Cyberwar is something that is regularly mentioned in the media, especially after DDoS attacks or defaces on well-known websites. We all know what a war is: it basically refers to groups of people who physically fight using weapons. Nowadays, wars often involve countries’ armies and paramilitary entities. What about cyberwar, then? Do authors who mention it know what they mean? Would they be able to define it, at least in fuzzy way? Am I a cyberwarrior (or cyberterrorist, or whatever) if I keep pressing my « F5 » key to make my browser emit numerous requests to the same website?
In accordance with the events that lead writers to mention it, let us assume that cyberwar refers to (at least) the actions of doing a DDoS, defacing a website and hacking into a system in order to extract and possibly release personal information (this is called a DoX).
Let us also recall that Internet simply consists in a huge set of devices using cables, radio waves and sometimes pigeons to send data to one another, data itself being nothing more than a sequence of bits.
Knowing this, a DDoS is nothing but the convergence of several flows of bits into a bigger one, with the result of disabling a computer because it is unable to cope with such a big quantity of data. It can be seen as a virtual massive sit-in in the way it overwhelms the service.
A website defacement consits in replacing a file by another inside the computer hosting the website so that the new file is displayed to future visitors. Indeed, it can involve circumventing barriers that aim at preventing such unwanted replacements.
A DoX is simply the release of personal information to the public attention. It does not necessarily imply the use of illegal methods to obtain the information.
From a less rational point of view, I perceive that the vague idea that some writers try to express with the word « cyberwar » is that it is something both underground and scary. It contains the word « war », which is often – and legitimately – associated to weapons, violence and death. This approach can lead an unexperienced reader to the feeling that things are as violent and scary on the Internet as they are on the ground. For instance, in the context of the Syrian uprising, saying that Assad’s services and activists around the world are engaged in a cyberwar one against the other wrongly mixes a real and bloody conflict with flows of bits on computer networks.
Generalizing the idea, we can even read that the CIA is engaged in a cyberwar against the Whatevernymous group. Some kind of worldwide, fuzzy and scary conflict where authorities fight against « cyberterrorist » activities, which semanticaly seem to be close to real terrorism. Of course, the good people need protection against these threats, they need authorities to monitor and possibly block connections that would harm the society.
Wait. Read the definitions of DDoS, deface and DoX again. Compare them to where we are now: terrorism. Is this not laughable? Of course it is, because the word cyberwar is a nonsense at the very beginning. But spreading such frightening rhetorics can be a way to dispossess people of this simple but powerful tool that is Internet. Encouraging suspicion towards « cyberterrorist » activities allows companies and governments to justify manufacturing and installation of mass-monitoring devices. As a reminder, French company Amesys sold mass-monitoring devices to Ghaddafi’s Libya in 2007, supposedly to fight against Al-Qaida, but which actually helped the regime arrest dozens of policital opponents and bloggers. Similar sinister stories happen in many other countries. These are not cyberwar devices, but just real warfare.
Seriously. Don’t let anyone dispossess you of this public good. Internet belongs to everyone, it is just a data transportation vector that must not be feared, but loved and protected. The cable or wireless connection of your computer turns it into a powerful tool to read and spread news and forge an opinion out of contradictory statements from all around the world. It allows you to reach any other connected device, human-controlled or not, at any location of the world. Not more, not less. The choice of being in touch with another person or accessing some kind of data should be kept in your hands, not in the hands of an external authority or company.
Internet is a unique chance to improve democracy worldwide. Don’t give it up because of unjustified fears. Cyberwar is bullshit, cyber army means nothing. War is for real, and some network monitoring devices can be used as part of it. A free and uncensored Internet helps in letting people know that bloody things happen. These bloody things do not happen on the Internet, but Internet allows you to know more about them. Use it, you are part of it.