Industry would get hit in cyber war, report says

Privately owned critical infrastructure would be a likely target

Industry is likely to be caught up in the middle if a cyber war erupts between countries, according to a new report on cyber warfare.

“Many international security and cybersecurity experts say that the critical infrastructure of nation-states — banking and finance, electrical grids, oil and gas refineries and pipelines, water and sanitation utilities, telecommunications systems — are all likely targets in future wars,” the report released Nov. 17 by the security technology company McAfee. “In many countries, especially in the West, private ownership of these utilities means that private companies will likely be caught in the crossfire.”

The report also said that in addition to targeting critical infrastructure, countries are likely to use cyberattacks to spread propaganda. In addition, the report said there is a lack of clarity in the role that industry – the owner of much of the communications and network infrastructure – plays in government efforts to respond to attacks.

“In general, the public and private sectors need to share information, particularly threat intelligence, more effectively together. If such measures are adopted proactively, before a major cyberattack happens, they might obviate the need for governments to ever contemplate a Big Brother approach to cybersecurity,” the report recommended.

The report also said that some countries’ efforts to build cyberattack capabilities, and in some cases their demonstrated willingness to use them, suggests that, although there hasn’t yet been a "hot" cyber war, a "cyber cold war" may have started. The report said the United States, Russia, China, Israel and France are developing advanced offensive cyber capabilities.

The report also said discourse to define cyber conflict is not happening in the open, as it should be.

“The impact of a cyber war is almost certain to extend far beyond military networks and touch the globally connected information and communications technology infrastructure upon which so many facets of modern society rely,” the report states. “With so much at stake, it is time to open the debate on the many issues surrounding cyber warfare to the global community.”

The report was prepared by Paul Kurtz, a cybersecurity expert who is a partner at Good Harbor Consulting. Kurtz and his colleagues interviewed more than 20 experts for the report.

About the Author

Ben Bain is a reporter for Federal Computer Week.

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