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The politics of digital warfare

Stefan Hammond | June 6, 2012
This year there's a Summer Olympics, a European football contest, and a US presidential election.

Stuxnet, (ironically code-named 'Olympic Games' and initiated by the Bush administration in 2006) "was of an entirely different type and sophistication," according to the NYT. "It appears to be the first time the United States has repeatedly used cyberweapons to cripple another country's infrastructure, achieving, with computer code, what until then could be accomplished only by bombing a country or sending in agents to plant explosives," said the article.

"Mr Obama, according to participants in the many Situation Room meetings on Olympic Games, was acutely aware that with every attack he was pushing the United States into new territory, much as his predecessors had with the first use of atomic weapons in the 1940s, of intercontinental missiles in the 1950s and of drones in the past decade. He repeatedly expressed concerns that any American acknowledgment that it was using cyberweapons...could enable other countries, terrorists or hackers to justify their own attacks."

And in 2012, as Londoners discover the Ministry of Defence is considering placing surface-to-air missiles on residential flats during the Olympics, the NYT article said "another cyberweapon called Flame was recently discovered to have attacked the computers of Iranian officials...American officials say that it was not part of Olympic Games. They have declined to say whether the United States was responsible for the Flame attack."

The Olympic Flame seems to have acquired an unintentional double-meaning. But among these half-revealed tales of cyberwarfare, who are the real bad guys? Security experts know that malware is in a constant of flux, and actions often provoke reactions--just ask Sony about their experience with Anonymous.

Perhaps the US president was prescient by repeatedly voicing his concern over the US government's actions. We can only hope that the technological expertise that created Stuxnet was also applied to hardening weak-points that may be attacked--now that the USA has lost the moral high-ground.

No word yet on whether the US presidential candidates plan to make "cyberwarfare" a campaign-issue. Perhaps this particular issue has become too hot for mere politicians to handle.


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