ConText: Cyber Wars

I saw that - wasn't Arnold Schwarzenegger in it? It sounds like the plot for a science fiction movie, but it's happening now…

I saw that - wasn't Arnold Schwarzenegger in it?It sounds like the plot for a science fiction movie, but it's happening now in the real world. Well-organised cyber warriors are on the march, and their targets are government computer networks, financial markets and essential infrastructure.

Man the barricades!

A report by anti-virus software company McAfee says that some countries are using computers as tools of espionage. The annual Virtual Criminology Report, out last week, found that cyber crime is no longer the exclusive territory of individual hackers - governments are mounting attacks and trying to undermine other nations' networks.

How do they do that?


The milder methods include internet vandalism, in which web pages are defaced or altered, and spreading propaganda via the web. More serious breaches include gathering classified information, instigating denial-of-service attacks, disrupting satellite systems and sabotaging power, water, transport and other infrastructure.

Where do these cyber warriors originate?

In the past couple of months, both the US and the UK have been subjected to cyber warfare, and have traced the culprits to China. The Chinese government denies it, but has already publicly stated its interest in such activities and has been implicated in attacks on several other countries.

Who else is at it?

In May, hackers targeted Estonia's banks, parliament and media, bombarding sites with hundreds of thousands of hits in an effort to make them crash. Estonia said that up to a million computers had been used in the attack, suggesting it could only have been organised at a high level. It blames Russia, following a dispute between Moscow and Tallinn over a second World War memorial. The Kremlin denies everything.

So the gods are at war - what's that got to do with us mortals?

Cyber war doesn't only affect governments. Water, electricity and other vital systems can come under attack, and even traffic lights can be knocked out of kilter.

We will fight them on the beaches - and on the homepages!

The US government has recruited 40,000 military staff and will spend up to 30 million (€20.45 million) in preparation for the mother of all cyber wars. Most observers, however, say that governments are not spending enough and that they are in denial about the denial-of-service threat.

Try at home:

Alvin's been called up to fight in the cyber war - and he's doing battle in his bedroom right now.

Try at work:

Okay, fire a warning e-mail - and if they don't back off, then lock and upload for cyber war.

Kevin Courtney

Kevin Courtney

Kevin Courtney is an Irish Times journalist