Cyber Insecurity

CAMBRIDGE – In August 2008, Russian troops moved into Georgia. Observers dispute who fired first, but there was a little noticed dimension of the conflict that will have major repercussions for the future.

Computer hackers attacked Georgian government Web sites in the weeks preceding the outbreak of armed conflict. The Russia-Georgia conflict represents the first significant cyber attacks accompanying armed conflict. Welcome to the twenty-first century.

Cyber threats and potential cyber warfare illustrate the increased vulnerabilities and loss of control in modern societies. Governments have mainly been concerned about hacker attacks on their own bureaucracy’s information technology infrastructure, but there are social vulnerabilities well beyond government computers.

In an open letter to the US president in September 2007, American professionals in cyber defense warned that “the critical infrastructure of the United States, including electrical power, finance, telecommunications, health care, transportation, water, defense, and the Internet, is highly vulnerable to cyber attack. Fast and resolute mitigating action is needed to avoid national disaster.” In the murky world of the Internet, attackers are difficult to identify.