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Internet Ethics: Cyber Warfare.

As the use of the internet is on the rise and there is extensive exploitation of the prevailing computing and communication technologies; the threats associated with this new invention is also becoming apparent. Cyber warfare is one of the most dangerous incidents that can occur any time in a place known as the cyber space. When many countries are waging this type of war; they don’t observe any rules of engagement. So is it ethical to target civilian or private as well as public non-military cyber zones? Is it ethically acceptable to spread false information on the enemy countries’ cyber space so as to create confusion? Is it acceptable to steal and extract information illegally from civilian owned companies of the enemy country, so as to enhance the competitive edge? What about destabilizing the whole economy of another country and the disastrous results associated with it? Imagine an attack on the Forex exchange market or the International Monetary Fund main frame computers. What about hacking or cracking into the mass media sector if you think that it is against your interests?

Cyber-attack can be carried out in groups of professional hackers, by one person, by a terrorist organisation or by specially trained cyber offensive military units from the enemy nation. It usually involves breaking into the computer and telecommunication systems of the opposite side without prior notice or warning using the internet as a medium (cyber battle field). The use of the internet is expanding at a tremendous rate, as billions of people and millions of businesses are joining the World Wide Web. The point that I am trying to establish is, the field of internet security is not developing or advancing at the same pace with the internet expansion.

I will provide certain real examples of the imminent threat that the cyber warfare poses to not only whole nations but to the big businesses and to everybody. In August 2012, Aramco Company’s computer network was cracked and some 30,000 computers were rendered useless after a successful cyber-attack carried out by a group of hackers from various foreign countries. The aim of the attack was to stop pumping oil and gas to domestic and international markets. If that attack would have destroyed all the available computers; then the world would have faced a catastrophic energy crisis. Those cyber terrorists are not yet identified as the internet security extremely lags behind. It was back in February 2009, when a UK based, UFO obsessed computer geek raided 98 computer networks used by the pentagon. This was one of the most dangerous cyber-attacks in the American history. Another incident involved a highly organised hacking scheme carried out by a group of Chinese hackers led to the total shutdown of the computer systems in the US minister of defence’s office. At this current time, America is not only facing war on terror but a real cyber-warfare with China, as Chinese military hackers not only target the US military departments but also all domestic companies like Google, Facebook, Microsoft and many others. Many analysts are saying that this threat has been exaggerated as the US government is searching a scape goat to wage all-out cyber warfare on China and all the countries that are potential threats to America’s worldwide interests.

Now, the real danger is that there are no strict rules of engagement to observe in this new but ruthless type of war. Imagine American cyber-defence brigade targeting china’s air traffic control systems or vice-versa. What is going to happen if you are on board in a passenger aircraft and the whole air traffic control systems were put out of service due to a cyber-attack?  The aircraft does not have any other choice but to crash land as there is no guidance and crash landing is extremely dangerous as the chance of survival is grim. Back in 2000, A Russian cyber-attack targeting Lithuanian power grids led to total electricity black out in Lithuania during the winter season. As Iran is continuing its uranium enrichment program, the US and Israel responded by sending stuxnet virus to Iran’s computers controlling the uranium enrichment facilities nationwide. The Stuxnet virus causes the nuclear plant’s centrifuges to spin extremely fast, rendering them useless. This might lead to a nuclear disaster like the one in Fukushima, Japan or Chernobyl, Ukraine. It might also lead to a nuclear explosion which will have disastrous effects on the Iranian civilian population. America and Israel will still be continuing this cyber-warfare in the months to come as long as Iran is insisting to carry on its enrichment program whatever the cost.

However, the most important question is what are the dos and don’ts of the present day and future cyber-war? There is no clear solution for that. By looking forward into the future, if the implementation and application of technology to the real life continues to advance at its present pace, we look forward to increased cyber-intrusions and attacks that will affect hundredth of millions of people. As the internet security is vulnerable; there are no clear constitutional rules. Most of the time, hackers are either unidentified or come from a foreign country. In that case, how will they be tried or punished? Ethics is not only based on moral judgement but also established norms and regulations clearly laid out by a community. So, as the world is now a global village, drown closer by the Internet; the international community should come up with a clear, effective and well-established international internet ethics that is agreed by all.

In my own opinion, the same rules of engagement that apply to the real battlefield should also apply to the virtual cyber battleground. We should not target hospitals, domestic or international air traffic control systems, sabotage power grids or crack the computer networks of private and public sector businesses and institutions. According to me, targeting a hospital computer system is like hitting the hospital with a missile. As, there are many patients under surgery; if the computers used to control the vital life support systems of the patients fail to work and the patient dies; you have practically killed that patient. Furthermore, Attack on the financial institutions of a country will jeopardise the whole economy of the targeted nation, eventually leading to economic turmoil, civil war and mass poverty. So why do we need to do such brutal actions? And what is the advantage of messing up with other people’s lives in pursuit of our selfish interests?  Last but not the least, speaking from the bottom of my heart and the clarity of my brain, words only will not stop this imminent but ever-increasing threat. We need the implementation of very tough internet ethical framework so that we can live in peace and prosperity.

Name: Abdulaziz Mohamed Elmi, Week 5: Reflection Diary, Internet Ethics: Cyber warfare

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