While a digital Armageddon (a total-destruction attack toppling the entire Internet) is highly unlikely (a couple of experts I've spoken with say the entire Internet is simply too big a target), cyberspace is indeed an active battlefield.
In an interview earlier this year, StrategyPage.com's editor, James F. Dunnigan, argued: "The objectives (in cyber war) aren't too different from other warfare. You want to hit the other guy's networks but keep your own operating." As to what an all-out cyber war involving major "cyber powers" like the U.S., China or Russia might look like? "No one really knows for sure," Dunnigan replied. "We do have some indications."
Cyber-defense experts (based on the cyber weapons that exist and ones that are theoretically possible) identify three general types of cyber conflict:
-- Limited Stealth Operations (LSO): These are cyber-war operations that primarily support espionage programs.
-- Cyber War Only (CWO): CWO could take the form of a National Denial of Service (NDOS) attack. The May 2007 attacks on Estonia might have been an experimental CWO operation.
-- Cyber War in Support of a Conventional War (CWSC): Russian cyber attacks on Georgia, while its ground and air forces were also attacking, are perhaps the best example. A CWSC can hit strategic targets (e.g., international lending and trading systems), not just the electronic weapons and communications of the combat forces.
Imperial Rome had many enemies -- and so does the Internet.
Austin Bay is the author of three novels. His third novel, The Wrong Side of Brightness, was published by Putnam/Jove in June 2003. He has also co-authored four non-fiction books, to include A Quick and Dirty Guide to War: Third Edition (with James Dunnigan, Morrow, 1996).
Be the first to read Austin Bay's column. Sign up today and receive Townhall.com delivered each morning to your inbox.