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Concerns and Limitation of Cyber Warfare

Alexandra Goman

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The discovery of Stuxnet, a malware that targeted a nuclear facility, was somewhat revolutionary and groundbreaking. It targeted ICS which monitor and run industrial facilities. Before that, most of malicious programs were developed to steal information or break-in into financial sector to extort money. Stuxnet went beyond went and targeted high-level facilities. It is not hard to imagine what damage it could have inflicted if the worm were not detected. What is more worrisome, the technology is out. It might not be perfect, but it is definitely a start. Regardless of the intentions behind Stuxnet, a cyber bomb has exploded and everyone knows that cyber capabilities indeed can be developed and mastered.

Therefore, if they can be developed, they will probably be. The final goal of Stuxnet was to affect the physical equipment which was run by specific ICS. It was done in order to manipulate computer programs and make it act as an attacker intended it to act. Such a cyberattack had a particular motivation; sabotage of industrial equipment and destruction could have been one of the goals. So, if they were indeed the goals, it might have been an offensive act, conducted by an interested party, presumably, a state for its political objective. Yet, there are certain limitations when it comes to so-called “cyber weapons” (malware that might be employed for military use or intelligence gathering). 

One of the main concerns of cyber offence is that code may spread uncontrollably to other systems. In terms of another physical weapon, it is like a ballistic missile that anytime can go off-course and inflict damage on unintended targets and/or kill civilians. Cyber offensive technology lacks precision, which is so valued in military. For example, in ICS and SCADA systems one may never know what can backfire because of the complexity of the system.  The lack of precision consequently affects military decisions. When launching a weapon, officers should know its precise capabilities; otherwise, it is too risky and is not worth it. 

In case of Stuxnet, the program started replicating itself and infected computers of many countries. For this moment we do not know if it were planned in that way.  However, provided that that target was Natanz facility, it is unlikely. Symantec Corporation started analyzing the case only with external help; it did not come from Natanz. This exacerbates the case if a country decides to launch an offensive cyberattack.

If the military planning cannot prevent cyber technology to go awry or to go out in the public, it brings more disadvantages than advantages.  Moreover, given a possibility of the code being discovered and broke down to pieces to understand what it does, it may potentially benefit an opposing party (and any other interested party along the way). This is unacceptable in military affairs.

Similarly, when the code is launched and it reaches the target, it can be discovered by an opponent. In comparison to nuclear, when a bomb explodes, it brings damage and destruction, but its technology remains in secret. In case of cyber, it may not be the case, as when a malware/virus is discovered, it can be reverse engineered to patch vulnerability. By studying the code, an enemy would find out the technology/tactics used that could be unfavourable in the long-run for the attacker.

Additionally, it should be said that not every malware is meant to spread by itself. In order to control the spread, vulnerability can be patched, meaning updating the software which had that vulnerability. An anti-malware can also be introduced; this will make the computer system immune to that particular vulnerability. Nonetheless, if the malware spreads uncontrollably, there is nothing much that an attacker can do. It is not possible to seize the attack. In this scenario, an attack may only release information about this certain vulnerability so that someone else can fix it. However, a state is highly unlikely to do so, especially if the damage is extensive. It would not only cost the state diplomatic consequences, but also it might severely impact its reputation.

An AI-enabled cyberattack could perhaps fulfill its potential. That means involvement of artificial intelligence. AI systems could make digital programs more precise, controlling the spread. In contrast, it could also lead to a greater collateral damage, if a system decides to target other facilities that may result in human death. Similar concerns are raised in the area of autonomous weapon systems in regard to the need of leaving decision-making to humans and not to technology. AI technology has a potential to make existing cyberattacks more effective and more efficient (Schaerf, 2018).

Aforementioned concern leads to another and affects the end result. When a certain weapon is employed, it is believed to achieve a certain goal, e.g. to destroy a building. With cyber capabilities, there is no such certainty. In the case of Stuxnet, the malware clearly failed to achieve its end goal, which is to disrupt the activities of the industrial facility.

Alternatively, the true costs of cyberattacks may be uncertain and hard to calculate. If that is so, an attacker faces high level of uncertainty, which may also prevent them from a malicious act (particularly, if nation states are involved). However, the costs and the benefits may always be miscalculated, and an attacker hoping for a better gain may lose much more in the end (e.g. consider Pearl Harbour).

