigating cyber threats.
Institutions in public and private sectors need to uphold ethical standards that discourage unwarranted interruptions of their normal operations. For instance, policies that establish standards for preventing cyberattacks may go a long way in mitigating cyber hacking threats from both insiders and outsiders. Furthermore, staff members in organizations need to possess credentials and skills that foster cybersecurity best practices (Srivastava & Dube, 2018). For example, companies need to establish ethical policies that have specific provisions addressing mitigation mechanisms. As a result, individuals at the organizational level will embrace values and practices that protect computer systems from hacking.
Cyberwarfare is the new way in which state and non-state actors confront each other today. In this respect, cybercrimes and cyberattacks have become a major concern in the world today since they have the potential of weakening economic, social, and political aspects of development. Methods that are mainly applied include espionage and sabotage using various techniques such as denial-of-service, ransomware, and disfigurement. Major cyber threats today include the Cyber Caliphate, the Syrian Electronic Army, the hacking of elections, and the growth of AI. The paper has discussed various destructions that are associated with cybercrimes, for instance, the loss of public interest, economic slowdown, political embarrassment, and the disruption of the delivery of important services. As such, there is a need to mitigate such threats through education and awareness, planning and preparation, detection and recovery, as well as upholding ethics.
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