4 June 2012, 16:42

Viruses and drones: blurring the line between virtual war and reality

Viruses and drones: blurring the line between virtual war and reality

On Wednesday Iranian authorities announced that the country had been attacked. Even though the “attack” was in the form of a computer virus, it may still be considered an act of war.

Golamrez Djalili, head of the Iranian Civil Defense Forces, said that the “Flame” virus that was detected and deleted from computers was the one that antiviral software company Kaspersky Lab had reported about a few days earlier. One of the leaders of the firm, Alexander Gostev, wrote in his blog that it was “a large and extremely complex virus” that required a rethink of what “cyber war” and “cyber-espionage” really mean.

Judging by the statements of analysts, the program is aimed at stealing information from public administration computer systems. However, the recent story with Stuxnet and Duqu viruses is still fresh in our minds. The Stuxnet virus has complicated the implementation of Iran's nuclear program. In particular, with its help it became possible to suspend the work of uranium enrichment equipment in 2010. Duqu was used to penetrate the major Iranian computer networks.

“The assessment of information about computer attacks should be treated with utmost responsibility, because if it turns out that there is a certain state behind such an attack, it practically does not differ from the beginning of military operations with the use of conventional weapons,” Gennady Evstafiev, retired Lieutenant-General of the Foreign Intelligence Service commented on the hypothesis about the US or Israel’s involvement in the development of the Stuxnet virus.

At the same time, experts from Kaspersky Lab, as well as their counterparts in Hungarian company CrySys and the Irish company Symantec, engaged in studying Flame believe that only institutions under the patronage of state bodies can create such a complex espionage program.

The New York Times also confirms the belief. The newspaper reported on Friday that already in the beginning of his term of office, US President Barack Obama had given the order to infect the computer systems of Iran’s nuclear facilities with a virus in order to prevent Iran from developing its nuclear technology.

Cyber warfare is easily associated with self-igniting computers, power supply systems becoming paralyzed, or chemical plants exploding. However, according to the Washington Post, US military officials reassure that cyber weapons are going to be used primarily as the fire support of conventional attacks in order to blind the enemy before an air strike, or paralyze the enemy’s communications during a battle.

Yet cyber weapons, unlike any other means of attack, are operated from an office and their deployment does not require crossing the boundaries of another state. Borders become virtual; and this virtual world crushes the reality.

The same concerns apply to the use of shock unmanned aerial vehicles – drones.

This week sensational information appeared that the US president himself approved of the “execution lists” of terrorists, i.e. targets for drones in Pakistan, Yemen, and Somalia. “No one occupying this post should be granted possibilities to order the murder of an American citizen or of an alien away from the battle field at his sole discretion (...) without the consent of those who do not belong to his inner political circle,” the editorial of the New York Times reads.

From the fundamental human rights point of view – especially the right to life – the struggle against terrorism becomes a very ungrateful mission for the US, and its inevitable expenses easily outweigh any report of the US Department of State on human rights in other countries.

Meanwhile, there is another aspect: by virtue of the fact they are flying through foreign airspace, drones deliberately violate the territorial integrity of states. Borders mean nothing for a drone operator, who sits at a command post on US territory. And this enrages, for example, Pakistani authorities, who understand that their international authority comes to naught if Islamabad is not able to ensure its sovereignty. The same can be said about at least six states, where drones were used, or more precisely put – where their use is known for certain.

Unfortunately Pakistan is yet another example of the fact that regarding modern warfare, boundaries become virtual – even in the time of peace. The operation that eliminated Bin Laden excelled any Hollywood blockbuster in ingenuity, and it was absolutely clear that the Navy SEALs had hardly applied for visas in order to fly to Abbottabad. The question is that combat operations of special units, which are playing an important role not only in the fight against terrorism, but also in other spheres of security, are obviously threatening the sovereignty of the countries where they are conducted.

Another sensation of last week was the news of US special mission units visiting North Korea in order to search for underground tunnels leading to the territory of South Korea. The Pentagon immediately denied this information: unlike the African “abortive states”, the DPRK always keeps its powder dry.

Drones that are as free as birds; computer viruses that do not recognize state borders; special forces that step over them as if it were a crack on the pavement – all this resembles globalization, except this time in the military sphere. It is a form of globalization that does not recognize borders – neither physical, nor political or moral.

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