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A disturbing peek into the next war

By Catholic Online (NEWS CONSORTIUM)
December 3rd, 2012
Catholic Online (www.catholic.org)

When we think of war we think about tanks, and bombs, and guns, and all the destruction and havoc they wreak. Death and flames come to mind as well as singular acts of bravery. However, the next war may look much different - how different? So different you might not think it was a war at all.

LOS ANGELES, CA (Catholic Online) - If you went back in time and told Roman legionnaires about tanks, airplanes, and lasers on the battlefield, you would probably be met with looks of incredulity. The practical Romans could no more conceive of warfare without swords and arrows as we can without tanks and bombs. Yet the next war is already taking shape, and will look nothing like those of the recent past.

It's called cyberwarfare and it involves using computers to attack other computers, destroying programs and hardware upon which our modern high-tech infrastructure relies.

With so much of our infrastructure relying on computerized technology, it makes little sense these days to risk a pilot's life to drop a bomb on a target deep in enemy territory. Planes can crash, bombs can miss, and pilots can be killed. However, a computer virus, tailored to attack a specific target, can shut down infrastructure with greater effectiveness than any bomb.

For example, an enemy who can hack into a water treatment plant from halfway around the world, can ensure that the water supply for an entire major city becomes contaminated. Another virus can cripple the power grid, plunging entire countries into permanent darkness. More subtle attacks can cause computer-controlled machines to create defective products, such as the Stuxnet Worm did to Iran's nuclear production facilities in 2010.

Indeed, the age of physical warfare is coming to a close and cyberwarfare is taking over. Already, there is talk among analysts of removing pilots from aircraft and soldiers from the battlefield. Someday, it will all be virtual.

Tragically, this does not mean that any lives will be spared. Turn off electricity and the injured will be without modern treatment. Contaminate water and disease will spread rapidly. Crash the stock market and millions will be suddenly unemployed. Wipe out bank accounts and government welfare rolls, and millions will starve.

To combat this developing trend, the military is spending billions to develop cyberwarfare capabilities. Sophisticated programs are already busy mapping the structure and layout of the internet, creating virtual maps which can be used the same as physical maps in war. Just like in the real world, the internet relies of similar architecture. There are bridges on the superhighway, as well as main roads and back routes.

There are even isolated internets, often called "darknets" which are entirely unplugged from the internet we know. Yet, even these closed, sometimes secret networks are vulnerable to hacking from the outside. All it takes is the crossover of a single USB drive to bridge the gap.

Military officials already have their hands full as cyberattacks become commonplace. The military isn't the only target either. Attacks often strike private corporations as hackers try to steal confidential information and disrupt operations.

In fact, the Department of Defense is beginning to focus on private corporations as a major flaw in the defenses. Most corporations cannot withstand a well-coordinated and sophisticated attack. Even Google experiences vulnerabilities from time to time.

If Google is sometimes vulnerable, then so is every smaller firm out there.

The good news is, the U.S. leads the way in cyberwarfare and has an entire department focused on the effort.

One thing remains certain. Although warfare may soon involve fewer guns and bombs, it will remain a dreadful and destructive waste for all, no matter where and how it is fought.

Article brought to you by: Catholic Online (www.catholic.org)