Most Internet users have seen it at some point, if not often. Many have faced more serious threats and in some cases, had their entire lives changed by this problem. Although it sounds like an idea out of an old science fiction book, the issue of cyber-crime is a growing phenomenon that even now threatens the most powerful governments across the world.
The many problems a cyber-attack could cause presents individuals with several important questions that must be considered as cyber-technology continues to advance. On an individual level, what can be done to prevent a cyber-attack? How can you protect yourself, your family, or your business? However, at the national level, the stakes are raised. Some have argued that a state-sponsored cyber-attack is an act of war.
Cyber-attacks began decades ago. Rudimentary viruses were distributed by random individuals hoping to annoy the technologically inept, middle-aged computer greenhorn, while also using their computer knowledge in a less productive, albeit more fun, way. Cyber-attacks have now become more malicious and much more of a threat. Credit card information, personal records, and sensitive business documents began to be at risk. By 2010, 1 in every 10 American consumers had been a victim of identity theft. Over $50 billion was stolen from individuals and businesses in 2009, and in spite of a rapid expansion of new businesses producing protective software, cyber-attacks have only grown in number. In fact, LifeLock (identity security) CEO Todd Davis offered a challenge to any anonymous hacker to steal his identity. It was successfully accepted 13 times.
But cyber-attacks have not stopped with individuals or small businesses. In recent years we have seen some of the largest, most protected corporations around the world attacked. Moreover, dozens of national governments, including America's, have been electronically attacked, allowing the intruder access to sensitive military information, defense secrets, or even embarrassing diplomatic events. Some of these instances have been linked to foreign governments, while others have been carried out by independent people from groups such as WikiLeaks.
Currently there is debate surrounding the legality of these events and how to respond to them. Due to the fact that these situations could compromise U.S. national security, even if it relates to a private corporation, some argue that these cyber-hackings must be stopped by a larger role of government. Others contend that revelations by organizations like WikiLeaks encourage more government transparency and stifle the bent toward corruption in government bureaucracies.
Going a step further, there is significant evidence that several militaries are beginning to use this technology against other nations. North Korea and Iran, despite sparse evidence that they have advanced capabilities, have openly boasted of their superior "cyber-warriors." Russia, too, has warned of their potential in the cyber-realm, famously using it against Estonia’s government following Estonia’s decision to disassemble a Soviet-era statue in Tallinn. Most notably, China has a massive cyber-force as part of the People's Liberation Army.
Despite officially denying any state-sponsored attacks, U.S. officials remain convinced China has been behind several of the most destructive and intrusive cyber-attacks. The United States is certainly a player in this as well. There is vast evidence that the U.S. military was involved in the infamous cyber-attack against an Iranian nuclear plant, setting back months of progress.
This topic will investigate what a cyber-attack is, what it is capable of doing, and how it could potentially affect the U.S. and the personal lives of its citizens.