Hack Attacks — A Brief History of Cyberwarfare

Conflicts in the past have been fought on air, sea and land. Will the wars of the future be waged online? Recent history suggests as much. (Image source: WikiCommons)

“Could the next Pearl Harbor attack take place in cyberspace? It’s not a far-fetched idea, considering recent events.”

LAST WEEK, U.S. president Barrack Obama vowed to retaliate against Russia following revelations from America’s intelligence community that Putin regime hackers influenced the 2016 presidential election.

Obama’s warning came amid FBI and CIA confirmation that computers located in in Russia breached the email accounts of Hillary Clinton campaign officials and dumped sensitive and embarrassing contents on the Web. Even now, bi-partisan consensus is emerging in Congress to launch an investigation of Moscow’s efforts to tilt the election in its favour. Many observers maintain that Kremlin cyber-warriors even had a role in the vote’s outcome.

“There’s no doubt they were interfering and no doubt it was a cyber-attack.”

“There’s no doubt they were interfering and no doubt it was a cyber-attack,” said Arizona Senator and chair of the Senate Armed Services Committee John McCain.

And it isn’t just political parties and their email accounts that are at risk from enemy hacks. The Pentagon’s own Cyber Command, established in 2009, is scrambling to protect the United States against a massive surprise attack on vital networks like the financial markets or the electrical power grid.

But could the next Pearl Harbor attack take place in cyberspace? It’s not a far-fetched idea, in light of recent events. Consider these examples of cyberwar attacks:

Israeli warplanes entered Syrian airspace to conduct strikes in 2007. A virus knocked out Damascus’s air defences in advanced of the raid. (Image source: WikiCommons)

2007: Israel is suspected to have used computer attacks to neutralize parts of Syria’s air defences in advance of an airstrike against the Arab country.

2008: A digital breech of unknown origin wrought havoc on the Republic of Georgia at the same time Russian troops launched operations in the Caucuses. Coincidence? The year before a computer attack on Estonia briefly disrupted both the government and the national media. The incident coincided with a controversial plan by Tallinn to relocate a Soviet era war memorial known as The Bronze Soldier. The hack was traced to Russian government computers.

2010: Hacktivist groups in both India and Pakistan orchestrated massive attacks on the other countries’ government computer networks.

Cyber warfare specialists defend the United States’ digital infrastructure. (Photo by Michael L. Lewis)

2010: In September, Iran’s nuclear enrichment facility at Natanz fell prey to what is believed to have been a joint U.S. and Israeli cyber attack, dubbed Operation Olympic Games. The mission involved the depositing of a computer virus known as Stuxnet into the site via an infected USB stick. The malicious code reportedly crippled software and hardware for many of the site’s centrifuges disrupting Tehran’s nuclear bomb program.

2011: Unknown assailants briefly locked the USAF out of its own drone fleet at Creech AFB in Nevada. Later that same year, Iran reportedly severed the GPS link with an American Predator operating over Afghanistan, gained control of the aircraft and brought it down safely onto an airstrip inside their borders.

2012: The New York Times reported that a number of military and corporate computer networks in the United States were attacked by China’s cyberwarfare division, Unit 61398.

2016: The foiling of a North Korean attack on 140,000 computers in South Korea made headlines just this past June. Seoul reported that hackers in Pyongyang dropped malicious code into 160 civilian and government systems in preparation for a massive surprise cyberattack. And this wasn’t a first for the so called Hermit Kingdom. In late 2014, Kim Jog-un supposedly ordered a hack against Sony Pictures for its release of the the comedy The Interview, which famously spoofed the North Korean dictator.

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