LONDON—Get your act together, folks. Cyber is going to change the way we fight and you’d best start thinking more in those terms.
For one man, this fact was good for business. General Sir Richard Barrons, former commander of the Joint Forces Command, told a packed room at the Advisen Cyber Risk Insights Conference here on March 7 that cyber is now the “tool of first resort” in conflict.
Cyber attacks are effective, and more importantly, they are easier and cheaper to carry out in order to “bend the will of an opponent” or “just bring life to a halt,” Barrons said to the captivated audience. As examples, Barrons mentioned North Korea’s attack on Sony, Russia’s attacks on Estonia and the Ukraine power grid, and the Dyn attack by a yet unknown perpetrator. The point is to “destabilize and weaken” an enemy,” he said.
But attacks do not need to be so grand in scale. Think for a minute of the Internet of Things—the connectivity of everyday household items and appliances—plus the inventions of on-call devices from the likes of Amazon and Google. Sure, you can follow a man home to shoot him or fire a missile through his front door, but isn’t hacking an interconnected home system easier? Simply tap in, turn the gas up all the way, and turn on the toaster, Barrons said, point blank. Or take control of a foe’s vehicle and drive it into a wall, he added flatly.
Cyber attacks are impersonal, cheaper, and deniable—and they are effective to “remove the underpinnings of civilization” he said, because it isn’t the physical destruction that matters—it is the effect on sentiment. “Perception beats facts,” Barrons said.