Is Canada at war? We could very well be, but not in the form of traditional warfare where our troops meet the enemy on some fixed battle field. This war is more like the cold war where the acts of aggression are more covert.
It has come to light this past week that Canada was the target of a major cyber-attack that seems to have originated in China. Does this mean we are at war with China? No. The Chinese government may not have been behind the recent system infiltrations. I do not doubt that they may be the beneficiaries of the result, but there is no solid proof of who is behind the actual acts.
To many people, the recent security breech has come as a shock, but we shouldn’t be surprised at all. The United States military has a Cyber Command whose official job is to defend US Department of Defence networks. Cyber warfare is the new frontier of modern warfare. The disruption of enemy networks is just as important as disrupting transportation and supply lines.
A great example of cyber warfare, other than the recent infiltration of the Canadian government networks, is the virus that was made to target the Iranian nuclear program. The virus, actually a worm called Stuxnet, is rumoured to be targeting Iranian uranium enrichment plants. No one publically knows who created Stuxnet, but speculation is that Israel with assistance from the US is behind it.
Cyber warfare is becoming more and more common from data-mining and espionage to malicious and destructive attacks. No one is immune. Of course without actual acts of physical aggression, these cyber-attacks are more effective when they are covert. Once the target figures out that there is someone inside its system, it will remove them.
There is another side of cyber warfare that most people may overlook and that is of independent acts conducted not for the purpose of a government but for an individual, corporation or group of people. When WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange was arrested, his supporters attacked Visa, MasterCard and other online businesses that were at odds with him. The media made more of these attacks than what they really were, even getting terminology wrong, which really only helped to illustrate the public’s lack of understanding with the new frontier. The important thing to note from the Assange supporters’ actions is that it could very well have been the first organized act of cyber warfare by a non-government sponsored group.
The recent security breach of the Canadian government’s computer network was more than likely to give some government, China, a leg up when it comes to dealing with treaties, trade or some other economic issue. From what I have been able to find, the most activity related to these types of attacks is in getting military secrets, economics and foreign policy information. With Canada being one of the world’s largest economies, it is no wonder that a trade competitor and partner like China (if it was China) would be trying to steal secrets. I would not be surprised if our neighbour and greatest ally was doing the same thing.
The only thing that we can be sure of is that, like espionage during the cold war era, cyber warfare will continue and it will become more and more sophisticated.