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Cyber-Espionage: The Future of Warfare?

Over the past 10 years, cybercrime has been thrust into the government spotlight with new gusto. Although more attacks on government hardware have transpired than will ever be admitted, there are multiple public instances where other countries have bypassed US security measures and infiltrated the most secure and top-secret databases. The concern, and common belief, is that malicious code and backdoors have been left wherever a hack has occurred. Although the US is believed to be the leader in combating and understanding cyber-espionage, this doesn’t mean we aren’t vulnerable to attacks.

While most internet savvy civilians are concerned that someone will gain access to their bank accounts or that their identity will be stolen, there is a much larger and scarier cyber-war being fought. Because we already know that other countries have the technology and skills to illegally access secure government databases, it is possible that the entirety of the records on which our economy functions could be erased or stolen. Such an attack would cause mass chaos, even preventing citizens from accessing their accounts at all. The Wall Street Journal reported on a recent national threat, disclosing that spies from China and Russia, among other countries, had hacked into the US electricity grid to navigate and interact with its controls. If malicious code were left behind, theoretically, foreign governments could remotely shut down the grid, causing millions of people to be without electricity for an extended period of time.

So, what keeps other governments from exercising these options? In some ways, the battle of cyber-espionage is similar to the Cold War; each side has an ample amount of information that can be used for malicious purposes, maintaining a tension-filled balance that no one is willing to compromise. Perhaps even more shocking than the continually-occurring web security breaches is the lack of reporting that surrounds them. Although the status quo is slowly changing, the general population still doesn’t know much about these incidents. Cybercrime is underreported overall, conceivably due to the anonymity of the act, the difficulty of prosecution, and sometimes the lack of understanding that envelops it. Do we, as the public, need to know about this futuristic battle being fought? The argument should be, yes, we do. With the advancement of technology comes the need to use it responsibly and to understand how to interact safely with it, both on the government level and the personal user level.

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