Home / Blogs

The Real Face of Cyberwar?

Anyone who reads the papers sees stories—or hype—about cyberwarfare. Can it happen? Has it already happened, in Estonia or Georgia? There has even been a Rand Corporation study on cyberwarfare and cyberdeterrence. I wonder, though, if real cyberwarfare might be more subtle—perhaps a “cyber cold war”?

A case in point is the recent release of hacked—stolen—emails on climate change from the University of East Anglia. A British publication, The Independent, has published a story saying that Russian secret services may have been behind the hack, for diplomatic reasons.

This time, if it was indeed the FSB behind the leak, it could be part of a ploy to delay negotiations or win further concessions for Moscow. Russia, along with the United States, was accused of delaying Kyoto, and the signals coming from Moscow recently have continued to dismay environmental activists.

We commonly associate warfare with armies that use so-called “kinetic weapons” against each other and against the opposing country. That need not be the only form warfare can take. Zhou Enlai, for example, once remarked that “diplomacy is a continuation of war by other means.” In the science fiction realm, Poul Anderson wrote a story “State of Assassination” (also known as “A Man to My Wounding”) about war being replaced by a state of assassination. Instead of brute force attacks with atomic weapons, countries have switched to killing each others’ leaders. But one side has gone a step further, and started targeting others.

As the Rand report has pointed out, “certainty in predicting the effects of cyberattacks is undermined by the same complexity that makes cyberattacks possible in the first place” (p. xiv). The report goes on to stress how unclear the effects of a massive cyberattack would be. Perhaps this sort of narrowly-targeted operation, in support of “diplomacy” is the real future of warfare.

By Steven Bellovin, Professor of Computer Science at Columbia University

Bellovin is the co-author of Firewalls and Internet Security: Repelling the Wily Hacker, and holds several patents on cryptographic and network protocols. He has served on many National Research Council study committees, including those on information systems trustworthiness, the privacy implications of authentication technologies, and cybersecurity research needs.

Visit Page

Filed Under


inside job Larry Seltzer  –  Dec 12, 2009 2:02 AM

This analysis of the leaked files makes a good case that it was an inside leak.

The Russians? Pure speculation based on supposed motives. The world’s full of suspects using those standards.

Comment Title:

  Notify me of follow-up comments

We encourage you to post comments and engage in discussions that advance this post through relevant opinion, anecdotes, links and data. If you see a comment that you believe is irrelevant or inappropriate, you can report it using the link at the end of each comment. Views expressed in the comments do not represent those of CircleID. For more information on our comment policy, see Codes of Conduct.

CircleID Newsletter The Weekly Wrap

More and more professionals are choosing to publish critical posts on CircleID from all corners of the Internet industry. If you find it hard to keep up daily, consider subscribing to our weekly digest. We will provide you a convenient summary report once a week sent directly to your inbox. It's a quick and easy read.

I make a point of reading CircleID. There is no getting around the utility of knowing what thoughtful people are thinking and saying about our industry.

Co-designer of the TCP/IP Protocols & the Architecture of the Internet




Sponsored byVerisign

Domain Names

Sponsored byVerisign

Brand Protection

Sponsored byCSC


Sponsored byDNIB.com

New TLDs

Sponsored byRadix

IPv4 Markets

Sponsored byIPv4.Global

Threat Intelligence

Sponsored byWhoisXML API