Prepare for 'all-out cyber war' as next phase of online threats looms, warns expert

To prepare for a new phase of cyber threats, exercises and cyber simulations should be conducted regularly for all the way from political leaders, armed forces, police, critical infrastructure personnel down to local government level.

This is the view of Professor Edward Mienie, associate professor of strategic and security studies at the University of North Georgia.

"Cyber is deeply enmeshed and interwoven across national security, as evidenced by its inclusion in the national security policies of a growing number of OECD countries," said Mienie. "But it is the impact of cyber across the other components of national and human security that remains to be sufficiently addressed at the national policy level, or in international standards of behaviour with respect to cyber warfare and hybrid conflict."

He was a guest speaker at the 14th International Conference on Cyber Warfare and Security, hosted by the University of Stellenbosch in conjunction with the CSIR earlier this year.

In addition to standing on its own as a national security concern, cyber security impacts economic and trade security, ecological or environmental and biosecurity, energy and critical infrastructure security, food security, transportation and public health, as well as communications, physical and even political security, Mienie noted.

The norm - not the exception

"Awareness training for civil and municipal government employees should be the norm and not the exception. Telecom companies and device manufacturers can assist in prevention of malware, phishing, and network-borne attacks by being proactive in our combined efforts to mitigate those attacks and to share information with government agencies in a more concerted and immediate manner," explained Mienie.

"Moreover, technology and cyber education in schools should become part of the core curriculum. The moment our fingers touch a keyboard or touchscreen, or the moment we use our voices to interact with the technology listening in our cars, homes or smartphones, irrespective of our educational discipline, we are exposed and vulnerable to a cyber attack."

In Mienie's view, the next generation of cyber warfare is already at our doorstep and has the potential to forever change the future.

Cyber guardians

"Individual responsibility can mitigate national cyber security threats collectively, but we must make a collective effort to develop a new generation of cyber heroes, cyber guardians, and cyber professionals," he emphasised.

"We have already seen most of the individual weapons. What will be different in an all-out cyber war is the massive aggregation of cyber weapons in a coordinated barrage of attacks: ransomware launched broadly against hospitals, public safety, banks, transportation and logistics firms, and local governments; highly targeted power and water disruptions in major cities; information operations and disinformation campaigns aimed at social media and traditional news outlets; and massive denial of service attacks against stock markets and major telecommunications providers."

Information operations and info warfare can achieve scale and speed never before possible.

"Future warfare is not just cyber war but cyber plus war. Social engineering and traditional human intelligence operations will continue to grow in importance in cyber warfare," Mienie said. "Cyber defence will evolve and morph almost as rapidly as the shifting cyber landscape. Vigilant cyber hygiene and aggressive patching and updating of systems is not enough."

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