Cyber crime is the ultimate criminal hodgepodge, with everything from petty theft or blackmail to corporate or government espionage all in the giant entanglement. As the targets have expanded from ordinary phishing to full-scale whaling, governments are clamoring to develop comprehensive security plans incorporating this new frontier.
Though experts, nations and academics have all be in conference, and oftentimes disagreed, on how to organize, protect or strike back, one thing they can agree on: cyber security is the new frontier of warfare.
For a moment, take warfare down to the minutia, and see how cybercriminals are having a field day:
• Identity theft
• Stolen credit card numbers
• Fraudulent charges (as good as money)
• Blackmail (ransomware)
• And more…
All can be done from a computer. The difference between these and “real world” crimes, is that a theft IRL requires a perpetrator to be there. For the most part laws are written involving real people—a victim and a suspect, occupying the same space at the time of the crime.
In cyber space, the suspect may be in a different country, or may even be a foreign government. Prosecuting such crimes is incredibly complex, not to mention how difficult it is to catch such a person in the first place, given the layers of cloaking techniques available to an experienced hacker.
Spies of the past were called “spooks,” for their ghostlike ability to evade, disappear or even slip across national borders. Probably as long as there have been companies, or organizations of any kind, there have been corporate spies.
In the corporate world, spying is taken quite seriously: if a competitor can gain the upper hand on a sale, discover corporate secrets, or even get a look at suppliers or buyers, it can mean their success and your failure.
Now such corporate warfare also spans borders: what foreign tech company wouldn’t want to have a peek at the inner workings of a giant like Apple or Microsoft (based in the US, but operating globally)?
Even a film in the works could suffer if a competitor finds out plot points and somehow beats them to the punch. Few companies are exempt from attempted corporate espionage, and the biggest US brands are the ones of most interest to foreign entities.
Since such disputes, even when they involve foreign interference, are really a private business matter, the governments of said companies don’t generally get involved—that is except for the side that may have government-backing.
Cybercrime isn’t just about the micro, though; we have also seen headlines on the international stage on the macro scale, such as Russia being accused of interfering in the United States presidential election.
Nations have long attempted to interfere in other nations. The United States has, for many decades, sought to assist in the election or appointment of a “friendly” leader in nations of interest. Why wouldn’t a country like Russia do the same thing?
Perhaps the only thing that has changed about this nation-against-nation interference is the nature of that interference. It’s a stylistic difference: digital propaganda instead of leaflets dropped out of airplanes.
Heating Up a Cold War
Some experts have called this the Second Cold War or the Cyber Cold War. However, there is one major difference: the Cold War did not result in any actual shots being fired between the United States and Russia.
The digital Cold War is perhaps even hotter, and that heat is blurring the lines.
When an individual acts against another individual, the situation is more clear. Now we see that on every level of cybercrime, from hijacking the internet of things (IoT) to manipulating public opinion, a nation like Russia or North Korea or the United States could be behind the attack.
That’s a game changer.
Every new frontier involves initial exploration and a sort of wild-west-esque sense of law and order. For a while it looks remarkably like disorder.
This new frontier of digital warfare is following the same pattern and looking awfully disorderly. It’s time for a simultaneous top-down and bottom-up cyber restructuring and education plan, before this heat starts a fire.