Wars of the future will be fought less by rugged soldiers in the field and more by smart kids perched in front of computers slamming energy drinks. As our dependence shifts onto the Net, so do our vulnerabilities.
This future can already be detected in the tight relationship between corporeal conflicts and cyber attacks. When one examines the physical conflicts between India and Pakistan, the Israelis and Palestinians or the parties in the collapse of Yugoslavia, the escalation of real-world violence is immediately mirrored by cyber-space warfare.
The main targets in cyberwar are largely military targets, but increasingly large multinational corporations serve just as well. Take one of them down, even temporarily, and you have done more damage to the economy of your enemy than scores of soldier deaths.
Since the beginning of the computer era, the 1960s, there have been computer viruses: programs that latch onto a host system to reproduce themselves and send out new copies. Just as in biology, as computers have evolved in sophistication, so have viruses co-evolved. And the cousins to the viruses, worms, do not even need a host system but can multiply themselves over networks.
Given the defenses in place, are these parasites only a minor theoretical concern? No. Consider the Stuxnet worm that raised its head in 2010. This worm zigzagged its way into Iranian industrial systems, reprogrammed them, hid its tracks and wrecked the factory operations. Seemingly coming from nowhere, Stuxnet introduced itself as a destructive, unstoppable herald of what’s to come.
It will surprise no one that cyberwarfare of the future will involve targeting not only military and industrial targets but Internet connectivity for the general population. If you want to take down your enemy, start by shredding his Net.