In today’s constantly evolving and changing world, the usage of technology in our daily lives is very prominent. There have been many innovations in the field in technology, from smartphones to better computers. Yet, there have also been advances in military technology which has changed the way we fight wars in many ways, shaping the digital battleground we know today. In this essay, we will be discussing how digital technology has changed the way we fight wars on the digital battleground.
Before we start though, we must first establish what exactly digital warfare is and what technology is used. Digital Warfare involves the usage of drones to conduct unmanned aerial strikes, using hackers to gain an advantage over an enemy, or parties having viruses sent through the Internet to wreak havoc on their enemies. Digital technologies have rapidly changed the way we fight wars. Soldiers fighting for their country need not be sacrificed when smart bombs and automation can easily accomplish the task better and faster than humans. New guidance systems allow for more precise strikes and less collateral damage. Better intelligence helps to safeguard our communities and eliminate hostile threats towards innocent people. Yet with newer innovations in warfare technology, there is also the risk of us losing control over what we fight for. All automation will have vulnerabilities, potentially causing them to be hacked or ravaged by viruses, caused by other computers fighting a new war on a new battleground; and this battleground is cyber warfare. There is also a new threat of for-hire internet mercenaries, trained to conduct specialized attacks on infrastructure and the internet to wreak havoc with the systems and technology we use today. This essay will discuss these issues, including National perspectives from the United States, Global Perspectives, and Local Perspectives.
When talking about the issues surrounding the recent usage of digital warfare, there are many sources and issues to choose from. In this essay, we will be using sources from multiple areas, such as from the CIA, the New York Times, and a periodic by Ioan Grillo.
When we discuss how digital warfare has changed, we must first understand why modern countries would want to invest in newer, modern technology in wartime. By investing in modern technology, it helps to give countries an edge over an enemy, be it in surveillance or information, attack and defense, or de-escalating tensions in regions. There is much discussion surrounding the benefits and motivations involving digital warfare. With better equipment, it gives one side a better chance of surviving over another, a chance which one could exploit, and could be very dangerous if it fell into the wrong hand. Almost like a comic.
So, just how much has technology changed the way we have fought wars? The best way to compare and see how much has changed is to go back in history. Far back into history. To World War 1. Before World War 1, most countries had the general idea that war was a glorious battle where armies marched into position, blasted a horn, and slaughtered each other. Most uniforms were brightly colored with each individual army having their unique fatigues. This all changed upon the start of World War 1. Armies’ tactics changed with the advancement of technology, from chlorine gas to artillery, changing the way we fight wars even up to this modern age.
The CIA has constantly been investing in newer technologies and advancement of digital warfare, and uses these new technologies for its intelligence efforts and securing the United States over security concerns. According to an article reviewing an article written by Bruce Berkowitz (no longer able to be seen) for the CIA, Eric Hasteline writes “Berkowitz argues that atoms that used to be big winners will become big losers to information technology. Reconnaissance sensors will quickly find massed troops, enabling adversaries to zap those troops with precision-guided weapons. Fortifications will tie armies down to fixed locations, making them sitting ducks for smart bombs. Cheap cyber weapons (e.g., computer viruses) will neutralize expensive kinetic weapons (e.g., missile defenses)”. (Hasteline). From this perspective, we can see that Bruce Berkowitz favors using newer, advanced technologies to change the way we fight wars, such as using reconnaissance sensors, smart bombs, and cyber weapons such as viruses from computers. His opinion is very techno-optimistic in his approach to warfare. He also says that “Perhaps the biggest effect of information technology on warfare will be the elimination of the concept of a front, according to Berkowitz. If fronts persist at all, they will live in cyberspace where info-warriors battle not over turf, but over control of routers, operating systems, and firewalls” (Hasteline). This shows that the projects a future that will be involved with digital technology in warfare, drastically changing the current way we fight our wars, one which the line between good and bad becomes blurred.
