Security

Cyber attacks: We must stop tit-for-tat warfare

Spiralling cyber skirmishes are in no one's interest and harm all parties…

Thanks partly to the easy availability of automated malware, individuals seem ready to launch cyber attacks at the drop of a hat. But it is behaviour that produces no winners, says Tony Dyhouse.

In January, we heard of a cyber skirmish between North and South Korea. Activists in the South had apparently hacked the North's Twitter account and official website, leaving subversive messages. The North promptly responded with a DDoS attack, taking out the suspected perpetrators.

It's not hugely surprising that some South Koreans would want to undermine the North's regime, or that the North would want to take revenge. But such attacks are not limited to controversial regimes. They are becoming the de facto means for anyone with IT skills to attack something they don't like - from governments, to companies, to individuals.

South Korean soldiers: Political disputes between South and North Korea have spilled over into cyber warfare

Political disputes between South and North Korea have spilled over into cyber warfare
Photo: anja_johnson

It rarely ends after one attack. Now that everyone has IT skills, such attacks can quickly spiral out of control to become escalating tit-for-tat cyber skirmishes that can cause significant and costly problems, often to innocent people who have no wish to be involved.

Ability to launch a cyber attack on an audience

Using the internet to pursue an agenda is an easy, safe and effective way of dealing with those you disagree with, and one that can cause great harm. The internet is simply a means of communication, and any means of communication can be misused. What has changed recently is the ease of reaching a mass audience from the safety of your own home, and the ability to cause offence quickly or launch a cyber attack on that audience.

An attack requires the ability to exploit a vulnerability - an act which used to require a high level of skill. However, now, once a vulnerability is discovered and a suitable attack method designed by skilled individuals, the process is quickly automated so that an attack can be mounted without specialist knowledge.

The level of damage that can be inflicted in a short time is considerable. It can affect not only the intended recipients, but also...

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