The future of war is cyber warfare.
Enemy against enemy, utilizing hackers to sabotage essential infrastructure facilities throughout the world. Targets are national services — water, electric, sewage, bridges, trains, subways, airports, ship ports, banks, hospitals. And, too often, nuclear sites.
If and when attacks are successful, the results are devastating.
To date, almost all these attacks have been repelled. Almost all. Those that have succeeded, have been cleaned. The most dangerous of hacker attacks are those that go undetected.
Hackers are divided into two groups. Good versus evil. Just like in spaghetti western movies of old, they are called, for the time being at least, white hatters and black hatters. But the groups are fluid, hackers often switch groups and, in so doing, don different hats. For many, it's about the money. They hack for profit and chase the biggest paycheck.
The hacks that are created and then perpetrated are often the same whether the hacking group is on the side of good or evil. White hatters are not just defensive hackers, not just cleaning up after black hackers. For a white hatter defense means protection. They plan attacks against the enemy as preemptive strikes and/or as counter attacks.
Most failed hacks are done by amateurs, perpetrated by kids playing games.
Computer hacking programs are easily available on the dark web. Kids, amateurs, wannabe hackers, tweak them and enter competitions to try to get into the Federal Reserve or the Pentagon. Players can span the continents.
Computer geeks who subscribe to the principles of anarchy are large contributors to the hacking pool. They have proved to be extremely gifted computer geeks. By character most are fiercely independent, but nonetheless, when it suits their purpose they will affiliate with loosely defined groups of hackers. Anarchist hackers will sometimes join together to perpetrate a group hack to shut down something or someone or to commemorate a historic moment.
By far, and this is good news even if surprising, the largest group of hackers are employed by governments. It's not for patriotic or altruistic reasons. It's because governments have the deepest pockets and they pay on time. In fact, there are government hackers who are part of the bureaucracy and there are also private contractors, large and small.
Governments are investing huge amounts of money and manpower in cyber defense and offense. The risks of damage due to cyber attacks are colossal. Most hacking and hacker budgets and numbers are classified and top secret.
The largest government hacker teams are those of China, Russia, the United States, Israel and now Iran. Ten years ago, Iran was not even a player, no less in the top five. Iran has now joined the big leagues of government hacking.
This week there were two unsuccessful hacks into Israel'swater system. This is the second time there has been a significant hack into Israel's water system.
Hacks happen with frequency, but not all are worth noting. The earlier, significant, hack was in May. A hack traced to Iran made its way into the chlorine/water computer system, the water computer that monitors and regulates the amount of chlorine in the national water system. It's the system responsible for making certain that the water is clean and drinkable. Certainly, a significant system and a dangerous hack when perpetrated successfully.
The May hack was discovered. But it was stopped inside the system, not outside the system. That means damage was done. And that is what distinguishes a successful hack from an unsuccessful hack. Not successful from attempted, but successful from unsuccessful. Most hacks are simply attempts repelled on the outside. Some get in and are stopped. Others, like this Iran perpetrated attack against Israel, are discovered only after they have entered hopefully before too much harm is done.
This time, this week, the hackers hit the water computer that is responsible for agricultural irrigation in the northern part of Israel called the Galilee. The hack also hit a water computer in the center of the country.
Israel's cyber unit is called 8200. For people in the know, it is not pronounced eight-thousand two hundred. It is simply eight - two hundred.
8200 is the largest unit in the entire Israeli army. It is also one of the most competitive units to be accepted into. They are pencil pusher pocket protector kids. Experts assert that 8200 is the "foremost" technology intel agency in the world — and it is staffed almost exclusively by 18- to 21-year-olds. It is on par with the NSA in everything except size. It is estimated that 60% of all of Israel's intel now comes from 8200.
This is the unit that created the Stuxnet virus in 2010, the virus that infected and crippled Iranian nuclear sites. In 2017 The New York Times reported that 8200 hacked Kaspersky, the computer software program from Russia, and then watched as Russian hackers went about searching for U.S. intel operations and plans.
8200 told the United States what was happening.
Nowadays, we take security for granted. We think of security as a watchful eye, as cameras, as guards posted at certain locations. Truth is, we have progressed way beyond that. Guards and cameras can only protect against old-fashioned attacks. This is a new and different world we live in. Life is different, warfare is different. We require new and different protections. And so do the bad guys.
Micah Halpern is a political and foreign affairs commentator. He founded "The Micah Report" and hosts "Thinking Out Loud with Micah Halpern" a weekly TV program and "My Chopp" a daily radio spot. A dynamic speaker, he specializes in analyzing world events and evaluating their relevance and impact. Follow him on Twitter @MicahHalpern. Read Micah Halpern's Reports — More Here.
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