Cyberwarfare: if it’s such a big threat, why…

Nick Carthew posed the provocative question  on Twitter earlier today:

If cyberwarfare is the biggest threat in the 21st century why do we need to renew our nuclear deterrent?

There are of course a range of nuances to that question which can’t be squeezed into one tweet, but at its heart is a spot-on observation.

On the one hand, we’re now often told how internet hacking poses one of the biggest threats to our country’s future security and how illegal activities such as the hijacking of computers via bots are widespread and an extremely profitable form of crime.

On the other hand, the idea that the online world now poses a significant security threat and is home to much international criminal activity is only spottily applied.

Take one simple, practical example: how resilient to crime are the products an industry sells?

Both the car and mobile phone industry have moved away from having products that were easy to steal and hard to do anything about once stolen. Whether it is stronger locks on cars or easier disabling of stolen phones, both cars and phones are a far less easy target for criminals than they used to be.

Virus Warning messageYet in the IT industry, computers are still often sold without strong firewall and anti-virus software in place. The absence of such measures, however, makes it far easier for the international criminal networks who use bots to take over computers and use them for criminal activities.

Raising standards doesn’t require regulation (indeed, trying to regulate would almost certainly be disastrously counter-productive given the relative speed of security threats and regulation usually) – some well aimed public pressure can be extremely effective.

Without that sort of public pressure the government risks looking like talking up the threats when it wants to justify spending money or expanding powers but not really concerned enough about the threats to be willing to embarrass a few people in the IT industry.

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This entry was posted in Op-eds.


  • Oh – ignore their silly games. It’s just a ruse ahead of announcing Defence expenditure won’t be cut as much as public services. Softening the public. It’s all designed to create fear. It’s the same as tanks being sent to Heathrow in Feb 2003 – the day before the massive Stop-the-War march. (As if the Army were going to be firing tank shells across the runways at Heathrow)

    Tanks to Heathrow before the peace march. The various ricin scares. The terror plot foiled at the start of huge aid convoy to Palestine. Look at the timing and see what else was in the news. It’s just a load of nonsense..

  • Darren Reynolds 18th Oct '10 - 7:17pm

    Meh. More people are going to suffer or die in the UK from diseases like Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s, strokes, heart attacks or cancer than from terrorist attacks or cyber warfare. Certainly 10,000 times more and probably 100,000 times more. Especially since none have suffered or been killed by terrorism or cyber warfare in the UK since 2005.

  • The bit in this article I found most interesting is the mention of nuclear weapons.
    What about cyberattacks on nuclear weapons systems…….. Another argument not to have them.

  • Darren Reynolds
    “Especially since none have suffered or been killed by terrorism or cyber warfare in the UK since 2005”

    This test for policy – has it happened recently – does not seem very good. We did not have a bank run for many years.

    If a cyber attack takes down a power station, people could well suffer significantly

  • Andrew Shuttlewood 19th Oct '10 - 12:14pm

    It’s a bit of silly reasoning, although entertaining.

    If you spin the question around:

    “If cyberwarfare is the biggest threat in the 21st century why do we need to have a standing army?”

    Then it might show the pointlessness a bit better.

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