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Flame and Stuxnet

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The rapid escalation in technology experienced throughout the world today; in the last four decades is reason enough for us to forecast that cyber warfare can only intensify. This has been seen through use of various internet access methods by governments and other private players to infiltrate systems and acquire information that is of interest to them. It is thus clear that virus such as Flame and Stuxnet have a place in the future of cyber warfare. Cyber warfare is a type of information warfare that is sometimes perceived as the current day warfare, in the world. Hence, it can be described as the politically motivated hacking to carry out sabotage and espionage. Clarke (2012) terms the concept as actions by a nation/state to break through another nation’s computers or networks with intensions to cause damage or disruption (Clarke and Knake, 2012). Cyberspace is now seen as the latest war zone that is therefore pertinent to military undertakings on sea, land, air and space.

The earliest computer viruses were generally considered harmless and were products of ongoing research in computer laboratories. A good example is the 1960’s Creeper virus that was designed with the ability to crawl around computer networks like the APRANET- the predecessor of the internet. However, more malicious viruses were reported in the 1970s that were spread by computer enthusiasts on floppy disks. The 1980s and early 1990s saw an increase in the shareware following especially through the Bulletin Board Systems; hence, viruses could be distributed faster than before. The growing interest in pirated software further enhanced the spread of malware such as, Brain, Vienna, Cascade, etc.

The most basic feature of a virus is its ability to replicate itself. A virus contains an executable code that usually attaches itself to other genuine programs in order to lower the chances of user identification. They also have the ability to reach the boot sector and infect programs in stored in hard drives.  A virus’ presence in the boot sector where the OS is also found guarantees its execution as the computer tries to boot, which is a very strategic weapon. Other viruses will remain running in the background as long as the computer is on and modify other programs that they come across. Some virus types are able to identify other computers in the network that they can spread to and replicate the commands on them too (Pot, 2010).

There are many negative effects of viruses experienced today. A virus’ ability to replicate itself rapidly could use up all the free memory thus bringing the whole system to a halt, and possibly crash.  In addition, some viruses lead to loss of valuable information as a result of corrupt or erased data. Research shows that many individuals have lost passwords to crucial accounts leading to loss of money in online banking accounts, while businesses have had to deal with hackers trying to defraud them and infiltrating their classified records. Some governments now feel exposed to security threats as their intelligence networks have been maliciously penetrated by enemy forces. Nevertheless, the benefits of using malware for cyber warfare cannot be underestimated. To start with, there has been widespread growth of companies creating programs to counter malware thus promoting economic growth in the information technology sector.  Such anti-virus programs include Kaspersky, Avast and BitDefender, among others. When it comes to cyber warfare, some nations have managed to design malware targeted to specific networks that are of interest to them.

Research portrays that there’s an estimated one billion individuals online everyday with more than one hundred billion messages being sent each day.  This clearly shows that internet is the backbone of all cyber warfare, functioning as the platform.  Cyber warfare is characterized by a target bias towards businesses, military/security forces, airlines and power/energy grids, among others. Stuxnet and Flame are prominent examples of computer worms recently used.  The Stuxnet virus was discovered in June 2010 and is believed to be a product of the collaboration between the US and Israel governments.  The Virus was designed to attack Iran’s nuclear industries by spreading through Microsoft Windows and specifically targeting Siemens Industrial software and equipment. Flame can be described as one of the most vicious computer virus in history to the extent that some of the world’s renowned malware experts declare that the nature of Flame can only be pointed back to a nation-state project, as the source ;( R. Jennings, 2012).

The complexity and advancement of the technology present in today’s malware programs is proof enough that programmers are not about to quit battling it out in the field of technology. Research portrays that nations are more aware of the cyberspace situation today than they were a decade or so ago. As each member tries to pursue their interests in terms of defence and planned attacks, a lot of growth is expected within the malware industry.  For instance, the use of Stuxnet by US to interfere with Iranian industrial systems was geared towards stopping targets from going through with its Uranium Enrichment program; (J. Vijayan, 2013).

 On another front, the news of such cyber attacks have given way to a situation where even untargeted countries are now gearing up in readiness of similar attacks.  It is interesting to note that for a long time, the USA has been pointed out to be notorious in its use of cyber warfare to acquire intelligence information on other countries whose activities are considered to be of interest to her. Such an attribute may have stirred other countries activity in cyber warfare in a move to engage the US. For example, China is now highly suspected by the US government as the force behind the recent cyber attacks on the US government, military and corporate networks. The report by Pentagon accused China of involving itself in cyber espionage to steal data that could be utilized in the upgrading of its defence and high technology sectors.  As a result, many nations seeking to increase their electronic warfare capability and hence create a name for them will, undoubtedly, continue advancing in their cyber attack missions (Austin, 2009). This way use of malware is almost definite in such undertakings.

Research portrays that many countries keeps on joining cyberspace wars for various reasons. Some do this out of curiosity in order to gauge themselves against world’s technological giants, and see if they have the ability to hack a given country’s security systems. Governments now take the use of cyberspace seriously enough to draw up policies regarding their stand and code of operations in cyber warfare.  For example, President Barack Obama released an internal decree on cyber warfare, stipulating the US formula for executing both defensive and offensive digital manoeuvres through its intelligence and military. The order puts it that The United States has an abiding concentration in developing and maintaining the use of cyberspace as an integral part of the U.S. (Greenwald and MacAskill, 2013). With such a predisposition national security and communication experts feel that there might be an increase in the number of countries issuing similar directives, which would the turn the cyber warfare phenomena into a full-scale military rivalry (Greenwald and  MacAskill, 2013).  As a result the use of complex malware like the Flame Virus can only escalate in future.

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