The term “cyberwarfare” refers to politically motivated hacking in order to conduct espionage and sabotage. It is well established that the use of computers to manipulate markets, organisations and governments has been occurring now for decades and evidence of cyberwarfare is apparent from as early as the 1970s in the form of “worm” attacks which have taken the form of extremely invasive viruses over time.

The same worm viruses began to be used again in 2003 to compromise computers which became part of botnet “farms”, whereby a virus would be under a command and control structure which turned each infected computer into a “bot”. Such botnet farms went on to attack Microsoft early in 2006.

2005 saw the beginning of a continued cyber attack on US computers attributed to efforts by the Chinese government. Attacks of this nature on government resources, including UK national interests, continue unabated.

Of considerable note was the Chinese attack on the Pentagon in 2007. Hackers intruded into the NIPRNet system which, while not containing classified information, is crucial in the speedy deployment of US troops if China were to attack Taiwan. This indicates the increasingly political motives behind such cyber attacks in the last decade.

In 2008 another victim of the “worm” attacks was NASA, announcing that the worms had been found on laptops at the International Space Station. Also of note in 2008 was a group from Pakistan who hacked into the computer network of the State Bank of India, their largest bank.

December 2009 saw one of the most widespread and serious cyberwarfare attacks to date; 34 American companies were compromised during these attacks where intellectual property was also stolen. Along with Botnet, Ghostnet was also discovered in 2009. Among those compromised were computer systems in embassies, foreign ministries and other governmental offices as well as the Dalai Lama’s Tibetan exile centres in India, London and New York. In 2009, President Barack Obama declared America’s digital infrastructure to be a “strategic national asset”, a statement which serves to display the potentially severe consequences for nations should such cyber attacks continue.

Cyber security is often considered only relevant to home computer users, but it affects society at all levels and it is clear that cyber warfare is now a necessary and accepted part of any military strategy.