Thursday, August 14, 2008


Cyberwar is real. It’s official, we now have another battlespace besides the sea, the ground, the air and space. The internet is now a battlefield. According to a NY Times report, someone was attacking Georgia’s internet infrastructure with denial of service attacks. (A denial of service attack occurs when a website is overwhelmed with coordinated barrages of requests. The website cannot process all the requests, so it overloads and shuts down. Service denied.) No one knows exactly who was behind the attacks, which happened in late July and lasted only about 24 hours, although there is some speculation that the July attacks were a “dry run” for the more extensive cyberattacks that happened as the violence in Georgia escalated earlier this week.

One internet security expert told the NY Times that his group had been tracking “botnets” (a malicious program that blasts streams of useless data) were staged in preparation for attack over the weekend; probably by a “shadowy” criminal gang out of St. Petersburg known as the Russian Business Network. The botnets were activated shortly before the Russian airstrikes on Georgia began on Sunday. Although everyone cautions against jumping to conclusions, the attackers used the same tools and commands as those known to come from the Russian Business Network and were launched from computers the organization controls.

Since Georgia doesn’t rely heavily on its relatively small internet infrastructure, the cyberattacks didn’t have a huge effect. The attacks did, however, shut down a number of government websites which limited the Georgian government’s ability to communicate with its citizens. The attacks also focused on media, communications, and transportation sites. The National Bank of Georgia had their website defaced. Attacks like those on Georgian sites would have had more severe consequences, if they had been directed at an internet-dependent country (like the US) where transportation, electricity, water, banking, and media outlets are all tied to the internet.

This is the information age. Computers and the internet are here to stay. They make our lives easier; but they also create another “center of gravity” that is subject to attack. Recognize it and deal with it. Cyberwar is here to stay.

Unfortunately, according to a report from the Associated Press, the Pentagon has put the Air Force's planned Cyber Command on hold and may end up doing away with it altogether. The Cyber Command was planned as the entity that would coordinate computer network defense, and possibly computer network attacks, much the same way as the Air Force's Air Combat Command coordinates air defense and attacks from the air for theater commanders. I agree with former-Air Force Secretary Wynne who said that, given the use of cyberattack during the action in Georgia, "this is a very poor time to send a signal that the United States is not interested in focusing on warfighting in the cyber domain."

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