Should We Want A 'Cyberwar'? It's A Lot Less Bloody Than A Real War

from the one-way-to-think-about-things dept

We’ve certainly written an awful lot about the ridiculousness of the concept of “cyber war.” Even with things like Stuxnet and Flame, it seems silly to compare what amounts to either electronic espionage or a little hacking as “war.” But perhaps we were looking at it the wrong way. In a Foreign Policy article by John Arquilla, he argues that perhaps we should be embracing this kind of “cool war” as it can be effective at stopping threats (even distributed ones like terrorist operations, rather than just centralized ones like governments), while causing minimal bloodshed:

On balance, it seems that cyberwar capabilities have real potential to deal with some of the world’s more pernicious problems, from crime and terrorism to nuclear proliferation. In stark contrast to pitched battles that would regularly claim thousands of young soldiers’ lives during Robert E. Lee’s time, the very nature of conflict may come to be reshaped along more humane lines of operations. War, in this sense, might be “made better” — think disruption rather than destruction. More decisive, but at the same time less lethal.

And, indeed, if we believe that reports of “cyber attacks” being used to make planes fall from the sky are greatly exaggerated, perhaps we should welcome a “war” that mainly involves hackers vs. hackers trying to disrupt each others “real” warfare capabilities. But, of course, there are plenty of other issues that come up here as well — such as how secret hacking programs can be abused. If it gets governments to stop physical battles that lead to real lives lost, that does seem like an improvement, though I’m not sure anyone should think that continuing to attack each other through computers is ever a “good” situation overall.

Filed Under: , , , ,

Rate this comment as insightful
Rate this comment as funny
You have rated this comment as insightful
You have rated this comment as funny
Flag this comment as abusive/trolling/spam
You have flagged this comment
The first word has already been claimed
The last word has already been claimed
Insightful Lightbulb icon Funny Laughing icon Abusive/trolling/spam Flag icon Insightful badge Lightbulb icon Funny badge Laughing icon Comments icon

Comments on “Should We Want A 'Cyberwar'? It's A Lot Less Bloody Than A Real War”

Subscribe: RSS Leave a comment
Adam Gorman (profile) says:

As an engineer and computer scientist, I always was fascinated with a future of cyber wars and the like. However, over the years, I have come to think about the American population and how they tend to take things sometimes, especially being a bit overdramatic and maybe a little strongly revenge orientated(in the name of justice, they claim)

Right now, non cyber wars are fought away from home, in other places of conflict. Protecting all the sheep except for occasional news snippet, and of course the families/friends of those deployed. Those deployed, who volunteer to take the blunt of it, so that the rest of the sheeple can live off in naive innocent peace. However, if Cyberwars would start to strike, those effected would no long be the volunteers but everyone would become a target. Lives could still be lost. Traffic lights, medical equipment, airplanes, navigation, financial, among dozens of other things would be good targets that could cause significant harm or death to many random people.

Now I know this is a slightly jaded/biased view, because there are plenty of random innocents in the other countries who get hurt/killed by us being there, would probably be safe if we went to cyberwar.

I tend toward thinking about ‘most lives saved’ not necessarily whose lives. So I am in huge support of cyberwars over normal wars. Clearly overall less people would probably die.

However, from the ‘dumb american’ side of things. Do you think that most american’s are ready to handle that kind of constant barrage of attacks? Clearly in the beginning, a lot of destruction would happen because to be honest, a lot of systems just aren’t up to par and prepared to handle a cyberwar. I feel that based upon the recent 10-15 years of how American has handled to being attacked. That would would potentially face too many american’s wanting exponential increase in attack, controlling, revenging, monitoring in ‘hopes’ to minimize their uneasiness.

I feel like the masses would unavoidable cause most of us to suddenly be living in a control state. The first thing that comes to mind is Demolition Man, the wesley snipes movie of 1993. Where people were instantly ‘fined’ for even swearing, because they monitored and watched EVERYTHING.

