McAfee: Nations engaged in cold war-style cyberwarfare

Drawing parallels with the Cold War, in which conflicting nations stockpiled weapons, the 2009 Virtual Criminology report suggested that nation states are in competition, mapping each other's computing infrastructure and electronic defenses - something which looks like preparations for cyberwarfare, Infosecurity notes.

Commentators in the report, such as Mike Jacobs, former information assurance director for the US National Security Agency, argue that such activities constitute acts of war, or a least a precursor to future acts of war or cyberwarfare.

"If you are engaged in reconnaissance on an anniversary's systems, you are laying the electronic battlefield and preparing to use it", Jacobs said in the document.

However, there are some crucial differences between preparations for cyberwarfare, and the Cold War in the 50s, particularly in the area of deterrence. Unlike the US and Russia, which were equally vulnerable to destruction in a nuclear war, developed countries may be more vulnerable to a cyberwarfare than developing nations because they have a critical national infrastructure that is more dependent on computerized networks.

Private sector companies stand to get caught in the crossfire in the event of cyberwarfare, the report said. Financial situations could be compromised in an attempt to undermine public confidence in the banking system, for example, while critical infrastructure such as electronics and water grids could also be subject to attack.

The report therefore echoed recommendations made by the CSIS Cybersecurity Commission a year ago, which advocated increased partnership between the private and public sectors on cyber security matters. Information such as a threat intelligence should be shed more effectively, it said.

"If such measures are adopted proactively, before a major cyberattack happens, it might even obviate the need for governments to ever contemplate a Big Brother approach to cyber security", the report added.

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