The cyber era is upon us; we must take note

A revolution is underway in warfare. The nature of warfare is changing quickly. And the changes are posing a problem so large that world leaders don’t want to look.

In the past, warfare has been driven by factors like geography, national borders, weaponry, and the size of armies. Although these factors are still important, they are being overshadowed by other factors which may soon become more relevant.

In the 21st century world now taking shape, international borders are often less clear and more frequently violated. Missiles are more commonly available, do not care about borders, and are proliferating. A growing number of international terrorist organizations also ignore state borders and have become fixed features of global conflict in today’s world. Terrorists, such as Al-Qaeda and, more prominently, ISIS, are driven by transnational ideologies. To date ISIS has had 14 worldwide organizations swear allegiance to it.

However, more than any other, cyber warfare is the phenomenon which has the greatest potential to upend the way warfare is conceived and conducted. Cyber warfare is even less sensitive to the old concept of borders. And what’s not broadly recognized is that we are already deep within the era of cyber warfare. We are in the midst of a cyber revolution which is gathering pace significantly.

Cyber-attacks are now so common that the world has become accustomed to them. And, until now, cyber threats have been perceived to be softer than those posed by harder military assets such as planes, bombs, and tanks.

But the potential threat posed by cyber warfare could, in certain cases, be significantly greater than more traditional military capabilities. Cyber-adversaries may be able to sabotage dams, disable power plants, or even commandeer an enemy’s own missile facilities. Such an attack could result in massive damage by flooding or loss of electricity. A cyber-attack could even be used to turn one’s missiles against oneself. Military command and control systems, transport hubs, health management facilities, and financial systems are all potential cyber targets.

The cyber phenomenon ignores borders to an even greater extent than missiles. A cyber attacker can strike from half a world away. The more connected the world becomes, the more the old borders blur. In 2017, an attacker doesn’t need tanks or planes to do tremendous damage to his enemy.

Another challenge in the world of cyber warfare is that attacks may often be covert, their perpetrators unidentified. Often, proxies rather than states launch such attacks. To further confuse matters, an attacker could be a disgruntled company employee, or a disillusioned fellow citizen. In 2017, anyone can be your cyber enemy.

Cyber-attacks are nothing new. They take place daily and result in stolen data, personal information and assets. These acts are rampant, and strategic state infrastructure is being repeatedly targeted. Today multiple state and non-state actors are involved in daily cyber warfare.

However, as this trend unfolds, traditional military powers have been too slow to keep pace. States continue to purchase planes and tanks. They have begun to invest in cyber capabilities. But on balance, most defense budgets still reflect a mindset devoted to traditional military capabilities. The cyber aspect is receiving insufficient recognition. As it becomes more difficult to identify the enemy across a border, or in a fixed geographic area, cyber capabilities will become a crucial survival tool. And, it will make little difference whether a target is developed or developing. Developed states are vulnerable because they contain many targets that can be reached via cyber networks. Less developed states are also vulnerable, as they lack adequate defenses against a cyber threat.

Israel has, for its part, been busy addressing these changing trends. In future potential clashes, Israel’s enemies are more likely to be terror organizations, and much less likely to be state armies.

The time has come to recognize that we are in a different reality when it comes to the nature of warfare. We must draw an updated map of guidelines, of friends, and of foes. Decision makers tend to look away from the magnitude of the cyber threat because they do not know how to respond. It is often easier to ignore a large problem than it is to address it. There is a need to revise outdated definitions of “enemy,” “war,” and “offense – defense.” The threat requires new terms which reflect the major changes that have occurred. And a new system of rules is required to deal with the new reality. Today, the enemy could be a group of civilians, or a terrorist cell as easily as it may be a national army across a border.

Large problems grow when they are not addressed. A failure to address this looming crisis will result in more chaos, and the threats will grow more severe.

Edited By Mr. Yaakov Lappin

Co-Edited By Mr. Dan Ripp

Notice: The views expressed above do not represent the views of the IDF or the Foreign Ministry. They are reflective solely of the views of the author.

About the Author
Brigadier-General Ben-Meir (Res.) served as the head of the IDF's research and analysis division, responsible for the National Intelligence Assessment in The Intelligence Corps. From 2011 to 2012, he was the Intelligence Military Attaché in the Israeli Embassy in Washington DC, USA. Brigadier-General Ben-Meir holds LLM and LLB degrees from Bar Ilan University and completed a BA in Logistics and Economics from Bar Ilan University. He is intelligence analyst for Our Soldiers Speak.
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