Monday, September 1, 2008

Georgian Cyberattacks Raise Important Questions

I have been following the Georgian conflict, as I am sure many of you have, and aside from the actual physical conflict there has been little attention paid to the cyberattacks that occurred prior to the Russian invasion. Tech analysts have stated that it does not appear to be sponsored by the Russian government even though it originated from somewhere in Russia. It has been pegged as an amateur attack because if Russia had wanted to stop the Georgian government from communicating they would have attacked their radio and television broadcasting capability. Instead, only websites were targeted which makes experts believe the attacks were carried out by 'paramilitary or militia-like organizations.'

While it is unsure whether this attack was sponsored by Russia or was done by independent entities, the fear of far more sophisticated cyberattacks has been heightened. In a recent Reuters article The U.S. Air Force General, Gene Renuart, asked what kind of cyberattack would lead to war:

"Is it degree? If you affect so many millions of people or so many millions of dollars or so many organizations, does that constitute a legal act of war?"

Renuart poses a very interesting question that high-tech countries such as the United States and Canada have to consider. Since most necessities are ran on computer systems, such as power grids, banking systems, air traffic and telecommunications (I have to use Live Free or Die Hard as an example here). But, what wouldconstitute an act of cyber-war? It is not an easy question to answer because it can often be very hard to pinpoint where the attack is originating. An attacker could make it appear that a cyberattack was occurring within one country but actually coming from a totally different one.

Aside from pinpointing the attackers, Renuart's original question is also noteworthy. What amount of damage would be designated as enough to go to war over? It is not an easy question to answer, and if warfare is soon to take to the cyber-battlefield rather than the physical battlefield, it would be important to specify the 'acts of war.' At this point it seems that we are still unsure of how to approach this new type of cyber-warfare, and so I think more attention needs to be paid to cyberattacks such as the one on Georgia. What would be the minimum damage from a cyberattack that you think a country should go to war over?