Another concern refers to the code becoming available to the public. If it happens, it can be copied, re-used and/or improved. Similar concerns in regards to proliferation and further collateral damage emerged when Stuxnet code became available online.  An attacker may launch a cyberattack, and if it is discovered, another hacker can reverse engineer the code and use it against another object. Moreover, the code can be copied, improved and specialized to meet the needs of another party. Technology is becoming more complex, and by discovering a malware developed by others, it also takes less time to produce a similar program and/or develop something stronger. (For instance, after Stuxnet, more advanced malwares were discovered – Duqu and Flame).

Furthermore, there are other difficulties with the employment of cyber offensive technology. In order to maximize its result, it should be supported by intelligence. In case of Stuxnet, an offender needed to pinpoint the location of the facility and the potential equipment involved. It has to find zero-days vulnerabilities that are extremely rare and hard to find[1]. Cyber vulnerability is all about data integrity. It should be reliable and accurate. Its security is essential in order to run an industrial infrastructure.

After pinpointing vulnerability, security specialists need to write a specific code, which is capable of bridging through an air-gapped system. In case of Stuxnet, all of abovementioned operations required a certain level of intelligence support and financial capability. These complex tasks involved into development were exactly the reason why Stuxnet was thought to be sponsored and/or initiated by a nation state. If intelligence is lacking, it may not bring a desirable effect. Moreover, if cyber offense is thought to be used in retaliation, malicious programs should be ready to use (as on “high-alert”) in the event of necessity.

Regardless of some advantages of cyber offence (like low costs, anonymity etc), this technology appears to be unlikely for a separate use by military. There is a high level of uncertainty and this stops the army of using technology in offence. Truth is when you have other highly precise weapons, it does not make sense to settle for some unreliable technology that may or may not bring you a wanted result. Yet, other types of cyberattacks like DDoS attacks can give some clear advantages during military operations and give an attacker some good cards in case of a conflict. When such attacks used together with military ground operations, they are much more likely to bring a desired result.


[1] For better understanding, out of twelve million pieces of malware that computer security companies find each year, less than a dozen uses a zero-day exploit.

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Specialist in global security and nuclear disarmament. Excited about international relations, curious about cognitive, psycho- & neuro-linguistics. A complete traveller.

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How Will Roads Change As Logistics Become Automated?

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There have been a lot of big developments to be found inside the automated vehicle space over the last few years. With countless car companies throwing their hats into the ring, it’s only a matter of time until cars that don’t need drivers are able to spend more time on the road. Of course, though, personal transport is only one side of this, and the automated driving scene is much more likely to impact logistics in the short-term. But how exactly will this change the way that transport companies operate, and how will the roads you use be impacted by changes like this?

Increased Safety

Currently, many truck drivers have to push themselves to their limits to be able to get their work done. Long drives can easily be held up, but important deadlines can’t be missed without throwing off an entire schedule, and this leaves drivers having to miss sleep and drive long distances without breaks. A tacho card will usually be used to monitor this, making sure that drivers don’t break the law. Automated transport promises to solve problems like this, with digital machines never tiring and being able to work for days on end without having to take a break.

Greater Efficiency

Many transport companies have to use the roads at the same time as normal drivers to make sure that they can make their deliveries without pushing drivers too hard. This sort of approach wouldn’t need to be taken with automated vehicles, instead giving transport operators the chance to choose the quietest times to have their machines on the road. Alongside this, route planning can be more dynamic, with plans being changed on the fly to make up for things like traffic issues. Of course, though, as a big part of this, normal drivers may experience some strange behavior from the automated trucks that they see, especially when they are first starting to hit the road.

Convoys

While it may be something that changes in the future, transport companies are often more interested in systems that use convoys of trucks rather than simply sending trucks out on their own. This involves having a lead truck that is driven by a normal person, with several other trucks that tail safely behind it. This can make it much easier to have trucks follow specific routes without having to rely on GPS systems can lose signal or be disrupted in other ways. Of course, though, as a big part of this, many transport companies simply can’t afford the technology like this, and it could be a few more years until they start to be spotted when you’re out and about.

With all of this in mind, you should have a much better idea of how the automated logistics market is going to change roads over the next few years. The way that you drive will almost certainly change as time goes by, with more and more automated driving options becoming available all the time.

