Is cyber terrorism a manageable threat?
As we deal with a global epidemic that – vaccine aside – the end of which remains unknown, and the long-term consequences of which remain an even greater unknown, it is doubly difficult to ignore the ease with which open borders, geographically and virtually, have resulted in a host of new threats with which we are not necessarily to deal.
Dealing with cyber threats is no longer as foreboding as it once was, thanks to various solutions that provide a response to most threats. However, reports of cyberattacks on major firms and infrastructure could significantly disrupt our lives, and dealing with them requires taking a different approach.
If the coronavirus pandemic has taught us anything is that in the age of globalism, an issue that affects one corner of the world can become a worldwide challenge in a heartbeat – to the point of crippling our daily lives.
The Butterfly Effect – the sensitive dependence on initial conditions in which a small change in one state of a deterministic nonlinear system can result in large differences in a later state – has long become the reality, and it often raises the question, have we gone too far? Is there such a thing as too open a border?
Some would argue that answer is yes – we have gone too far, perhaps losing control on the way. Reality has proven time and again that systems are chaotic by nature and they could therefore manufacture the type of change we which we neither predicted nor to which we are accustomed.
Many of these dangers lie in our behavior and in how we, as individuals, deal with threats in whatever spectrum - from terrorism, through a biological threat, to the cyber sphere.
It is clear that when we open a door to something new, no matter how positive it may be – something nefarious is likely to slither through as well.
We would be wise to understand that not everything global is necessarily positive. Take for example online shopping on retail giants such as Ali Express and its ilk. People seem oblivious to the fact that buying something more cheaply comes with a hidden price – from phishing, through tracking online activity, to a direct remote impact on various aspects of our lives.
I would rather use my credit card less than I do, but reality leads us directly to behavior we would not necessarily like. The temptation to be "like everyone else" and shop online also holds many dangers, not only to the individual but to the collective, as well.
Much of what we saw in science fiction movies two decades ago is now a fact of life. There is a troubling dimension to this and beyond individual private behavior, each country must invest considerable resources in protecting its infrastructure on a growing number of fronts, as the potential damage is enormous.
This reality is much more complex when it comes to non-governmental organizations, as information could fall into the hands of terrorist groups, underground organizations planning cyberattacks, or labs producing biological threats.
The age of cyberspace has an almost inconceivable intelligence dimension and most threats are invisible unless you go looking for them.
Take for example the attempted cyberattacks on institutes researching and producing a vaccine against the coronavirus. While we are all thinking about the threats emanating from the Gaza Strip and Lebanon – an unforeseen cyber threat has been trying to undermine our ability to combat the global pandemic.
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Dealing with these threats raises a growing number of questions that have to do with almost every aspect of our lives. Naturally, you cannot ward off all of the threats all of the time. Eventually, something comes through and deals you a blow. This is a humbling thought and we would be wise to remember it.
If anything, 2020 has been humbling. Coronavirus may be only the first sign of a massive change the third millennium in store for us. Naturally, this requires a multisystem approach, but also a good dose of personal responsibility.
Col. Ronen Itsik (Res.) is a researcher and lecturer in political science and the author of "Behind The Armor: The story of an Israeli soldier," describing military service and combat situations against terrorist organizations.