Kevin Coleman is a senior fellow at the Technolytics Institute and former chief strategist at Netscape. (File) ()
The world’s attention has been drawn to the issues in Syria and the Ukraine. While these countries are vastly different, there are common denominators. Both conflicts are based on civil unrest and both countries are under the threat of crippling cyber attacks.
In the past week the media has been filled with headlines about the bloodshed and humanitarian crisis in Syria. This has the U.S. considering some type of strike and multiple reports say that the use of cyber attacks is high on the list of options. Report after report has come in about highly targeted cyber attacks within the Ukraine said to have been launched by Russia. The targets of these attacks are reported to be their telecommunication infrastructure, as well as the news media providing coverage as these events unfold. There are also reports of Russian troops on the ground in the Ukraine, specifically in and around Crimea, a peninsula located on the northern coast of the Black Sea. This took place even as President Obama warned Russia about the cost of Russia intervening in the Ukraine.
The strategy of disrupting an adversaries’ critical infrastructure and the military’s C4ISR is well documented in military history. The use of cyber weapons as a mechanism to accomplish that strategy has occurred multiple times in recent conflicts. However, there are a few interesting and challenging differences. Arguably one of the top differences is related to Syria and that is what ties the two areas of conflict together. If the U.S. takes some type of action (not just cyber attacks) in Syria, it is highly likely that the Syrian Electronic Army will retaliate. Current, cyber threat intelligence suggests that SEA has only limited cyber weapons that are used to disrupt the web sites of news agencies, their primary target.
However, analysts are quick to point out that Russia could secretly provide the SEA with much more advanced cyber weapons in an action that protests any U.S. actions or involvement in Syria. It should also be noted that Iran and North Korea may also contribute to SEA’s cyber arsenal following the “enemy of my enemy is my friend” concept. Russia is the common denominator! The events in the Ukraine and Syria are not isolated and must not be treated as such. The highly likely retaliation against the U.S and our interests (if action is taken) by the SEA will receive foreign cyber support and that increases the already complex situation.