Austin Russia is also waging war against Ukraine on the Internet and has destroyed thousands of computers, paralyzed or defaced websites of authorities. Malware such as HermeticWiper and WhisperGate has damaged important parts of Ukraine’s digital infrastructure. But experts fear that the next generation of cyber weapons could cause even greater damage.
Future wars would not only be fought with bombs and armed forces on the ground. The digital systems that keep armies running are also being attacked, says Torsten George, vice president of the security company Absolute Software: “Every war of the 21st century will be supplemented by cyber operations, attacks on weapons and support systems, the hijacking of drones and warplanes in the air, as well as the diversion of missile attacks.“
Professor Lucas Kello of Oxford University even considers cyberweapons to be as dangerous as nuclear bombs in global politics. Cyberweapons could change the global balance of power. Unlike nuclear bombs, they are more cost-effective, can be used more specifically and the attacker is often not clear to identify. A mutual rearmament and deterrence as with nuclear weapons is therefore obsolete. Rather, states today lived in a constant state of “strife,” as Kello points out.
U.S. strategy is changing
But it is not only the use in an offensive war in violation of international law by an actor such as Russia that is dangerous. The US could also use cyber weapons. US President Joe Biden had security experts present scenarios for a large-scale attack on Russia, NBC News reports.
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This includes a disruption of the entire Russian Internet, a shutdown of the Russian power supply and the sabotage of the Russian train network. “Anything would be possible: slow down trains or let them fall off the tracks,” NBC quoted an insider as saying. The White House in Washington denied this account.
Until now, the US has almost always opted for diplomatic responses to cyber attacks, but that has changed, says Nicole Perlroth. She was a cybersecurity reporter for the “New York Times” for ten years and today advises the US Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA). “We will respond to cyber attacks to the same extent,” Perlroth said at a panel at the SXSW technology Festival. “Russia has been testing its cyber weapons in Ukraine for years.“ It is quite possible that the USA also came into focus.
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Security researcher Bar Kaduri fears that the attacks on the United States have already begun. His company Orca Security Research Pod has recorded a sharp increase in attacks on cloud customers in the United States. The HermeticWiper malware has spread beyond Ukraine and can also be used to remotely control infected computers in order to use them for future cyber attacks.
In addition to states, another actor has also intervened in the cyber war: Anonymous. The hacker collective claims to have hacked several state television channels in Russia and disrupted websites of authorities. Ukrainian Deputy Prime Minister Mykhailo Fedorov also called on Twitter to set up a cyber volunteer team that could act in a similar way.
As SXSW founder Amy Webb observes, there is a shift in power due to such autonomously acting groups: “They may intervene to help, but this is a geopolitical conflict of a global scale, and that is delicate. You don’t have to do actual code-level damage to cause significant damage in the world. That’s what worries me.“
Security companies benefit
The new threats mean a strong demand for cybersecurity products. The most important companies are located in the USA, especially in Silicon Valley. According to analyses by market researcher IDC, Palo Alto Networks from Santa Clara, California, was the market leader with a market share of around 19 percent last year.
This is followed by Cisco from San José in California with a market share of around 16 percent and Fortinet from Sunnyvale in California with a market share of 14 percent. The company headquarters of all three companies are only a few kilometers apart.
The Ukrainian crisis is already affecting many companies, explains Paul Condra, tech analyst at Pitchbook. “Western companies make about one to two percent of their revenues in Russia. These companies are now withdrawing“” he explains. “But this war could act as a catalyst in the field of cybersecurity with higher investments.“