Per the EU Cyber Security Strategy, cyber-security commonly refers to the safeguards and actions that can be used to protect the cyber domain, both in the civilian and military fields. Cyber-security strives to preserve the availability and integrity of the networks and infrastructure and the confidentiality of the information contained therein. Cyber-security should be applied to government and public assets, corporate and business networks and communications as well as the individual users of the Internet

Acts of cybercrime or cyber-attacks can be particularly debilitating when successfully carried out against strategic government institutions and systems, electoral processes and the political and social fabric, including public perceptions, in countries with functioning parliamentary democracy, rule of law and human rights standards. In the past 5 years over a dozen EU and NATO member-states, including the U.S., have come on record to reveal, “with a high degree of certainty”, the origin of state-sponsored cyber-attacks undertaken against them.

Cyber warfare, when undertaken, would be a qualitatively different, much graver, challenge to international peace and stability, reflecting the changing character of modern conflict and the military-technological drivers of this change. Missions in cyberspace will be an integral part of military operations and these missions are expected to be executed with practically no warning time, making it difficult to attribute attacks, the cumulative effect of which leads to blurring the distinction between peace and conflict. Cyberspace is becoming “a crucial and contested war-fighting domain in its own right”, per the London-based International Institute for Strategic Studies (IISS). From this point of view, cyberspace acquires the significance of the “traditional” contested war-fighting domains – land, air, the seas, and outer space. 

The character of modern warfare is changing fast and in profound ways, influenced by developments in the fields of artificial intelligence, directed-energy weapons and other innovations, which require exceptionally quick decision-making – in some cases striving for direct “data to decision” solutions.

How to deter the actions of others in cyberspace, and indeed whether it is possible to do so, is a question of increasing importance for defence and security policymakers. The issue has become more pressing because of increasing awareness of the vulnerabilities, as well as the benefits, that stem from the degree to which information and communications technologies have become integral to all aspects of modern existence.

Cyber-attacks can come from individuals, legitimate organisations, terrorists’ organisations and governments and the targets and the damage vary from disruption of services of operations of an organisation to economic damage to great damage that takes lives in the case of an attack on the grid system or worse on nuclear plant. In the 8th of December, the Head of MI6 stated the threat from cyber-attacks by Russia are equal to threats from the Islamic state.

It is predicted that in 2017 and the following years that state and state-sponsored actors will turn increasingly to cybercrime to advance their national interests. The main question this year is how far countries can go in exploiting each other’s cyber-security vulnerabilities.