Gemun 2011 Disarmament and International Security Committee Research Report – Topic 2 The use of cyberwar in conflicts

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Gemun 2011

Disarmament and International Security Committee

Research Report – Topic 2

The use of cyberwar in conflicts.


1 Guidelines

2 Introduction

3 Background

4 Measures

5 Developments

6 Problems/ Controversial Aspects

7 UN Departments

8 Terms

9 Works cited and further reading

  1. Guidelines

Cyberwar refers to conducting military operations according to information-related principles. It means disrupting or destroying information and communications systems. It also means trying to know everything about an adversary while keeping the adversary from knowing much about oneself, turning the "balance of information and knowledge" in one's favor, especially if the balance of forces is not and finally, using knowledge so that less capital and labor may have to be expended.

The central aspect of this issue can be individuated in how to provide measures to achieve a cyber security, emphasizing the dangers which derive from cyberwar during international conflicts.

  1. Introduction

Cyberwarfare has been defined as "actions by a nation-state to penetrate another nation's computers or networks for the purposes of causing damage or disruption."

Cyber espionage is the act or practice of obtaining secrets (sensitive, proprietary or classified information) from individuals, competitors, rivals, groups, governments and enemies also for military, political, or economic advantage using illegal exploitation methods on internet, networks, software and or computers. Classified information that is not handled securely can be intercepted and even modified, making espionage possible from the other side of the world.

Wired Society: Online electronic services now form a ubiquitous and essential part of life.  Banking, communications, media and shopping all take place in cyberspace.  The result is that modern governments have become dependent on computer and network security and must rely on Information Assurance to keep society functioning normally.  Recent trends have shown that it is possible to paralyze the web presence of an organization, a group of related institutions, or even an entire nation via cyber attack alone.

Organized Cyber Crime: Criminals now employ high technology such as peer-to-peer botnets in order to more efficiently and anonymously gain access to funds and sensitive personal information.  Modern malicious code can be purchased with customized features, regular updates and even customer service.  Economically motivated criminals gladly use third-party computers and networks to attack individuals, commercial targets, government, and even military resources.

Non-state hackers and hacktivists: Lone hackers, organized hacktivists, and even terrorists now conduct damaging Internet-based attacks with ease, anonymity, and plausible deniability.  Not only can the monetary cost to government and non-governmental organizations be high in terms of tech support, but the loss of proprietary information and the propaganda value associated with successful attacks can be devastating.

The militarization of the Internet: Modern militaries are preparing to use cyberspace as a parallel battleground in future conflicts.  This has tremendous, but as yet little understood significance for the Information Assurance community.  The attackers will have access to the most sophisticated equipment and training that a modern nation-state can provide.  Even when a purely network-based attack is unlikely, cyber attacks employed in concert with conventional weapons will become the standard operating procedure in future conflicts.

  1. Background

  • In 1982, computer code stolen from a Canadian company by Soviet spies caused a Soviet gas pipeline to explode. The code had been modified by the CIA to include a logic bomb which changed the pump speeds to cause the explosion. In 1991, it was reported by somebody in the air force that a computer virus named AF/91 was created and was installed on a printer chip and made its way to Iraq via Amman, Jordan. Its job was to make the Iraqi anti-aircraft guns malfunction; however, according to the story, the central command center was bombed and the virus was destroyed. The virus, however, was found to be a fake. The United States has come under attack from computers and computer networks situated in China and Russia.

  • In the 2006 war against Hezbollah, Israel alleges that cyber-warfare was part of the conflict, where the Israel Defense Force, (IDF) intelligence estimates that several countries in the Middle East used Russian hackers and scientists to operate on their behalf. As a result, Israel has attached growing importance to cyber-tactics, and has become, along with the U.S., France and a couple of other nations, involved in cyber-war planning.

  • In 2007, McAfee, Inc. alleged that China was actively very involved in "cyberwar." China was accused of cyber-attacks on India, Germany and the United States, although they denied knowledge of these attacks. China has the highest number of computers that are vulnerable to be controlled, owing at least partially to the large population.

  • In April 2007, Estonia came under cyber attack in the wake of relocation of the Bronze Soldier of Tallinn. The largest part of the attacks were coming from Russia and from official servers of the authorities of Russia. In the attack, ministries, banks, and media were targeted.

  • In September 2007, Israel carried out an airstrike on Syria dubbed Operation Orchard. U.S. industry and military sources speculated that the Israelis may have used technology similar to America's Suter airborne network attack system to allow their planes to pass undetected by radar into Syria. Suter is a computer program designed to interfere with the computers of integrated air defense systems.