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Matica’s CEO Sandro Camilleri speaks about security in digital payments

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One thing is for sure: the COVID-19 pandemic accelerated many behaviors and trends that once were holding their pace. A great example can be found in digital payments and online shopping. According to Rakuten Intelligence, from March through mid-April, e-commerce spending in the United States increased more than 30% compared to the same period last year. When it comes to worldwide scores, it reaches the surprising increase of 74%.

Although books and cleaning products led the ranks mapped by Rakuten, specialists argue that digital payments and online shopping are here to stay, as much as it has already been observed in Asian countries. In this sense, securing financial transactions and protecting consumer data became a mandatory issue to be addressed both by companies and the government.

As a leading European company in the processing and printing of cards and identification documents for security systems, Matica Technologies is dedicated to granting safety and technological solutions to businesses dealing with financial transactions online. According to the CEO and founder of Matica, Sandro Camilleri, the advent of digital payments is a revolution similar to that which technology has caused and is currently causing in other areas, such as transports. “It is an inevitable revolution, which citizens will have to get used to, and which must therefore be managed in order not to risk unintended consequences, being the key issue obviously safety,” he argues.

Camilleri stresses that there are two different phases when it comes to digital payment security. A first one is about information and personal data storage, one of the greatest topics of our time and also a potentially enormous market sector. The second, less discussed though equally important, is guaranteeing strength and security for the financial transaction itself — and this is a purely technological issue. “The use of chips that are equipped with incredible memories, high precision lasers and holograms makes it extremely difficult, not to say impossible, for any attacker to clone a card produced by us. Secondly, the transaction must be secure thanks to specific and constantly updated software,” explains Matica’s CEO.

Now, when it comes to privacy, Camilleri states that people must be aware of what is at stake when data is leaked and why such occurrences are so alarming. With more and more appliances being automated and connected to computers and to the internet, such as is the case for cars and home security systems, cyberattacks could lead to consequences that are not only terrible, but tragic. 

In such situations, Matica’s CEO believes that only biometric data could spare individuals from having their systems hacked, though this data must be filed with care and used only for strictly necessary purposes. In any case, Camilleri argues that using biometrics is becoming day by day more inevitable with the increasing rhythm of automation, and this is a feature that can already be found in some of Matica’s available systems, such as is the case of the passport series.

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Are You Aware Of Your Children’s Online Activity?

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There’s a big, wide, scary, often strange world out there, and it’s the task of any individual to grow into an adult and begin to contend with it. However, most responsible parents understand that showing the raw facts of life, or being introduced to bad influences is simply not suitable for a young child. They must learn slowly, with care, and appropriately to the degree we’re able to foster that environment. Parents cater to this by controlling what friends their children make, or what hours they may be allowed to spend time with them.

However, a growing cause for concern is the fact that many parents fail to keep their children safe online. The internet may as well be its own world, and it reflects our reality, both the good and the bad, the trustworthy and the terrible. This means that as a parent, it’s important to stay aware of your child’s online activity. If you can do that, you can better control the content they see, what they’re allowed to access, and the influences they are moved by.

Use Worthwhile Content Filters

It’s important to use the best content filters and parental controls you can. Some offer you access to limit internet time, while others help you block certain websites or content from being seen. With the best cyberbullying safety services, you can also ensure that your children are equipped to handle the unfortunate likelihood of encountering abuse online. The more you can engage in good habits now, and regulate their usage, the less likely they are to come to harm within the wild west that is the online world.

Understand The Trends

Understand the trends that occur and know how to deal with them. For instance, you might block access to certain apps or sites, but your child’s friend’s parents may not have the same philosophy. If you know the trends through paying attention to what they’re saying, you will be able to assess if they’re healthy or not. For instance, TikTok is now seen as a negative influence on many young children due to how poorly they moderate their content, and how limited content filters are in place. When you make decisions to help them stay secure, you are in effect limiting the vulnerable pathways in which they could become less safe.

Stay Alert

It’s important to say, but stay alert. If you notice your child is finding it hard to engage with social media, or they follow a risky YouTuber, you are within your right to restrict access or to observe more closely. It’s a tough job, but ultimately you cannot completely banish your child from the internet for the entirety of their childhood. It’s best to help them build healthy habits now and also know how to stay safe online than to pretend it doesn’t exist. To that end, you’ll be making the right choices.

With this advice, we hope you can better stay aware of your children’s online activity, and manage it as appropriately.

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