No miracles in cyberwarfare

Contributor:  IDGA Staff
Posted:  09/12/2012  12:00:00 AM EDT
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Tags:   Cyber Warfare

Washington Novaes - O Estado de S.Paulo

It would be pleasant to write about pink flowering trees, announcing the upcoming arrival of spring in September. Or about the moving work of musicians who create youth orchestras in underprivileged communities. But what can one do? Newspapers are full of news about threats of cyberwarfare that could lead to a planetary nuclear catastrophe. About robots that could, on their own initiative, launch an atomic missile. About hackers that are capable of paralyzing financial, transportation, health, and communication systems, on a planetary scale.

On this same page, ambassador Rubens Barbosa has written on this subject (6/20). The former chief economist of the International Monetary Fund, Kenneth Rogoff, also dealt with the vulnerability of the global economy to cyber-attacks with terrible consequences (7/6). In these times where we're already confronted with so many insurmountable limits—crises of finite natural resources, water, land, food, etc.—how will we face the threat of the "cyber-armaggedon" mentioned by the professor of the University of Toronto, Canada, Don Tapscott (Folha de S.Paulo, 7/22)?

Ambassador Rubens Barbosa recalls the thinking of Von Clausewitz, who, in the first half of the 19th century, wrote that war is the continuation of politics through other means—as has already begun to happen nowadays, with cybernetics and the use of more and more sophisticated electronic instruments. The United States and Israel are said to already have used them to intervene in the Iranian uranium enrichment program, deactivating five thousand centrifuges. China and the United States work with programs capable of invading sophisticated systems and developing cybernetic commands, national security programs for information, and ways to hinder the escalation of cyber-attacks.

What is Brazil thinking of doing in this scenario?

Professor Kenneth Rogoff asks what will happen with the use of cyber-viruses controlled by anarchists and terrorists, or with natural catastrophes caused by interference in programming, or to damaged satellites, paralyzing electrical grids, financial system data bases, and technology industries. And think about this: if governments develop a virus with this destructive power, what can be done? Trust in luck?

The panorama is frightening. The Royal Pingdom institution, cited by the New York Times (Estado, 7/12), calculated 107 trillion electronic messages circulating in 2010 in the world, where last year there were already 3.1 billion email accounts. What will happen in the world, asks Don Tapscott, if over 50% of the new generation of this medium's users are unemployed?

Eugene Kaspersky, formerly of the Ministry of Defense in the old USSR, today director of the largest antivirus company in the world, proposes the creation of an international cybernetic safety organization to stop the war that already involves the United States, China, Great Britain, India, Germany, France, the two Koreas and other countries which have cyberwar units, supervirus development, unmanned warships and other weapons. According to Kaspersky, "We are sitting on a barrel of gunpowder and cutting the branch that supports the Internet." (Folha, 7/29). The hostilities can cause loss of armed forces information, loss of companies’ intellectual property, etc.

Kennette Benedict, publisher of the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, says in the New Scientist magazine (6/30) that she has no doubt that the United States was behind the cyber-attack on Iran, with the objective of hindering the development of the uranium enrichment system. According to Benedict, "the world has entered a new era of warfare, one with strong parallels to the secret race to build the atomic bomb." The attack on Iran was based on the Stuxnet software system, developed by the United States and Israel. It contained malware (aggressive codes) that targeted specific industrial control systems, of the type that control centrifuges used to enrich uranium.

According to Benedict, this reminds us of the end of World War II, when scientists had alerted the North American government about the dramatic consequences that dropping nuclear bombs on Japan would have—including a nuclear arms race between the United States and the USSR. But other scientists and authorities feared that Germany could master nuclear technology first. The theory that nuclear energy should be subject to international control did not take hold, even at the UN, which was being founded at the time.

The current situation is similar, due to lack of international control of cybernetics. For Benedict, it is "ironic that the first known military use of cyberwarfare is ostensibly to prevent the proliferation of nuclear weapons: a new age of mass destruction will begin in an effort to close a chapter from the first age of mass destruction."

If international politics is unable to make progress in cybernetics and the associated war, what's to be done? Believe in miracles? In the same edition of the New Scientist, next to Kennette Benedict's text—coincidence or not—the leader of the Indian Rationalist Association, Sanal Edamarku, recounts having been invited to uncover a supposed miracle in a Mumbai church, where water spouted from an image and attracted multitudes of people. He looked into it and discovered that the water was from the plumbing system, where the drainage pipe passed under the base of the image, but it was clogged. Due to capillary action, he said, the water infiltrated into the walls adjacent to the statue and, through a hole, flowed to the feet of the image.

Miracles may exist. But international politics will have to make a great effort in the new war, which is already part of our day-to-day.


IDGA Staff Contributor:   IDGA Staff

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