Since the advent of the Internet, a new battleground—cyberspace—has been added to the four traditional ones of land, sea, air, and space. In this article, you'll find out how IT and the military are joining forces to protect our data from cyberattacks.
Cyberattacks and cybersecurity: definitions and scope
As the use of IT tools and digital platforms becomes more and more popular and the means deployed become larger and more modern, it seems quite necessary to address the topics of digital security and cyberattacks. Indeed, the increase of computer attacks has been a growing danger for countries for some years now. This is where cybersecurity comes in.
What is cybersecurity?
When we talk about cybersecurity, we instantly think of the stereotypical image of a hacker wearing a black hoodie in a dark room, hidden behind monochrome screens of streaming code... But the world of cyber extends much beyond than that. In fact, it's quite vast!
In general, cybersecurity is the detection, analysis and resolution of security incidents occurring within an operating system and understanding the source of the infection. Thus, it aims to limit security breaches, eradicate data theft, and counter cyberattacks in general.
Various physical and virtual means are deployed to ensure the protection, integrity, and confidentiality of data (more or less sensitive) within a digital infrastructure. This is what is called Cyberdefense. Cyberdefense is considered a real ministerial priority as it represents a real military challenge and guarantees national sovereignty.
What is a cyberattack?
When you say defense, you say attack. Indeed, if cybersecurity was born, it is mainly due to the rise of cyberattacks.
A cyberattack (or cyberthreat) can be defined as a voluntary act, with an offensive, malicious or intimidating aim, linked to the creation of a virus with the main aim of damaging or destroying the data of an operating system, of stealing the data of the targeted computers, and of using this data for various purposes: cybercrime*, disinformation, espionage, sabotage, weakening the defenses of the person or organization attacked, modification of sensitive data, disruption of a country's infrastructure (electricity, gas, water, finance, health, communication networks and commercial networks), and much more.
*Cybercrime: crimes and misdemeanors committed from digital platforms.
These attacks can be carried out by one or more individuals—or even by a state—with powerful computer tools and advanced technologies.
However, it's important to note here that:
- Not every cyberattack is planned for malicious purposes;
- The creation of certain cyberattacks (disinformation, sabotage, data theft, etc.) via online platforms can be done by anyone with cybersecurity knowledge. Fortunately, the vast majority of experts use their knowledge to counter these attacks!
The term "hacktivism" (or online activism) is used to define any cyberattack used to circulate ideologies, ideas and/or political objectives in order to rally a maximum number of people to the defended cause. Anonymous, for example, is part of these "hacktivists" who defend freedom of expression.
Find a list of the different types of cyberattacks to protect against in a dedicated article from PhoenixNAP.
Computer warfare and cyberspace: a virtual battlefield
What is cyberspace?
Cyberspace is a virtual world composed of computer networks (including the Internet, digital information platforms and online service operators) in which Internet users navigate.
This virtual space turns information (data) into a real weapon of war that has ushered the world into a new digital information war. Cyberspace is a bit like a never-ending game of field hockey, where information warriors* are the players constantly on the move, and always in a strategy alternating between offense and defense.
*information warriors: individuals trained in cybersecurity who engage in the defense of information systems by training to combat computer attacks throughout cyberspace.
Two examples of large-scale cyberattacks that have made their mark
2007: The starting point of the first global cyberwar was launched against Estonia, one of the pioneer countries in terms of Internet use within the European Union - with 1.3 million inhabitants, 46% of whom have home Internet access. Cyberattacks broke out against Estonian organizations such as its parliament, ministries, banks, and even newspapers. These various attacks—coming from millions of computers from 60 different countries—involved saturating Estonian servers (allowed in the form of false requests) in order to make them unavailable. This major event created awareness of the importance of cybersecurity in today's society.
2009: In Iran, the STUXnet computer worm* targeted the Iranian nuclear program and infiltrated protected devices—even those disconnected from the Internet—to attack the uranium enrichment centrifuges. The development of the nuclear program was thus delayed by two years. For the first time in history, we are experiencing the appearance of malware described as a "cyberweapon" capable of attacking a specific industrial target.
*Computer worm: A malicious program that creates copies of itself and self-propagates them to infect targeted programs.
The perpetual digital battle of the armies
The place of cybersecurity in European armies
Cybersecurity is a critical area within the military. As cyberthreats become more frequent, rapid, complex, and destructive, it's important to maintain the security and protection of sensitive data the military must safeguard.
Through the European Defense Agency (EDA), EU Member States are supported in building a skilled military workforce in cyberdefense.
Data and information security...
To counter a cyberattack, you need to have a powerful strike force. And to have that, international cooperation is required!
In connection with many other actors, the French Ministry of Armed Forces participates actively in the protection and defense of information systems by conducting operations in cyberspace.
In fact, between 2019 and 2020, the number of cyberattacks targeting France quadrupled. For this reason, the Ministry of the Armed Forces has made cyberdefense one of its top priorities. Indeed, a budget of 1.6 billion euros and more than 1,000 additional information warriors are foreseen by 2025.
The case of the cyberattack on British hospitals in 2017 shows us here that hacks can just as easily affect military operations as medical activities—and cripple an entire society for an indeterminate amount of time.
Indeed, here, the affected computers were blocked by a ransomware called WannaCry. Like all ransomwares, this virus aimed to encrypt with a unique key the data of the receiving computer in order to demand a ransom (money payments) to unlock the encrypted data.
The hackers infected and blocked a large number of computers in British hospitals, causing them to cancel nearly 20,000 hospital visits.
From a more global point of view, we could look at the decisions of the European Council of October 2020, which wished to strengthen the capacity of the European Union protect itself against cyberattacks, cyberthreats and cybercrime in order to provide access to an open, safer, more protected cyberspace.
This decision was taken because information security at the national and international level is of paramount importance for the security of populations. In particular, Cyberdefense is one of NATO's core tasks, with a focus on collective defense and protection of its own critical networks—including those during operations and missions. Indeed, NATO is greatly increasing its capabilities in cybersecurity education and training, but also in the protection and prevention of cyberattacks.
Armed forces are recruiting in cyberspace!
As militaries seek to develop their cybersecurity skills, they need a growing workforce in this area. Thus, the number of information warriors is expected to increase over the next few years… Discover now the essential talents for becoming an information warrior!
What skills are expected of information warriors?
Agility: As cyberspace continuously evolves, information warriors must possess a certain degree of adaptation, nimble-mindedness, and quick response. They must be able to jump into action upon the slightest change, as well as anticipate the actions and motivations of individuals trying to break into the system.
Teamwork: Cohesion is a key element that allows information warriors to thwart adversaries practices and attacks.
Interested in tech and military topics? Find one of our Wilders’ testimonial and discover his dedicated interview: From real estate to web development for the Army, Etienne looks back on his career!