Overall, I am in favor of a cyberwar over a regular war, however I fear that the masses would overreact too greatly to it, and cause a lot of very bad things for a long time. It would happen too quickly and too greatly that it would put something into place, that ultimately will turn out to be far worse than the thing we are trying to protect. The first thing that comes to mind is the movie Equilibrium. I am sure that drug in the movie, sounded like a great idea in the beginning, until suddenly no freedom, creativity, or even art was permitted. And then the **** hit the fan for the whole world.

arcan (profile) says:

Re: Re:

things that are not, or should be not, connected to the internet.
traffic lights, medical equipment, airplanes, navigation, power grids, trains, nuclear launch systems, drones.

these are the things that everyone says oh noes they might be hacked. they should not be in a position where you can hack them. if they are then it is darwinism in action and you should die.

Rich Kulawiec (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:

things that are not, or should be not, connected to the internet.
traffic lights, medical equipment, airplanes, navigation, power grids, trains, nuclear launch systems, drones.

I believe that we’ve just received another in a long line of object lessons which indicate that lack of connectivity is not equivalent to lack of vulnerability.

silverscarcat says:

Re: Re: Re: Re:


Go-Lion is Japan…

VOLTRON is American.

Voltron is made up of two different series, has its own footage that’s not related to Go-Lion and has at least 3 sequels (Vehicle Voltron, Voltron in the 3rd Dimension and Voltron Force) two of which were NOT made in Japan (at least from what I know).

ltlw0lf (profile) says:

Re: Re:

Can we just move on to the point where each nation is represented by a skilled pilot and a single giant walking robot? I swear it seems like a lot of our international problems could be solved by an eight-ton crotch saw.

I can’t remember what comedian it was, but I once heard a modest proposal from a comedian that every war should be fought by the politicians of the countries in question, so they could leave everyone else out of it. I thought it was a good idea at the time, but then I watched the Postman and that appeared to be the whole premise of the movie, which spoiled the idea for me.

Eponymous Coward (profile) says:

Think of big content!

The push for less bloody, ‘cyber wars’ will do untold damage to Hollywood content creators. Stalwart entries such as “The Longest Day”, “Tora Tora Tora!”, “Platoon”, “Blackhawk Down”, and “The Hurt Locker” would not have been possible in a world where the weapons of choice are constituted of bits instead of bullets. Imagine a summer movie lineup composed of “Hackers 3”, “The Net 4”, and “War Games: Rerevengerance”. Paltry fare, this.

Now imagine the damage done to the content companies when the ignorant public learns how to conduct sophisticated cyber-war from watching these instructional videos. Want to hack twice as fast? Have two people use the same keyboard at the same time (sorry NCIS). High-level tech gibberish will enable even more efficient stealing of Hollywood’s ideas, pushing neural net technology to the point that ultra-1337 haxxorz will download unfinished films directly from the brain of Michael Bay.

For the sake of the children, we must ensure that peace is kept in the bloodiest and lowest-tech way possible. Patent holders on tanks and planes should refuse to license their products, and escalate this lockdown until, once again, the man who weilds a board with rusty nails sticking out of it is king.

Anonymous Coward of Esteemed Trolling (profile) says:

Cyber ? anyone else feel horny ?

“Cyber” is a made up buzzword.
Originating from sexual deviants who go online and ask “Cyber ?” to grown men pretending to be young women.

True story about it’s first appearance in politics.

Politicians Wife:
“what was that you typed into the computer dear husband ?”

“Cyber… mmm it means…mmmm…internet … yeah that’s it”

Getting caught being deviant… AVERTED

As for Cyber-War…

The “fed heavy” panel.

Defcon 19: Dark Tangent, Rod Beckstrom, Jerry Dixon, Tony Sager, Linton Wells II

A better Anonymous ?

Defcon 19: Paul Roberts, Aaron Barr, Joshua Corman and Jericho

Designerfx (profile) says:

war always has a cost

while “cyberwar” has less of a cost in terms of potential lives lost, it has other costs in terms of disruption. Also that there is no way to really “Stack the cards” like we’ve done in the US via having a notable military presence built up just about everywhere.

So cyberwar just speeds up the inevitable: people acknowledging that war, itself, is simply a flawed idea.

Anonymous Coward says:

Give Peace A Chance, fer chrissakes.

War, war, war. You warmongers make me vomit – you talk as if war is inevitable! Are you insane?

Look, I know americans (and israelis and some others) are born, bread, live and die on it, but WTF?

No War, Period. There is another way. Stop the damned fighting with your fellow man.

ONLY the military business wins with war. The rest of you ALL lose!

Give Peace A Chance.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Give Peace A Chance, fer chrissakes.

