The Art of Cyber War

A calculated cyber attack, from anywhere in the world, can destabalise a country, city or region’s critical infrastructure. Where do IT companies then stand regarding Cyber War?

Tags: Cyber crimeCyber warfareMcAfee Incorporation
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By  Gareth Van Zyl Published  November 25, 2009

If you’ve ever read The Art of War by Sun Tzu (written in the 6th century BC), you would know that much of his text focuses not just on how to wage warfare, but also on how to fight wars without actually even having to do battle.

This is a philosophy that especially rings true today when one considers cyber war. A calculated cyber attack, from anywhere in the world, can destabalise a country, city or region’s critical infrastructure (such as water, electricity and telecommunications).

I’m bringing up the topic of cyber warfare because it has very much been in the press this week after McAfee released a report detailing how some countries are arming themselves against this potential threat.

In what is called the 2009 Virtual Criminology report, the report says that at least five nations are stockpiling tools and techniques in preparation for the potential event of cyber conflict.

What makes this report even more alarming is the fact that any nation, regardless of size or economic power, can destabilise larger nations, if it obtains the necessary expertise and will. Another disturbing point made in the report is that private companies will get involved in this kind of warfare as well.

Of course, some private companies have always had a hand in war. Blackwater, the American company involved in the war in Iraq, is just one prominent example. But my question is: What should a big IT company’s stance be when it comes to war?
Do IT companies give a helping hand in terms of beefing up a country’s cyber defenses? With whom, if any, do their allegiances lie?

This is obviously an issue that is highly complex, secretive and not clear-cut, but if countries are clearly preparing for something like this, then it is important to start asking questions about this issue now. This is something that needs in-depth investigation and thought; so, trying to put all this into this comment piece will never be enough.

The United Nations has already stated earlier in 2009 that this threat needs to be recognised. It’s perhaps naïve to think that all governments and companies in the world will be totally transparent, but I do think IT companies, in particular, should start making known publicly what they believe in regarding this issue. Not being transparent about this will endanger us all. As Sun Tzu says in the Art of War, “If you know neither yourself nor your enemy, you will always endanger yourself”.

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