TEL AVIV, Israel – Hardly a week goes by without a cyber attack being firmly – or mostly — attributed to some government. Which raises the question of whether the world is now in a state of constant cyber war.
No, an Israeli army senior cyber official told a group of international reporters here Wednesday covering the annual Cyber Tech security conference. Cyber attacks are just part of the new world of life in the unregulated and uncontrolled Internet jungle.
According to military rules the official could not be identified. But during the hour-long briefing he talked about the Israel military’s determination to be a leader in cyber defence and offence, the need for all nations to do the same, and the need for some kind of international controls to bring law and order to cyberspace.
Asked if the regular news reports blaming a wide range of countries over the years for cyber attacks suggests the world is already in a state of cyber war, the officer replied by asking when the last time a country actually declared a physical war. It’s the same in the cyber world, he said.
“In this realm because its such a jungle and exponential growth [of attacks]… the basic level of [cyber] warfare is high. In any country how many times are border patrols being attacked? Pick a number. In the cyber realm in any instance you will have ten, a hundred, thousands of more attacks. Does that make it warfare? No. that’s the rule of the jungle.”
“And if you say [to the public] ‘We are in a war,’ what does that help me besides frightening civilians – and maybe I’m going to get some [financial] resources … I do not think we are at war – we just live in a different jungle, and we stepped into it by accident … This is how it is, and we have to deal with it by building laws, just like we did with maritime piracy. It took hundred years to get rid of piracy. Will we totally get rid of do away piracy? No. We still have it once in a while. Will be get rid of cyber crime? No.
There will always be a vacuum somewhere that isn’t governed and someone will work on that and earn a few bucks. Tough, but we need to work. It’s not like it’s a lost war. Governments and military … we have a lot of work to do. But it’s not war. It’s just the world we live in.”
Armies, navies and air forces traditionally prepare for physical war. But, he said “the grounds on which warfare is fought on is changing” because of the Internet. “It’s a totally new ballgame.”
Traditionally military strategy calls for offence first, then defence, he noted. Cyber reverses that – first, protect and defend the country’s assets. And because of the Internet an adversary can be on the other side of the world and not in the region.
With international cyber law still developing – and he suggested that many of today’s politicians who weren’t born with a smart phone in their hands are a problem — what Google, Facebook or security vendors like Kaspersky say or do may be more important that what nations are doing – at least for the time being – he said. Over time local and international law will solidify, he added.
“It’s a global battlefield but at the end you have to have bodies that are effective in all elements in law and order. But it will take time.”
Meanwhile, governments must create incentives to the private sector to bolster their cyber security, he said. The challenge for all countries is to construct an architecture for national cyber defence, he said. Every business sector has to have selected incentives to beef up cyber security. “And it’s not only regulations,” he added. Small sectors will need government assistance.