From Cyber Warfare to Cyber Terrorism: An Inevitable Future

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By Gilad Bronshtein

Cyber warfare is commonly conceived of as actions taken by one nation-state against another. The majority of these attacks aim to interfere with essential security systems and expose the target to increased threat and cripple its offensive potential. Perhaps the most notorious cyber-attack in history, the 2009 Stuxnet worm has targeted several Iranian based organizations around the world and remained undetected for years. The attack is believed to have been perpetrated in order to disrupt operations in two locations central to the Iranian nuclear program.

The destructive potential of cyber warfare in economic and financial terms is just as apparent. The 2012 Shamoon attack focused on the Saudi Arabian oil industry and targeted Aramco, a major national oil production company. Over 30,000 systems were sabotaged in an attack that disrupted one of the country’s major industries and resulted in heavy financial damages. The target, scope, and sophistication of the attack have led many to believe it originated in national and political motives and was backed by such entities.

While treated mostly as an international act of war, cyber warfare is no different than any other weapon. When wielded by private hands and turned against innocent individuals, cyber aggression inevitably crosses into the sphere of crime and terrorism. On February 5th, 2016 a cyber-attack has crippled critical computer systems in Hollywood Presbyterian Medical Center in Los-Angeles, California. An anonymous group of attackers demanded a ransom of approximately $3.7 million for restoring activity to the hospital’s paralyzed communications network. The hospital was held hostage for more than a week before it finally paid the unknown assailants $17,000 in order to regain control of the essential systems. Fortunately, the attack had no direct impact on patients and no lives were lost.

As our dependency on technology grows, so does the potential for the use of cyber-attacks as acts of terror. The case of the Hollywood Presbyterian Medical Center should be treated as an ominous demonstration and a clear warning against the destructive potential of cyber aggression in the arena of civil life.

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