What is Cyberwarfare, Cyberterrorism, and Cyberespionage?


This cyber attack poses a threat to real life. These are different from each other and how they might affect people.

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While most cybercrimes are committed with financial gain as the goal, cyberwarfare, cyber-terrorism, and cyber-espionage when used for the first two crimes can have more damage. The latter can include thousands of lives lost, injuries to people, and disruption of society’s ability to maintain order.

To help you understand each of these threats and learn how they might affect people’s lives, let’s define each one.

What is Cyberwarfare?

There is still no clear criteria or standard definition that can define the act of cyber warfare. Although according to a paper by national security experts at the US Congressional Research Service (CRS) , there are elements that constitute cyber warfare.

A cyberattack can be considered an act of war if it is “an act between states equivalent to an armed attack or the use of force in cyberspace that can trigger a military response with the use of proportional kinetic force.”

Simply put, this is a war that has migrated to cyberspace. What sets it apart from all other forms of cyber attack is that it is an organized effort by the nation-state against another foreign nation. Therefore, the plan is well planned and well funded.

The goal is the same as a war launched using conventional military force. It has the greatest potential impact on computer systems, the internet and people’s lives.

As nations and their peoples increasingly rely on computers for their daily activities, all-out attacks by nation-states against one another can have catastrophic effects. Attacks can cripple critical digital infrastructure, but can also include other attacks such as triggering destruction at a nuclear power plant or opening a dam.

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What is Stuxnet?

What many consider a prime example of a cyberwar attack is Stuxnet’s campaign against Iran’s nuclear operation.

Regarded as the world’s first digital weapon, Stuxnet is a computer worm designed to target Iran’s nuclear facilities. It was first discovered in 2010, though it had been wreaking havoc quietly at the facility for a year prior to its discovery.

What makes Stuxnet so evil and unique is that it was the first known virus to cripple hardware. This reportedly destroyed 1,000 centrifuges at the nuclear facility by causing them to spin faster until they caught fire.

Once inside the system, the worm spreads through Microsoft Windows computers. It then searches infected PCs for Siemens Step 7, the software used to automate and monitor the facility’s equipment. It changes the instructions sent to the equipment while sending false feedback reports to the main controller.

Therefore, the staff monitoring the equipment didn’t realize what was happening until the equipment started to break down and self-destruct. The worm managed to damage more equipment over the years before it was discovered.

Many believe that the campaign is the work of the US and Israeli governments in an attempt to thwart Iran’s nuclear threat, although both countries dispute the claim.

What is Cyberterrorism?

Cyberterrorism is basically terrorism that uses computer technology. It is carried out by organized groups or actors which may or may not be state sponsored. The words “ crime ” and “ terrorism ” may seem interchangeable but they are not the same thing.

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The motivation for cybercrime is often personal, while cyberterrorism is often political. A cybercriminal will launch an attack for financial gain, or in certain cases, to cause psychological or physical harm to the target person.

What is cyberwarfare=”On the other side” according to the CRS paper, cyber terrorism is “the premeditated use of disruptive activity, or threat thereof, of computers and/or networks, with the intent to cause further harm to social, ideological, religious, political or similar purposes, or intimidate anyone to advance the cause.”

Cyberterrorism is often politically motivated and intended to cause mass disturbance. This type of attack aims to demoralize civilians either by destroying property or causing mass casualties. Attacks are designed to arouse fear and attract national or international attention, and to pressure a government or population into conforming to a particular political, social or ideological agenda.

According to a special report by the United States Institute of Peace, there is no record of cyberterrorist attacks yet but there is a potential threat and it is worrying.

A cyberterrorist, for example, can disable emergency services after a biological attack, contaminate water systems, damage power lines, or shut down transportation systems.

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Cyberespionage is a type of cyber attack that involves infiltrating systems or databases to steal confidential or proprietary information used by government or private organizations. People who perform this type of surgery are called cyberspies.

The goal is to gain a competitive, financial, security, and even political advantage over rivals. Cyberspies can target government networks or private companies. Attacks like this are carefully planned as they need to identify the target in advance, study their strategy, and figure out which information they need to steal.

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They may steal intellectual property to sabotage business operations or target confidential government information to gain a tactical advantage over other countries.

While some cyber-espionage operations are launched to gain access to military secrets while preparing for cyberwarfare, not all cyber-espionage campaigns are aimed at military gain.

Cyberespionage can also be launched by private organizations against competing companies to sabotage their operations.

Shady Rat Operation

One of the largest cyber espionage operations was a campaign that harmed as many as 72 companies and organizations in 16 countries. Operation Shady rat was first reported by McAfee in 2011.

The malicious campaign was carried out by an organized group that stole national secrets, business plans, along with other classified information. Among those stolen were archived emails, government secrets, negotiating plans for business deals, legal contracts and designs.

According to reports, the majority of victims were US companies, government agencies, and even small non-profit organizations. Other organizations on the list include those in Taiwan, South Korea, Vietnam, Canada, Japan, Switzerland, UK, Indonesia, Denmark, Singapore, Hong Kong, Germany and India.

The high-profile victims named in the McAfee report are the International Olympic Committee, the World Anti-Doping Agency, the United Nations, and the Association of Southeast Asian Nations or ASEAN.

Threats to the Real World


Cyber ​​warfare, cyber terrorism, and cyber espionage are real-world threats that can affect people’s lives IRL not only in movies. This can have dire consequences if cyber actors get their hands on critical infrastructure or their digital weapons.

Most of these attacks start with phishing emails or malicious attachments targeting individuals.