January 22

Cyber Thermo-Nuclear War: Are we in an even worse cold war than before?

Not that long ago the USSR was crumbling, the wall in Germany came down, the world was celebrating decades of tension caused by what was affectionally called the “cold war”. The concept behind the cold war was that Russia, and the United States (the two primary super-powers in the world at that point in history), both had roughly equivalent power to destroy each others countries beyond repair.  This was called mutually assured destruction, and because it was based on the size and power of the constituent countries nuclear arsenals the term was very fitting.  If the Russian’s had decided to send a nuke into US territory the US would respond in kind.  This means that it was a standoff, a checkmate, in which neither party could act without assuring their own countries destruction. 

It is important to understand that the destruction that would have been caused by a nuclear shootout between the US and Russia would most likely have ended in wiping out the vast majority of life on this planet.  This would have most certainly wiped out all, or almost all, humans on earth.  Those that were left behind (e.g. Lived in a nuclear bunker or hid underground for a few dozen decades) would be living in a world akin to Mad Max or the world in the video game’s Fallout.  The fallout (literally) from a kinetic conflict between the USSR and the US would have killed off a lot of the world, ended civilization as we know it, and led to the decimation of most of the known world.

Our Current State of Affairs

Today we (and what is left of Russia) have severely shrunk our respective nuclear arsenals.  There is not the same pervasive fear that the communists will destroy democracy, this is not a fear instilled in the American psyche any longer.  But, while we can rest assured that it is very unlikely that Russia, or any other nations that claims to have nukes, will bomb the US, unless they have a suicidal leader.  But while we were reveling in the freedom that this new mindset has allowed we began to embrace technology like never before.

In the decades since the threat of nuclear war was lifted the entire world has slowly put their entire existence and all of their assets into the digital world.  Initially this was a small portion of the worlds data, money, and even physical devices.  However, it was quickly realized that none of this technology had been built to be secure and anyone with a little knowledge of the system could access private data, intercept communications, and a thousand other insecurities. 

Since the beginning of networked computers, our enemies have been able to access them at will.  Despite billions of dollars and thousands of “man years” worth of patches and new tools. The networks we rely on even more totally are not much more secure than they were in the beginning, at least not from nation-states that have the time and resources to “hack in” to the systems. 

Our societal reliance on digital systems has grown exponentially in the last 20 years.  Today all of our money and banking occurs on computers, most of our shopping, school, and even the industrial control systems (ICS) that run our critical infrastructure (e.g. Power, Water, etc.) are completely reliant on the internet, computers, and questionable security practices and software.  The landscape of the world, the fabric that makes up the global society we now live in, is no longer visible to the naked eye, it lives in tiny bits, 1’s and 0’s that travel in electrical signals or are stored on devices using simple magnetism and electrical impulses.

How We Can Help and Stay Safe

Despite our advances and our attempts to protect our digital assets, it has long been known that the only reason our systems are still intact is because it is well known that we would retaliate against attackers. It is my firm belief that every nation-state that has the funds and knowledge to set up a cyber offensive unit of any sort has, and will continue to have, their hooks in all of our most sensitive systems and critical infrastructure. They are fully aware of our vulnerabilities, they have the same ones, they also know of our offensive capabilities. They are also aware that we too have our hooks in all of their critical systems.

The first step, in my humble opinion, is for us, as a nation, to accept the risk we are all facing and begin to work on ways to protect our interests. For now, say vigilant, and keep an ear to the ground. There are many, especially in power, who would rather we just pretend this isn’t a problem.



Copyright © 2014. John R. Nye, All rights reserved.

Posted January 22, 2017 by john.r.nye@gmail.com in category "Bellevue CYBR650

About the Author

Professional penetration tester with nearly a decade of experience in IT security. For more details look me up on LinkedIn.

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