War (huh). What is it good for?

By Rebecca Bole on March 20, 2014

“Absolutely nothing,” says 1970’s soul singer Edwin Starr.

Well, hacktivists don’t think so. They see cyberspace as the next frontier on which to fight political wars, according to recent intelligence from Ukraine.

In a systematic round of cyber “flag-burning” last week, hacking groups traded blows in a series of distributed denial of service (DDoS) attacks in Ukraine, before the ground war has even got under way.

The first shot appears to have been fired on March 16, when NATO reported an attack on its servers by Ukrainian hackers, which shut down three of its websites.

In a counter-punch, hackers launched DDoS attacks against a website established to monitor the Crimean referendum – crippling the voting on whether Crimea should split from Ukraine for an hour on Sunday night.

Hackers from an American university, Urbana-Champaign in Illinois, were accused of being behind the attack.

Separately, I read this week that a bombardment of DDOS attacks on Wall Street banks “mysteriously” ceased last year during the crucial stage of international talks on Iran’s nuclear program. Some think this was a diplomatic move to ease the final stages of the negotiations.

Iran has been building its capabilities as a cyber power for the last five years and world super-powers are starting to really take note.

Iran was suspected, for instance, to have been the hand behind a computer virus that wrecked 30,000 Saudi Aramco computers in 2012.

So, cyber attacks have been a growing covert tactic of governments and international organizations for a while now, but this latest news brings to light a strong trend in modern warfare.

It reminds me of the keynote speech from former UK defense secretary John Reid at Advisen’s London cyber conference in February:

“If you’re going to war, why build a bomb? Why not just use this?” Reid said, brandishing his mobile phone. “It acts as warhead, missile and delivery system…”

He’s got a point. The cyber world knows no national boundaries and is not policed by international norms of diplomacy or sovereign power.

The cyber environment is the new frontier on which to fight wars – this time political, but at what point will blood be shed?

I fear, it won’t be long…

Rebecca Bole is EVP & Editor-in-Chief at Advisen. She has nearly 20 years of experience in the international insurance markets, both as an underwriter and a journalist. Contact Rebecca at rbole@advisen.com.