In the New Cold War, everyone is invited.
A few weeks ago, a buddy told me about a site that shows hack attacks across a world map. (Please see map.ipviking.com) Now the Norse Corporation that sponsors the site probably feels that the scary map is good advertising for their security products, and I’m sure it is. The map portrays the country where an attack originates, the country that is its target, and the type of attack. There is also a helpful stock ticker of attacks as they take place. Frightening, interesting stuff.
I also began reading Fatal System Error: The Hunt for the New Crime Lords Who Are Bringing Down the Internet by Joseph Menn. The book was published in 2010, so it’s a bit out of date, but it does a fine job of making the reader realize just how widespread and sophisticated cyber attacks are now.
What’s my point? It is as if we’ve entered a New Cold War era, but instead of the USSR and its allies versus the USA and its allies, EVERYONE is invited.
Let’s look at some of the actors in the current cyberwar/cybercrime scene.
1. Countries: When the Chinese military hacks the US military, and vice versa, they are acting in an official capacity, at the orders of their superiors, no matter how much they might deny it in public. This is the old school style Cold War, and it was a closed shop where only the big boys played.
2. Corporations: Often the favorite victims of criminal hackers. It’s like the old joke about robbing banks because that’s where the money is. And corporations are getting hacked every day for valuable data like credit card numbers and personally identifiable information. But there is also the lesser-known side of this where corporations hack each other in the modern form of industrial espionage. Sometimes it’s easier to steal an idea or a tech than to bear the costs of developing it themselves.
3. Criminals: Cybercrime uses technology and social engineering to carry out the same crimes that would have been done with a gun or a knife in the past. Sure, there are new crimes like identity theft, but data hostage schemes are just the new model of extortion. It’s simply about the money, and politics doesn’t have much to do with this area because politics is the province of the...
4. Hacktivists: Tech savvy folks who use their skills for political causes. This one is slippery because it may not be a formal group, but simply a loosely organized one-time act by like-minded people. And the motive is to disrupt or punish people, organizations or countries they don’t agree with. A hacktivist can even be a single person who sees something outrageous and decides to do something about it.
5. Terrorists: The Internet isn’t just for communications, and some terrorists have learned they can strike at their enemies in non-direct ways. In other words, they don’t have to strap on a bomb vest and run to the nearest market when they can use a computer to attack an enemy’s infrastructure.
All of these entities are using the same Internet and Darknets, and often using the same techniques and Bitcoins, but they all have their own agenda, from the lone wolf to the nation state. The New Cold War is open to anyone with skills, a grievance, or a lust for money. Is it scary? Of course. But you know what? It’s still way better than a hot war fought with guns and nukes.
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