Many people have also taken the stance that digital warfare is bad for humanity and bad for warfare. A large number of politicians, critics, and the general populace have publicly spoken out against digital warfare, claiming that if it fell into the wrong hands, it could wreak havoc on the populace. “Once the province of nations, the ability to destroy via cyber now also rests in the hands of small groups and individuals: from terrorist groups to organized crime, hackers to industrial spies to foreign intelligence services … This is not a future threat. The cyber threat is here today, it is here now”. (Tisdall). Many people feel unsafe in an era where terrorist organizations can easily take advantage of people who are less aware of the threat of digital warfare poses. People who are against digital warfare are considered techno-pessimist. We are already seeing how 3 party organizations and groups have taken advantage of this, and have initiated many hacks that have resulted in massive results, such as the WannaCry ransomware attacks, which according to a Straits Times article “infected banks, hospitals, and government agencies in about 150 countries, have shown links to a group connected to North Korea”. (Cheong). The 2016 United States Presidential election could also have been influenced by foreign parties, be it Russian hackers changing the results of the election or WikiLeaks leaking emails sent by Hillary Clinton, swaying public opinion over who to vote. According to a Time article: “For example, it is not hard to convince people of the danger that land mines pose, but it can be nearly impossible to convince someone that two-factor authentication is crucial for securing their email account against phishing”. (Cohen). This underscores just how unaware the common populace is to the devastating consequences of digital warfare. All it took for the Democratic National Committee to be hacked was for one employee to open a cracked email, enabling hackers to access to the entire network of the DNC.
We have seen how digital warfare can be helpful for one side of a battle, and disastrous for others, with many underlying consequences. Yet, we have not actually seen many real-life examples of digital warfare being used prominently in warfare. In fact, only very recently did Israel conduct an assault on a compound known to be housing hackers, after suffering an attack conducted by a Hamas group. This attack holds the distinction of being “the first true example of a physical attack being used as a real-time response to digital aggression—another evolution of so-called ‘hybrid warfare”. (Newman). This is only the start of a new era of warfare: Digital Warfare. We are beginning to see more and more examples of online mercenaries-for-hire. According to a New York Times article: “Today even the smallest countries can buy digital espionage services, enabling them to conduct sophisticated operations like electronic eavesdropping or influence campaigns that were once the preserve of major powers like the United States and Russia. Corporations that want to scrutinize competitors’ secrets or a wealthy individual with a beef against a rival, can also command intelligence operations for a price, akin to purchasing off-the-shelf elements of the National Security Agency or the Mossad”. (Mazzetti et al.) These people have the power to infiltrate governments, spy on people, or call attacks on other people simply by punching some keys on a keyboard and hitting enter. The true scale of what hackers are capable of doing is astounding. “The firms have enabled governments not only to hack criminal elements like terrorist groups and drug cartels but also in some cases to act on darker impulses, targeting activists and journalists”. (Mazzetti et al.) This could also possibly target people who are intent on spreading the truth, and this is possibly how countries seek to curtail the spread of news which could possibly harm their national interest, such as in the case of the assassination of the journalist Jamal Khashoggi, who was killed for spreading news of the Saudi Kingdoms efforts to suppress progressive movements in their country.
The best course of action to resolve this ongoing discussion is to focus on improving hardware and technology while keeping in mind moral values and ethics. Killing people for the sake of progress is not the way. Digital warfare has almost turned the way we fight wars upside down, and we need to compensate and accommodate this new change with new technology, new advancements, and better values. However, we need to ensure that my enforcing these new technologies, we do not rush into putting them into service, for fear of a lack of control, or having the technology fall into the wrong hands. There is the potential for a third party to hack and seize control of new devices we use, or using false personas to hijack our accounts and lives. We must learn to safeguard our online identity by using two-factor authentication, protecting us from hackers and online threats such as viruses. Governments need to invest more in the tech sector for companies and agencies to develop new ways to combat the threat of online warfare. Raising awareness with the public helps to prevent further issues in the future by educating them about the dangers of the internet and how to avoid it. Working on stamping out illegal activity is essential to stopping criminal activity online, going to the root of the problem to stop it rather than going for the easy victories. It would be a difficult and long fight, but ultimately a better decision helping to safeguard our online presence. Establishing an international governing body to regulate the usage of the internet is to safeguard our freedom of the internet and to ensure that no threats are present to us.
It is no surprise that warfare has changed. Humanity has always been constantly evolving, upgrading our weaponry and our thinking. The stone age, the industrial revolution, and the atomic age. We are now in the opening phases of the Digital age, where we fight wars on the internet and online spaces. My take on this issue is simple. Digital Warfare is good. It forces humanity to change our ways, to become more aware of our security risks, and how to prevent it. War always happens. There is no avoiding it. Mankind has been fighting ever since the beginning of our existence. By entering into this new age of Digital Warfare, mankind can hope to have bloodless wars, where wars are fought with ones and zeros, rather with bullets and blood. When I started writing this essay, digital warfare has a relatively unknown concept to me. By writing this essay, and researching it, I was able to formulate my opinions based on facts and logic. Digital Warfare is a tough and complicated issue to discuss and explore, so by writing this essay, I hope to shed more light on a dark and out-of-sight issue.
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