Cyber Can Kill and Destroy Too: Blurring Borders Between Conventional and Cyber Warfare

Cyber Can Kill and Destroy Too: Blurring Borders Between Conventional and Cyber Warfare

Marina Krotofil (Institute for Security in Distributed Applications, Hamburg University of Technology, Hamburg, Germany)
Copyright: © 2014 |Pages: 16
DOI: 10.4018/ijcwt.2014070103
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Abstract

Cyberwarfare has become a fashionable topic in the last decade, partly because of the ever increasing sophistication of computer attacks, partly because of malicious actors setting their sight on industrial systems such as plants. Modern production systems are characterized by an IT-infrastructure controlling effects in the physical world. Such systems are called cyber-physical systems. In this paper the authors draw a distinction between information cyberattacks and cyber-physical attacks. Thereafter we provide insights into the specifics of cyber-physical attacks and examine to which extent they are similar to conventional warfare.
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1. Introduction

The invention of computing machines and the subsequent creation of the Internet induced the emergence of a new space – digital space or cyberspace. Information technologies have quickly found their applications in all areas of life. They have also quickly become regular means of fraud and abuse. In the modern world there is a broad range of malicious actions in cyber space, ranging from abuses by script-kiddies to crime, espionage, attacks and political actions (hacktivism). Particularly damaging activities such as espionage and targeted attacks are often referred to as cyber warfare. Questions persist whether offensive cyber capabilities can be utilized for strategic and tactical war operations.

Technological change as a product of industrialization has transformed warfare from gunpowder to precision-guided munitions and stealth fight machines. The ability to create new technologies and transform them for martial benefits had been an essential part of military evolution. It is therefore not surprising that cyber means has also found their way into military affairs. Nevertheless the hostility, self-sufficiency of cyber weaponry and its particular role in conventional conflicts remains a topic of heated dispute (Leed, 2013; Libicki, 2013; Rid, 2013).

Discussions on cyber war mainly revolve around information and communications matters such as mass-harvesting of online communications, immense exfiltration of documentation, computer crime as well as disruption of the information and communications systems, including military and civilian command and control channels. It is therefore often contended that cyber activities cannot cause destructive causalities similar to conventional war. This assertion holds for data-targeting cyberattacks in the context of information cyber warfare.

Miniaturization of processors has enabled them to replace analog components in many electronic products. Further integration of microprocessors with input and output system components has evolved into microcontrollers. They became ubiquitous with applications ranging from consumer electronics to complex industrial systems. Many microcontrollers are part of purpose built computational systems embedded in applications in the physical world. Such collaborating environments consisting of computational and communication elements controlling physical entities with the help of sensors and actuators are called cyber-physical systems (CPS). On one hand embedded computers enable governing of physical applications to achieve desired outcomes. On the other hand, in the same way physical systems can be instructed to perform what is not intended. Thereby, software code which does not inherently possess tangible force acquires destructive capacity through the ability to instruct physical systems to malfunction. Cyberattacks on physical systems are correspondingly called cyber-physical attacks. The implications of this class of cyberattacks (the ability to inflict physical damage) can be compared to the kinetic impact of conventional weaponry. At that, malicious software can be seen as a warhead or as a detonator – one can choose.

At the current time the discussion about potential combativeness and actual feasibility of cyber-physical attacks is nevertheless largely premature as the world has not seen many full-fledged cyber-physical attacks yet. Advancing the state of knowledge about these questions, however, could and should be persevered. In the absence of a physical experimental infrastructure it can be pursued through ways that are relatively inexpensive, e.g. through modelling and simulations. For that purposes we adapted models of the realistic chemical plants Tennessee Eastman (TE) (Down, Vogel, 1993; Ricker, 2002) and Vinyl Acetate Monomer (Chen, et al., 2011; Luyben, Tyréus, 1998) to study physical processes exploitation and defence techniques. Some results of our research are included in this work.

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