Overview: Cyber Threats

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Author: Paul Meyer
Senior Fellow, The Simons Foundation Canada | Chair, Canadian Pugwash Group | Senior Advisor, ICT4Peace

Cyberspace, the broad term for the system of networked computer systems for which the Internet is the chief embodiment, is a unique, human-created environment. The potential of information and communication technology to benefit humanity is vast and the growth in its use world-wide has been exponential. Today close to four billion people are connected to the Internet and a community of “netizens” has emerged.

Unfortunately, the growth of cyberspace has not been matched by a similar development of global governance for it. Even more worrisome, is the degree to which cyberspace has become “militarized” with states developing capabilities, not only for the defence of their own systems, but also offensive capabilities that threaten damage and destruction to entities beyond their borders. These trends within national security establishments of leading cyber powers have accelerated and the detrimental impact of cyber operations on civilian interests has grown. A narrative of “cyber war” has been espoused by major states, depicting this remarkable product of human ingenuity as just another “war-fighting domain”.

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General reference sources

Cardash, Sharon L, and Frank J. Cilluffo. 2018. “With Hacking of US Utilities, Russia Could Move from Cyberespionage toward Cyberwar.” Theconversation.Com, July. https://theconversation.com/with-hacking-of-us-utilities-russia-could-move-from-cyberespionage-toward-cyberwar-100503.
Dolly, Justin. 2017. “The Cyber Cold War: The Silent, but Persistent Threat to Nation States.” ITPro Portal. April 19, 2017. https://www.itproportal.com/features/the-cyber-cold-war-the-silent-but-persistent-threat-to-nation-states/.
Dreyfuss, Emily. 2018. “U.S. Weapons Systems Are Easy Cyberattack Targets, New Report Finds.” Wired. October 10, 2018. https://www.wired.com/story/us-weapons-systems-easy-cyberattack-targets/.
Hitchens, Theresa. 2017. “War in Space Is Increasingly Possible. That Would Be Terrible for Everyone.” National Post, November 17, 2017, sec. Opinion. https://nationalpost.com/opinion/war-in-space-is-increasingly-possible-that-would-be-terrible-for-everyone.
Koppel, Ted. 2014. Lights Out: A Cyberattack, A Nation Unprepared, Surviving the Aftermath. New York: Penguin.
Meyer, Paul. 2018. “Why Canada Needs a Cyber-Security Foreign Policy.” The Hill Times, June 14, 2018. https://pugwashgroup.ca/why-canada-needs-a-cyber-security-foreign-policy/.
Nyhan, Brendan. 2017. “Why the Fact-Checking at Facebook Needs to Be Checked.” New York Times, October 23, 2017, sec. Upshot. https://www.nytimes.com/2017/10/23/upshot/why-the-fact-checking-at-facebook-needs-to-be-checked.html.
Shields, Erin. 2017. “A Massive Blow to Social Movements if our Voices are Able to be Blocked” Interview by Jackson, Janine. Transcript of audio interview on CounterSpin. https://fair.org/home/a-massive-blow-to-social-movements-if-our-voices-are-able-to-be-blocked/.
Tufekci, Zeynep. 2018. “The Looming Digital Meltdown.” New York Times, January 8, 2018, sec. A. https://www.nytimes.com/2018/01/06/opinion/looming-digital-meltdown.html.
Wakabayashi, Daisuke, and Nicholas Confessore. 2017. “Russia’s Favored Outlet Is an Online News Giant. YouTube Helped.” New York Times, October 23, 2017, sec. Technology. https://www.nytimes.com/2017/10/23/technology/youtube-russia-rt.html.
Waters, Nick. 2018. “Google Maps Is a Better Spy Than James Bond.” Foreign Policy, September. https://foreignpolicy.com/2018/09/25/google-maps-is-a-better-spy-than-james-bond/.
“War or Peace in Cyberspace: Whither International Cyber Security?” 2018. Conference report. Waterloo, ON, Canada: Balsillie School of International Affairs. https://pugwashgroup.ca/war-and-peace-in-cyberspace/.
“Canada Identifies Malicious Cyber-Activity by Russia.” 2018. Global Affairs Canada. https://www.canada.ca/en/global-affairs/news/2018/10/canada-identifies-malicious-cyber-activity-by-russia.html.
STUXNET: The Virus That Almost Started WW3. 2011. Hungry Beast. Australian Broadcasting Corporation. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7g0pi4J8auQ.

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Adam Wynne

This is an interesting, yet exceptionally alarming article (opinion piece) by Dr. Bruce G. Blair – one of the co-founders of Global Zero. I am cross-posting it to the Overview: War and Weapons and Plank 1 comments sections due to its intersectional relevance. It is alarming to consider how vulnerable the nuclear weapons systems have – and continue to be – and how even more vulnerabilities could be created via upgrading the nuclear weapons systems to newer computer systems. Title: Why Our Nuclear Weapons Can Be Hacked Author: Blair, Bruce G. Publication(s): New York Times Date: 14 March 2017 Link:… Read more »

Adam Wynne

I have seen a few news articles indicating that nuclear power plant workers are now working remotely. While the specific details of what they are doing from home were not elucidated upon in these news articles, I am alarmed to hear that this is occurring in several regions due to COVID-19 . I am wondering how secure these remote access systems are and whether they are vulnerable to cyber threats, such as hacking. Other regions are requesting that nuclear power plant staff stay on site for prolonged time periods as to prevent avenues for COVID-19 entering the workforce – which… Read more »

Adam Wynne

While this article is not precisely related to cyberattacks, it is an alarming notion of cyber-security – namely that information is being censored during COVID-19 on many social media platforms within the Chinese context. This potentially translates to health, safety, and security concerns for populations offline. What are folks thoughts on this? Title: Censored Contagion: How Information on the Coronavirus is Managed on Chinese Social Media Author: Ruan, Lotus; Knockel, Jeffrey; and Crete-Nishihata, Masashi Publication(s): The Citizen Lab (University of Toronto) Date: 3 March 2020 Link: https://citizenlab.ca/2020/03/censored-contagion-how-information-on-the-coronavirus-is-managed-on-chinese-social-media/ Note(s): The article is quite long, but is interesting. There are additionally interesting… Read more »

Adam Wynne

This article bridges cyber-security and pandemics. It is alarming to hear that COVID-19 disinformation campaigns are being undertaken. Title: Six Reasons the Kremlin Spreads Disinformation About the Coronavirus [Analysis] Author: Kalenský, Jakub Publication(s): Digital Forensic Research Lab (Atlantic Council) Date: 24 March 2020 Link: https://medium.com/dfrlab/commentary-six-reasons-the-kremlin-spreads-disinformation-about-the-coronavirus-8fee41444f60 Article Excerpt(s): “A recent internal report published by the European Union’s diplomatic service revealed that pro-Kremlin media have mounted a “significant disinformation campaign” about the COVID-19 pandemic aimed at Europe. Previous statements by Western officials, including acting U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for Europe and Eurasia Philip Reeker, warning of the campaign suggested that its… Read more »