Historian Max Hastings On The World Entering The ‘Age Of Internet Warfare,’ & ‘Why We Ain’t Seen Anything Yet’
Noted British historian and author Max Hastings, had an thoughtful article on the world entering the ‘Age of Internet Warfare,’ and why it may be worse than what we think.
In a December 16, 2016 article in London’s the DailyMailOnline, British historian Max Hastings observed that “in the month since the election of Donald Trump as the next POTUS last month, America has become an embittered battlefield. [But] few issues are causing fiercer controversy than the role of Russia,” during the presidential campaign.
But, according to Mr. Hastings, ‘we ain’t seen anything yet.’ “The speed at which cyber conflict is evolving — is chilling,” he writes. “America’s Information Operational Technology Center (IOTC), was created in 1998 to spy on actual, and potential enemies, corrupt their digital networks, and, even control their computers. It’s early operations were unimpressive. During the 1999 bombing of Kosovo, its geeks made Serbian President, Slobadan Milosevic’s telephone ring incessantly, which seems merely to have annoyed him,” Mr. Hastings wrote.
Fourteen years later, and one year after the 9/11 attacks, Mr Hastings writes that “the U.S. took down al Qaeda’s website and blocked the planned release of an Osama bin Laden propaganda broadcast. But afterwards, [U.S.] counter-terror chiefs complained bitterly that all it [the cyber attack] was to alert al Qaeda to the vulnerability of its communications. Others [cyber offensive operations] however were much more successful, [noting] that in 2008, the Israelis allegedly disabled the Syrian air defense system, allowing Israeli aircraft to bomb President Assad’s [nascent attempt] to [build a suspected] nuclear [weapons] facility.”
Now of course, nation-states are using the worldwide web to feed cleverly crafted disinformation in order to influence the populace to believe certain things which aren’t true — to the benefit of the originator of the disinformation.
British historian Professor Sir Michael Howard, “argues that the new power of social media, and especially Twitter, to influence both politics and war — ‘is compatible to that of to the invention of breech-loading firearms,’ Mr. Hastings wrote.
“Most alarming,” Mr. Hastings asserts, “is the way in which it [the Internet] is being used to spread false information. While the Internet and social media can do wonderful things for billions of people, the lack of adequate controls allows them to be exploited to a devastating effect — not only by the politicians and aggressive nation states; but, by pornographers, drug-traffickers, and terrorists. They [it] has also empowered terrorists to conduct worldwide dialogues with actual, and prospective supporters. Thirty years ago, a would-be jihadi in Baghdad would have been puzzled about how to sign up for a militant group. Today, ten minutes at a keyboard will provide him with propaganda and contacts.”
While we should all be concerned with deliberately crafted and placed disinformation, “it is cyber warfare that could have genuinely catastrophic consequences,” Mr. Hastings warns. “Although the Russians have proved themselves uniquely aggressive, they were not the first out of the stalls.” Mr. Hastings refers to “American author James Bamford,” who “blames the National Security Agency (NSA) for triggering this dangerous phenomena; and, cites the 2010 American insertion [most public reports claim this was a joint American/Israeli effort] of the so-called Stuxnet cyber virus into Iran’s nuclear warfare program [Natanz], disabling 1,000 centrifuges.” “This [offensive cyber operation] he argued, legitimized the 2012 Iranian [offensive cyber operation] against U.S. banks and the oil company Aramco — which in a matter of hours, saw 35,000 companies partially wiped, or totally destroyed.”
Mr. Bamford [not surprisingly] blames the United States for releasing the cyber offensive genie; but, Mr. Hastings notes, former NSA, and CIA Director, Gen. (ret.) Michael Hayden reminds Mr. Hastings, Mr.. Bamford, and others that there has been considerable evidence come to light] in the past several years that of offensive cyber operations by nations other than the U.S. — dating back before 2010. The most notable of those offensive cyber operations, was the 2007 cyber attack on Estonia’s communications infrastructure, which paralyzed the country’s digital communications for several days, This attack, was carried out by so-called Russian cyber patriots.
But, “far more sinister [cyber hacking] targeting is feasible,” Mr. Hastings warns. “imagine,” he writes, “the human tragedies that would result if a city’s hospitals, computers, power, and back-up communications infrastructure collapsed? Babies would die, life support systems would be switched off; and previously sick and injured people would find themselves beyond aid. Several recent learned papers by strategic gurus,” he notes, “sketch scenarios for cold cyber-war turning into a hot shooting war. The Americans and Chinese possess [cyber weapons] capabilities for knocking huge holes in each others air defense systems,” he noted.
“In a crisis over Taiwan, for instance,” Mr. Hastings wrote, “both nations would be tempted to launch pre-emptive cyber strikes — out of fear of the dire consequences for their own security — if they did not. Therein lies the roots of history’s greatest wars, precipitated by one government or another attacking, because it fears the cost of inaction.”
“Out of sight, in the powerhouses of the great nations, an unending struggle will be waged against terrorists and other nation states. This will spasmodically explode into open violence, which we should fervently hope can be contained. Historian Sir Michael Howard, suggests “soon nuclear weapons will increasingly seem as redundant as horsed cavalry became a century ago. Nations are far more likely to unleash their cyber-weapons, which, in our computer-dependent society, could potentially be as catastrophic as bombs,” Mr. Hastings wrote.
“We need not despair in the face of the cyber threat,” he writes, “but, we must acknowledge its reality. This is the future. Like drones and atomic bombs, it cannot be un-invented. We must simply learn to defend ourselves; and especially, our disturbingly vulnerable, and absolutely computer-dependent infrastructure.”
“Ideally,” Mr. Hastings asserts, “a start must be made towards international regulation of the worldwide web; but, that is easier said than done. Who can imagine Vladimir Putin sacrificing a jot of influence he has achieved through hacking other nations’ computers, — such as he could never attain through Russian economic, or even conventional military power?”
In the end, Mr. Hastings observes, “and scariest of all, we are only at the nursery stage of the Internet-war era.”
Something to think about as we enter 2017. V/R, RCP