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Line between cybercrime and cyberwarfare blurring | #cybercrime | #infosec


Advanced technology is creating unparalleled danger in warfare, not only in terms of weaponry but the disruption of global systems. Paul Budde reports.

THE DISPUTE BETWEEN the Australian Government and Elon Musk illustrates one of the challenges we face in the age of digital societies, economies and politics. An essential aspect of the digital realm is its global nature, rendering national politics less effective when addressing domestic issues.

However, addressing the digital impact on politics requires international cooperation, which is challenging to develop.

Looking at the issue of the video clip that the Australian Government wants X (formerly Twitter) to remove internationally raises questions about the extent of the Australian Government’s authority in such matters. Elon Musk gave in and used geo-blocking to prevent the video from being viewed in Australia. However, the Australian Government wants a global ban.

This is going too far for Mr Musk — this conflict shows the limited powers of a national government concerning global digital conflicts and the consequences of such issues.

It is interesting to contemplate what would happen if Australia could obtain a global ban on this incident. This could open the door for totalitarian countries such as China, Russia, Iran and North Korea to force similar takedowns of material they don’t like.

Another interesting observation is the power held by a single commercial entity — in this case, one whose decisions have been questioned in Western democracies on several occasions. For example, Musk’s Starlink satellite broadband system is connecting more users in regional and rural Australia than the country’s own NBN. Elon Musk could decide to service Australia no longer, leading to significant national consequences.

Similar decisions by Musk have been seen in the case of supplies to Ukraine. While the Starlink supply issues to Ukraine have been settled, they highlight the vulnerability of global digital developments within the framework of often parochial national politics.

Now, moving to the effects of these digital capabilities on cyberwarfare.

It can be argued that international cyberwarfare began a decade or so ago when it became clear that governments in the USA, China and Australia were hacking into communication networks around the globe to gather military or political intelligence. Many more state actors now have this capability, with ongoing activities from China and Russia being well known.

However, many other countries are likely engaged in similar activities. Measures such as the ban on Chinese ICT equipment and the recent American ban on TikTok are elements of this low-level international cyberwarfare.

Additionally, cyberwarfare has further intensified, with other technologies such as drones, robots and artificial intelligence (AI) being deployed in these theatres of war and conflict.

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The Russian war on Ukraine is, to a large extent, a digital war — a cyberwar. There have been plenty of reports on the accuracy of drones in attacking extremely precise, specific targets. For example, a swarm of Ukrainian drones was able to use a sequence of activities to blow up a Russian warship. The first drone created a hole in the ship and subsequent drones continued that process by inserting explosives through that hole and detonating it, destroying the ship.

Russia is heavily interfering with the global GPS system to counteract such capabilities. Not only is it disrupting the service, but it is also “spoofing” the system by sending incorrect information through the network. This has severely disrupted civil aviation in the Balkan and Scandinavian countries as well as in Poland.

Israel is using similar cyber warfare tactics, creating havoc for civil aviation in surrounding countries, namely Jordan and Lebanon.

All these actions have a global effect as they constitute an attack on global aviation, shipping and communication. It is only a matter of time before this results in a serious accident that could have international repercussions.

Now, the GPS system is under attack. However, we know that, for example, China has proven to be able to disrupt the global satellite system by demonstrating that it could take out a satellite by simply destroying it. Similar to GPS interference, satellite interference can – and already is – used in cyberwarfare as well.

As previously discussed, submarine cables are another vulnerable target, with Russian ships reported to be mapping these cables in Europe. It is not difficult to find out where these cables are, as there are detailed publicly available maps showing the extensive network of the submarine superhighway. European navy ships are now being deployed to protect these critical communication assets, further indicating that we are already in a state of global warfare.

I am only highlighting warfare issues that we are aware of, but with technologies such as smartphones, drones and AI being so cheap, we can only guess what is used in many of the smaller conflicts, for example, in Africa and the Middle East.

While these “cold” cyberwars continue, the hope is that they will not lead to “hot” wars. If technology can prevent this, it might demonstrate the positive side of the coin.

Paul Budde is an Independent Australia columnist and managing director of Paul Budde Consulting, an independent telecommunications research and consultancy organisation. You can follow Paul on Twitter @PaulBudde.

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