Susan Crawford has some very interesting thoughts in a recent blog post about how certain agencies seem to be lobbying for increased funding to “cyber war capabilities” and increased Internet control by feeding the mainstream media with news. FTA:
[…] the agencies that are most interested in forwarding cyberattack abilities, surveillance, guaranteed back doors for encrypted communications, and all the other trappings of a “more authenticated Internet” have an interest in portraying their vision of the future Internet as inevitable. Part of that campaign would logically be to get the story into the mainstream media.[…]
I guess it would make sense to try to wedge the public opinion in your favor, or at least to plant the idea that there are such a threat as “cyber war” if you wanted increased control over the Internet. Personally i feel that the notion of a “cyber war” is a bit far fetched, since an eventual conflict in cyberspace would be nothing like the wars we’re used to.
Warfare just doesn’t translate into cyberspace, since the covertness of the Internet effectively (often) prevents people from identifying the actors. It’s much easier (though not easy) to identify actors in a regular war, since the physical presence is much harder to hide than that of a digital one. For example, you would notice if you had 1000 soldiers standing outside your door right now, but probably not if you had 1000 hackers on your router covertly controlling your box.
The other way around; cyber threats doesn’t necessarily translate into real-world threats. It can be difficult to inflict real-life damage from a cyber perspective.
I’d say that “Cyber wars” has more in common with espionage and terror. The threat can be hard to assess, it moves over covert lines and often hits unexpected places. This also makes the cyber threat more difficult to defend against, just like the above.