Ex-NSA agent: The future of mass conflicts lies in cyberspace

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As the conflict between Russia and Ukraine flares up, many expect that the next battlefield will be cyberspace. However, for some, digital warfare is not something new, and the recent escalation of hostilities with Russia in cyberspace does not cause much surprise, Cybernews writes.

“Cyberspace has always been a very active place, regardless of whether people see it or not. Now everyone’s attention is focused on this. However, even if people don’t pay attention to it the way they do now, it still happens,” said Marianne Bailey, a specialist at the American consulting company Guidehouse, who has worked at the US National Security Agency for more than thirty years.

Although there is growing concern that a confrontation between Western countries and Russia could eventually lead to a nuclear war, according to Bailey, the future of any mass conflict lies in cyberspace. Therefore, it’s time for companies to take their cyber defense seriously and stop underestimating the “basic things” thanks to which hackers can safely “enter” their networks.

As Bailey explained, a lot depends on what exactly is considered cyberwar. In her opinion, the cyber war began a long time ago, it just remained unnoticeable for the majority, and average citizens did not even suspect what was happening every day.

“There have been disinformation campaigns like the one conducted during the 2020 elections, and it is not an easy task in cyber warfare, as in the case of all these hacktivist groups, to determine who is behind it. In the cyberworld, we are all connected. No one actually launches (or extremely rarely) cyberattacks from their home country. Their hosting is located somewhere else and jumps from one country to another. Therefore, attacks are usually attributed to the state, which has done the same thing before. This is called Techniques, Tactics and Procedures (TTP). And then you say, “Well, it looks like Country X, because that’s what Country X usually does”” But in fact it is very difficult to establish,” explained Bailey.

According to the ex-employee of the NSA, for 35 years of service, she has well studied the capabilities of states in cyberspace and it is surprising to her why “cyber 9/11” has not yet happened. After learning about Russia’s special operation in Ukraine, the first thing she thought about were cyberattacks at the power plant. People far from the cyberworld immediately began to fear a nuclear strike, but Bailey, with her experience, thought about cyber attacks on critical infrastructure.

Cyberattacks are much cheaper, do not require the presence of attackers in the attacked place, are carried out quickly and can be very destructive, Bailey explained.

“So I think cyberwar is already underway. Look at the USA. We have created a whole cyber command. We have air, land and sea, right? These are all places of combat that we strive to protect, and cyberspace is now one of them,” Bailey said.

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