When a Cyber Attack is No Longer Just an Incident But an Act of War

These days, people are more familiar with cyber security than ever before. Cyber security has become a frequent topic daily in the news as each day we are receiving details about the latest breaches, whether they are from Yahoo, Dropbox or LinkedIn or simply information wars with the goal of disrupting political and social stability. They impact citizens, companies and governments around the world. Many sensitive records have been stolen and companies are continuously hit with ransomware or financial fraud that is costing billions of dollars.

With cyber attacks increasing at an astonishing rate, many of them are crossing nation state borders via cyberspace in a hyper connected world.  What type of cyber attack should be considered an act of war and when should governments hold other nation states responsible for the actions of their citizens.

At Thycotic, we know that cyber security is no longer just a technology challenge it is a challenge for everybody who uses and interacts with technology daily.  The protection and security of both your work and personal life are no longer separated and they have been intertwined with evolving trends of social networks, the internet of things and unlimited connectivity.  Because of this, cyber security is no longer just the responsibility of the company IT department or the government. It is the responsibility of every employee/citizen not just to protect your work assets, your personal data as well and ultimately our way of life.

Information cyber wars have become a major disruption to our way of life, filling our daily news and feeds with fake information to influence our actions and change the outcome of important and vital decisions, rather than focusing on important citizens needs like tax, health and education many governments are now embroiled in trust and transparency challenges caused by the continuous disruption from cyber attacks.

Many recent cyber incidents have been stealing huge amounts of personal and sensitive information that is then being used to pursued and influence our decision making.  Therefore, when a cyber attack from another nation state tries to influence our way of life, our society or the outcome of our democracy should this be considered an act of war?

Large troll factories and botnet farms are using our stolen personal information to guarantee that our news feeds whether it is via social media, websites you commonly visit, advertisements or your even your social sphere are filled with fake information that attracts your reaction to respond and participate creating a growing trend which now circles your friends and family all starting from a machine controlled bot, not to get you to click on a link or install malicious malware but to get you to share malicious information, influence you and you friends decisions and distrust your own government creating divide rather than impartiality.

Recently, European Union (EU) member states have drafted a political document which states that any serious cyber-attacks from a foreign nation state can be constituted as an act of war.  Should other nation states follow the same stance to protect their citizens in cyberspace?  We have seen real-world damage caused by such attacks for example the attack on the Ukrainian Energy sector that shut down the power to 86,000 homes or hospital devices hit with ransomware causing state of emergencies being declared since the hospitals where unable to continue critical services.  Democracy itself has been targeted with many countries election process being at the end of information wars.

One thing that is clear is that cyber attacks are crossing country borders and disrupting our way of life.  What is difficult and challenging with many cyber attacks is attribution is almost impossible without nation state cooperation and transparency.  We hear about cyber criminal groups that are behind many of the major cyber incidents in recent years whether it was a major data breach, ransomware or government agencies classified data being targeted.  Several companies and governments have linked these cyber criminal groups to nation states though without revealing concrete evidence and those nation states denying any involvement.  Without clear cooperation and transparency this will continue to grow as a major problem with a possibility of a full cyber war as retaliation.

To prevent such a major catastrophe from occurring governments and nation states need to work together with full cooperation and transparency to ensure that cyber attribution is possible and hold each other responsible for the actions of criminal organizations carrying out cyber attacks from within their borders.  It’s important that governments do not provide a safe haven for cyber criminals to carry out such attacks especially when they are doing it for both financial, political gains and extreme aggression.

Trust has become an issue in cyberspace and information wars are in full effect with clear intention of political and social disruption that should be considered an intent of war using extreme aggression.  The time is now for governments to act, protect democracy and our way of life.

 


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