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Johnny Ryan:

"attacks carried out over the internet that target the consumer internet infrastructure, such as the websites that provide access to online banking services. In this understanding, iWar is distinct from what the United States calls "cyberwar" or from what China calls "informationalised war". Each of these refers to controlling communications, access to imagery intelligence, electronic espionage, and battlefield command and control" (http://opendemocracy.net/article/iwar_pirates_states_and_the_internet)


Johnny Ryan:

"Five factors make likely a conflagration of iWar in the near future.

First, iWar is extending the franchise of offensive action to include an unprecedented number of amateurs whose sole qualification is their connection to the internet, much as early gunpowder weaponry enabled the levying of armies of unprecedented size. Matchlock troops could be trained in a matter of weeks, compared to the lifetime of training required to produce effective longbow men. The iWar attacker, like the matchlock musketeer, is equipped with cheap, powerful technology that requires little training.

Second, iWar is inexpensive and easy to wage in a way that is revolutionary. iWar, perhaps for the first time, is liberated from the cost and effort that traditionally inhibits offensive action against geographically distant targets. From the chariot archer to the intercontinental missile, developments in mobility have been exploited to deliver kinetic force at ever greater distances from the state's own territory. Conventional offensive technology relying on physical assets capable of destroying targets by kinetic means is expensive and comparatively slow. The B-2 "Spirit" stealth bomber, for example, has a per-unit price tag (including development costs) of approximately $ 2.1 billion; which would clearly engender caution about its use in theatres of war; and the aircraft must make long flights to drop its payload. During "Operation Enduring Freedom" in Afghanistan that began in October 2001, for example, the B-2 flew from Whiteman air-force base in Missouri to drop its ordinance. iWar, though it delivers far less offensive impact, can inflict damage from any point on the earth at a target anywhere else on the earth at virtually no cost.

Third, iWar appears to be deniable and very difficult to punish. Many weeks after the initial attacks in April 2007 it remains unclear whether Estonia was the victim of a "cyber-riot" in which like minded "hacktivists" orchestrated the attacks without authorisation from the Kremlin, or whether the attacks were coordinated with official sanction. Yet even if official culpability could be proven, it is unclear how one state should respond to an iWar attack by another. Morover, a criminal investigation would be no less problematic. Even if digital forensic investigation could trace a malicious botnet to a single computer that is commanding a DDOS attack (which typically lasts only for a short, intense period), it is unlikely that effective action could be taken to prosecute. The culpable computer, if a static machine were discoverable, might be in another jurisdiction from which law enforcement and judicial cooperation are not forthcoming. If cooperation were forthcoming, the culpable computer might have been operated from an internet café or at another anonymous public connectivity site, making it impossible to determine who among the many transient users was involved in a DDOS attack.

Fourth, iWar is not limited by the geographical constraints that impeded the spread of earlier military innovations, and thus will proliferate quickly across the globe. The proliferation of gunpowder in Europe puts this in perspective: the technology appeared in China in the 7th or 8th century, but made its European debut only in Flanders in 1314. The tools and know-how necessary to wage iWar are available across the internet.

Fifth, the impact of iWar attacks will increase as the internet assumes an increasingly important role in daily political, social, and economic life. In the past decade, governments, communities, corporations, and individuals have steadily embraced the net as a means to deliver services to and interact with citizens, clients, and peers; a process that will increase in the next. In Estonia, for example, there are almost 800,000 internet bank clients in a population of almost 1.3 million people, and 95% of banking operations are conducted electronically. In many states, the delivery of media content via the net now competes with conventional distribution of newspapers and music (with television content soon to follow). The indispensability of internet technologies to the internal operation of business organisations is gathering pace. In this context, the vulnerability to iWar of business and government networks - is growing." ((http://opendemocracy.net/article/iwar_pirates_states_and_the_internet)

More Information

  1. Article by JR in Nato Review, Winter 2007