Last Wednesday we traveled to the Spy Museum and saw many amazing exhibits on topics ranging from the history of bugging to how to pick locks and even an Aston Martin from a James Bond movie. However, the exhibit that I found the most interesting and astonishing was the final and most recent one on cyber warfare and the vast implications it has in global security.
Although this was not the first time I've heard of cyber warfare, it did encourage me to recognize our vulnerability and how cyber warfare can have detrimental consequences for a single state as well as strain global relationships. Probably the most famous cyber warfare attacks was a botnet launched against Estonia in 2007. This particular botnet was used to orchestrate a “denial-of-service” attack and was the first of its kind to attack a sovereign state as a whole. Not only did the attack aim to bring down the essential electronic infrastructure by overloading the servers of major commercial banks, telecommunications companies, and media outlets, it also strained Russian-Estonian relationships even more, which could have potentially resulted in war. The idea behind a botnet is to keep cyber attacks anonymous by hijacking millions of computers from around the world by remotely installing malicious software through either email attachments or automatic downloads on websites, and then using these computers to orchestrate a “denial-of-service” attack by overloading a server's bandwidth with an exorbitant amount of internet traffic from these hijacked computers. Therefore, when Estonia hired consultants to stop these attacks by blacklisting the IP addresses of the hijacked computers that were launching the attacks they found that many of them were located in the United States (a state known for its extensive use of the internet), as well as Russia, a state with an already poor relationship with Estonia. Furthermore, a number of the computers that were part of the botnet that attacked Estonia were located in Putin's Presidential Office, the Russian equivalent of the West Wing of the White House. This information sparked accusations that the Russian government orchestrated the attack on Estonia, which caused the Estonian minister of defense to contemplate invoking NATO Article 5, which would have sparked a conflict that could have escalated to a global scale. Thankfully, the defense minister recognized that the large majority of the computers if not all were likely hijacked without the users knowledge, proving the Russian government's innocence. However, this Estonian case does show the danger a cyber attack can cause to both a state's electronic infrastructure and its global relationships. Therefore, as the Spy Museum's final exhibit attempts to convey, the threat of cyber warfare should be taken more seriously not only by the United States but by the world as a whole.