  • In 2007, the United States government suffered an "an espionage Pearl Harbor" in which an "unknown foreign power...broke into all of the high tech agencies, all of the military agencies, and downloaded terabytes of information."

  • In 2007 the website of the Kyrgyz Central Election Commission was defaced during its election. The message left on the website read "This site has been hacked by Dream of Estonian organization". During the election campaigns and riots preceding the election, there were cases of Denial-of-service attacks against the Kyrgyz ISPs. Russian, South Ossetian, Georgian and Azerbaijani sites were attacked by hackers during the 2008 South Ossetia War. In 2008, a hacking incident occurred on a U.S. Military facility in the Middle East. United States Deputy Secretary of Defense William J. Lynn III had the Pentagon release a document, which reflected a "malicious code" on a flash drive spread undetected on both classified and unclassified Pentagon systems, establishing a digital beachhead, from which data could be transferred to servers under foreign control. "It was a network administrator's worst fear: a rogue program operating silently, poised to deliver operational plans into the hands of an unknown adversary. This ... was the most significant breach of U.S. military computers ever and it served as an important wake-up call", Lynn wrote in an article for Foreign Affairs.

  • On March 28, 2009, a cyber spy network, dubbed GhostNet, using servers mainly based in China has tapped into classified documents from government and private organizations in 103 countries, including the computers of Tibetan exiles, but China denies the claim. In July 2009, there were a series of coordinated cyber attacks against major government, news media, and financial websites in South Korea and the United States. While many thought the attack was directed by North Korea, one researcher traced the attacks to the United Kingdom.

  • In December 2009 through January 2010, a cyber attack, dubbed Operation Aurora, was launched from China against Google and over 20 other companies. Google said the attacks originated from China and that it would "review the feasibility" of its business operations in China following the incident. According to Google, at least 20 other companies in various sectors had been targeted by the attacks. McAfee spokespersons claim that "this is the highest profile attack of its kind that we have seen in recent memory."

  • In September 2010, Iran was attacked by the Stuxnet worm, thought to specifically target its Natanz nuclear enrichment facility. The worm is said to be the most advanced piece of malware ever discovered and significantly increases the profile of cyberwarfare.

  • In October 2010, Iain Lobban, the director of the Government Communications Headquarters (GCHQ), said Britain faces a “real and credible” threat from cyber attacks by hostile states and criminals and government systems are targeted 1,000 times each month, such attacks threatened Britain’s economic future and he added some countries were already using cyber assaults to put pressure on other nations.

  1. Measures

Active cooperation between countries to fight cyber terrorism.

Financing research in order to improve security measures.

Strengthening condemns to cyber terrorists.

  1. Developments

In the wake of the cyberwar of 2007 waged against Estonia, NATO established the Cooperative Cyber Defence Centre of Excellence (CCD CoE) in Tallinn, Estonia, in order to enhance the organization’s cyber defence capability. The center was formally established on the 14th of May, 2008, and it received full accreditation by NATO and attained the status of International Military Organization on the 28th of October, 2008.

ITU (International Telecommunication Union) Secretary-General, Dr. Hamadoun I. Touré launched the Global Cybersecurity Agenda(GCA) in 2007, which is a framework for international cooperation aimed at enhancing confidence and security in the information society.

The GCA is designed for cooperation and efficiency, encouraging collaboration with and between all relevant partners and building on existing initiatives to avoid duplicating efforts.

Since its launch, the GCA has attracted the support and recognition of leaders and cybersecurity experts around the world. H.E. Dr. Óscar Arias Sánchez, President of the Republic of Costa Rica and Nobel Peace Laureate, and H.E. Blaise Compaoré, President of Burkina Faso, are both Patrons of the GCA.

  1. Problems/ Controversial aspects

Difficulties to implement measures against cyber terrorism.

Facing continuous updates, improvements and inventions in the technology field.

  1. UN departments

CCDCOE: Cooperative Cyber Defence Centre of Excellence.

NNEC: NATO Network Enabled Capability.

ITU: International Telecommunication Union.

  1. Terms

Cyber war: A modern kind of warfare whereby information and attacks on information and/or on the enemy’s computer network are used as a way to wage war against some chosen enemy.

Cyber security: The protection of data and systems in networks that are connected to the Internet.

Cyber terrorism: Use of the Internet to damage computer systems, especially for political purposes.

  1. Work cited and further reading

CCDCOE website:

Wikipedia on cyber warfare:

Economic and Social Council Opens General Segment of 2010 Session:

BBC on cyber-war threat:

ITU website:

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