I’ve seen war with my own eyes and I agree with you, everyone loses except those who make money from it.

At the end of the day, there is only rubble, flames and corpses. I know Americans believe the rubble and flames won’t be their homes and the corpses won’t be their troops, but to that I say: what about the price of war? The USA spend trillions on their military; ask yourselves what great advances would have been made in technology and medicine had that money not been spent on the military. All that money you spend on your military is money you don’t spend curing AIDS, educating your society or making your lives more comfortable.
And I assume a lot of Americans care what the world thinks of them (since they often complain of the poor opinion the world has of them), so think about this too: you would have earned more respect and admiration by investing in research than in bombs and weapons.

Then there are those who will tell me that the USA has enemies and thus needs a strong military to protect itself.
Well, those enemies are mostly the creation of the USA.
Bin Laden did 9/11 because he was angry at the military bases in his country.
China – I am not so sure they are a threat, I think some very powerful people in America see them as a business rival and these people want to make us fear China and believe we should attack it before it attacks the western world.
Iran – the USA has been constantly telling us that Iran is building nuclear weapons, but there is no proof of that. So far everything looks like they are building nuclear energy. Also, even if they had nuclear weapons, why would they use them against the western world? I really can not believe they really care what we do in our countries… I think the only reason they should care about us is because we constantly meddle in their business.
The smart thing to do would have been to offer Iran help to build nuclear power plants, in exchange Iran would let the USA make sure that nuclear weapons are not being built. I’m sure this is a deal Iran would have accepted.
Right now, Iran’s nuclear program has simply turned into a huge mess and there are only 2 solutions at this point: let Iran continue the program without any supervision, or attack them. If only the USA could have made a compromise in the first place…

So basically the USA is just making enemies at every turn, and then it uses those enemies to justify a large military (and use of such military). Also you make your enemies sound like homicidal psychopaths, this way when people ask you to be reasonable and do something like negotiating and making compromises, you can brush this suggestion off with “there’s no negotiating with these people, they want to slaughter us for our freedom”.

And then Americans complain that they have no money and that the world hates them (also, in Europe we think it would be safer to give Iran nuclear weapons than to let you have some… that should say a lot).

The USA is just a Rambo nation… They think war is cool like in Hollywood movies and that they are always the good guys and always right. As a nation, Americans really need to grow up and start acting like adults.

Aileron (user link) says:

Re: Re: Give Peace A Chance, fer chrissakes.

Great comment, said with depth and meaning. Peace has never been the goal of the aggressive nations on this planet. They mouth the words of peace and justice and democracy and then behave even worse than their chosen enemies. I really think most people on the planet want peace, real peace: but our leaders seem to think its ok to force your own people to kill 100’s and 1000’s in their name, and then they walk away if and when it all goes wrong as if it doesn’t matter, well it does matter! when you kill someone, it matters! Politicians get other people to do their killing and claim it’s a patriotic duty.

Send the politicians to the frontline, make them get real blood on their hands and then see how they feel about their obsessive ideas and beliefs. War is disgusting, there are no winners, there is only hurt, torment and pain for everyone involved.

Robert Doyle (profile) says:

More lives

In our connected, computer driven society, a cyber war is the worst kind of war we could have. It doesn’t seem as deadly from a traditional perspective, which is why I think it is even more dangerous.

Cyber war could lead to:
Power grid shutdown
Waste processing plant damage/disruption
Financial destruction

All of which lead to panic. And panic will kill millions.

I’ll keep my wars fought by professional soldiers in far away places. Selfish? Hell yes. I am terrified of war coming to my soil and a cyber war can be everywhere whereas with a regular war you need boots on the ground or very expensive planes in the air.

BentFranklin (profile) says:


Preferring cyber war over conventional war is incredibly stupid. We have a huge advantage in conventional arms. On the cyber side we are incredibly vulnerable and it would be a significant evening of the battlefield. Goodbye asymmetry.

To have war over the internet would bring militarization to every device on the net. It would mean the total end to freedom on the net. Every packet would be deep inspected and require approval to move. Every business has moved significant functions to the web. The entire economy would grind to a standstill.


