Many of us have enjoyed the 4th installment of the Die Hard movies, where Bruce Willis plays the hard-hitting New York cop, John McClane. With the aid of a teenage hacker, he attempts to stop cyber terrorists who hack into government computers and methodically attack the United States’ infrastructure, in order to cause pandemonium and financial meltdown. Though he and his aid manage to stop these attacks in the fictionalized world, some critical questions remain: Are such cyber-attacks possible in real life? If so, how well-prepared are various nation’s cyber counterintelligence group to withstand them?
As compared to traditional methods of war, cyber warfare is substantially cheap and easy to execute. All that’s required is a group of extremely talented hackers, working in unison, and armed with crucial information to break into secured systems. Such teams can, for example, take out the power grid of a U.S. state from anywhere else in the world. A similar incident occurred in December 2015, when Russian hackers gained control of the Ukrainian power grid system and caused a mass blackout that affected nearly 225,000 people. Cyberwarfare uses techniques such a malware, phishing, and ‘man in the middle attacks’ to gain control of a system backed up on the internet. In addition to causing disruption in infrastructures, cyber-attacks are also done to steal user information and sensitive government data.
In the fight against cyber warfare, it’s imperative that each nation invests heavily on counterintelligence teams that could prevent an attack by observing critical flaws in network security. By 2022, global cybersecurity spending is expected to surpass $1 trillion, as both private and public enterprises ramp up their systems ensuring maximum security. On a more comprehensive scale, agencies that provide expertise on cybersecurity should also be funded by the government to wean off potential large-scale attacks when they occur. In accordance with this, the European Union (EU) recently passed a vote that delved more power and a larger budget to the European Network and Information Security Agency (ENISA). Large-scale investment in cybersecurity measures is a testament to its importance in the modern digital age.
Network security is, indeed, a cat and mouse game. As cyber attacks get more sophisticated, in the face of an increasing level of sophistication in security itself, it’s crucial that nations come together and discuss the ‘dark side of technology’. In order to facilitate such a discussion, the UN has set up a 20 member panel, consisting of Alibaba founder Jack Ma and Melinda Gates, to identify gaps and opportunities in technology that leads to its malicious use. Cyber-attacks are a global issue, and only through joint cooperation between nations, can be curbed and fought back.
So, is current cyber counterintelligence strong enough to withstand a malicious attack on a nation’s infrastructure? Unfortunately, nobody knows the answer to this question until it actually occurs. As the Internet of Things (IoT) connects more aspects of our digital lives online, it becomes easier for hackers to disrupt the entire system. Interconnectivity leads to vulnerability in the system, and just by breaking down one node in this intricately connected network, hackers can watch other nodes crumble as well. Cyber-security can’t just focus on preventing them all together but can be ready to defend when such attacks occur in real life.