It has been called the ‘fifth dimension of warfare’. Along with land, sea, air and space – the cyberworld is increasingly becoming a new frontline. Innovations in technology are changing the tactics of modern-day conflict. There are new tools in today’s arsenal of weapons. Helped by advances in electro-magnetics and modern information and communications technology, a new form of electronic warfare has been created. It is called cyberwar and is increasingly recognised by governments and the military as posing a potentially grave threat.
If you have a few smart people and a good computer, then you can do a lot. You don’t need an aircraft, you don’t need tanks, you don’t need an army. You can penetrate another country, create huge damage without even leaving your armchair.
Alon Ben David, military analyst for Israel’s Channel 10
And it is not just cyberwar that is a growing phenomenon. The internet has empowered cyberactivism, allowing people to share information and mobilise support to take direct action – both online and on the streets. Social networking sites such as Facebook, Twitter and YouTube have been at the forefront of this new wave of cyberactivism, helping to galvanise the protests that have recently spread across the Arab world.
The so-called Arab Spring has been described as an electronic revolution. Protesters were turned into citizen journalists – taking frontline images on their mobile phones and uploading them via their computers for the world to see. The regimes may have jammed the signals of satellite news channels and banned international reporters from entering their country, but they were unable to prevent citizens from becoming reporters in their own right.
Using the internet as a platform for political action is one thing. But infiltrating and disrupting computer networks and databases takes cyberwar to another level. American security experts have warned that a cyber-attack could cripple key governmental and financial systems and it is a threat the US is taking seriously.
A key battlefield in this war has been the case of Google. The US internet company partially withdrew from China in 2010 after a tussle with the government over censorship and government-backed hacking. China accuses the US of using Google to spy on the country, while Google accuses China of hacking into the email accounts of some of its members.
Many analysts are amazed at how internet users voluntarily hand over vast amounts of personal data to social media sites. And planting software into a person’s phone or computer to steal data has become a new tactic of warfare in the fifth dimension.