Ken Hubbell (profile) says:

A Taste of Armageddon

Reminds me of the Star Trek episode, “A Taste of Armageddon” where two planets have been fighting a virtual “war” for over 500 years. Casualties are calculated by computer simulations and real people have to walk into disintegration chambers and actually die as a result. Now this is obviously the extreme of cyber warfare, but when people are removed from the day-to-day bloodshed of war and resulting physical damages, the impact of death is much like other virtual scenarios where those remaining just hit reset and the war continues.

Anonymous Coward says:

Cyberwar is a bad idea

Ummm…maybe it’s just me, but I feel like the main difference between “cyberwar” and “shooting war” is that cyberwar is even more likely to harm civilians.

When you think about it, there’s absolutely no point to fighting a cyberwar unless it affects things outside the computer. Stuxnet was designed to blow up Iranian centrifuges. All the communications intercepted by Flame will presumably be used, at some point, to do things other than just read people’s emails. Reading people’s emails doesn’t win wars; doing things with the information you collect does.

So far, all the cyberweapons we know about were discovered because they got out of the target area. For Stuxnet, this didn’t hurt that much, because most people don’t have uranium-enriching centrifuges. But imagine if the next generation of weapons was designed to, say, mess up the banking system. If that got free into the wider world, we’d have a serious problem — and in terms of actual economic and human damage, crashing the banking system would hurt a lot more civilians than a mis-targeted drone strike.

It’s also pretty evident that rewriting/updating a cyberweapon is considerably easier than writing the thing in the first place. Botnets are already a considerable problem; I’d rather not have to deal with Botnets that were mostly designed and engineered by the NSA.

So…by using Cyberwar, we’ve got a situation where the weapons could do untold damage. Once a weapon is deployed, a bored college hacker could easily rewrite it and send it out to hit new targets, and do new kinds of damage. And even if the weapons are deployed in secret, there’s still an extremely good chance of them going off-target and hitting people who aren’t even enemies. It’s just a bad, bad idea.

JarHead says:

Re: Cyberwar is a bad idea

Cyberwars lead to cyberweapons which is comparably more destructive than the conventional WMD.

At least WMD have the courtesy of killing you instantly.

Maybe we should coin a new buzzword for it, WMMD (Weapons of Massively Mass Destruction), or WHE (Weapons of Humanity Eradication).


Silence8 says:

When I think of cyber war I think of this.

I would love to see countries do battle online, In COD, Halo, Quake III, etc etc… You train your best 5 players for six months, we’ll train ours, AND THEN WE BATTLE!!!

Call of Duty

Halo Reach

Quake III Arena–h00

JarHead says:

Re: Re:

OooKey, let’s just say that “real” war is replaced by team deathmatch online. My question to you is how to ensure that each party involved respect the agreed parameters upon resolution of such “war”?

Example, say that country A and B have dispute over border areas (Falklands everyone?), and agreed to the terms and condition of settling the dispute over Quake 3 Arena. Say that B wins the match.

We’ve seen from history time and again that agreed terms on the conclusion of a war is seldom honored, even in the face of proximate destruction upon breaching them. So what insurance that B respects the outcome of the Quake 3 match and not double down with physical war? Eradicate weapons? Yeah right, as if it is actually possible.

BentFranklin (profile) says:

Cyberwar would make just about everything we discuss here on TechDirt irrelevant. Here we are speaking of communication over the net almost as a human right and certainly part of our identity and as a kind of air we breathe. Cyberwar would end that in an instant.

Imagine so many worms traversing the net that no other traffic gets through. Imagine not being able to network or possibly even use your computers without reinstalling your OS from scratch and possibly re-entering all your data. Imagine having to completely isolate your LAN from the larger net, or having to keep your communications within some sort of green zone, protected by Big Brother. Of course to maintain such a green zone Big Brother would need DPI and every other kind of intrusion into your computer. If you don’t want to compute and communicate in this kind of environment then STFU with your Neuromancer wet dreams.

Add Your Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Have a Techdirt Account? Sign in now. Want one? Register here

Comment Options:

Make this the or (get credits or sign in to see balance) what's this?

What's this?

Techdirt community members with Techdirt Credits can spotlight a comment as either the "First Word" or "Last Word" on a particular comment thread. Credits can be purchased at the Techdirt Insider Shop »

Follow Techdirt

Techdirt Daily Newsletter

Techdirt Deals
Techdirt Insider Discord
The latest chatter on the Techdirt Insider Discord channel...