It was just last March when the US Government knew an attack on Libya was imminent. Before sending in NATO planes our military considered breaking through Libya's cyber defenses to cripple their ability to detect and repel the air attacks. In the end it was decided Libya's defenses were weak enough and no one wanted to set a precedent by launching the first overt cyber-offensive.
A few months ago I wrote a column, The Day The Earth Stood Still., forecasting an electronic doomsday at the hands of cyber terrorists. I'm not sure we're fully prepared for the outcome from an all out cyber disruption. At the time I was focused more on cyber terrorism and the cyber "cold war" which includes our alleged covert attack on other countries like Iran with the Stuxnet virus.
Now I am convinced it is only a question of time before one country unleashes a nasty bit if code into the networks of another causing massive outages of communications and processing systems, and bringing commerce and daily life to a dead stop. The story includes a comment from an official of the administration. He says, "These cybercapabilities are still like the Ferrari that you keep in the garage and only take out for the big race and not just for a run around town, unless nothing else can get you there."
I'm flashing back to the 50's when we had "the bomb" and it would only be used as a last resort, and would surely put an end to all future wars. Well it ended World War II but other countries subsequently developed their own nuclear capabilities and for decades we lived in mortal fear of nuclear annihilation, coming very close to the brink during the Cuban Missile Crisis. It remains a very real threat to this day.
Now we are potentially on the eve of virtual destruction. How will Western civilization function when the very infrastructure on which everything relies comes crashing down? How long will we be able to function as a nation without computer networks and processing power? Will we even be capable of defending against conventional attacks once our technology is compromised?
We, perhaps, we made the right decision this time and did not set that dangerous precedent, taking cyber attacks to a whole new level. My fear, however, is that someone somewhere will one day decide to push the button and from that point on, all bets are off.
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