The Redefinition of War
Take one minute. Take one minute to define war. Seriously, take 60 seconds and come up with a one sentence definition for the word war.
What is your definition? Did you say something like, when two opposing forces combat each other, resulting in loss of life? What about, when one country or a group of countries declare to physically combat each other? How about something along the lines of when one group engages in active hostility against another?
A millennium ago it was likely easier to define war. One pictures a group of soldiers on horse mount with swords, meeting head-to-head on an open battlefield. Perhaps they could distance themselves with arrows, but regardless, war was up close and personal. Let’s fast-forward to the early twentieth century. With bullets and planes you could now attack further away, but you were still on the same physical ‘battlefield.’ Now let’s look back fifty years ago. You now had missiles and rockets, which could be launched thousands of miles away, but still “war” was waged in some physical area.
Merriam-Webster’s dictionary defines war as “a state of hostility, conflict, or antagonism.” Pretty thorough, this definition encompasses everything from nation-states openly declaring armed combat to terrorist groups causing destruction. Today something new is happening. For the first time in history, the traditional concept of a battlefield has been completely rewritten. Conflicts, battles, and even war, are not fought simply on a physical piece of land. This time is different.
A war is being fought around you constantly, perhaps inside your own pocket. Humor me for a second and pull out your phone. I’m guessing more than 98% of you had your phone within two feet. Hackers, nations, governments, terrorist cells, and countless other groups are fighting in the digital world constantly. That war might be passing through the phone in your hand right this second. Hacks have the power to release millions of social security numbers. Viruses can dangerously manipulate data from stock markets, damaging global economies. Outages can bring down hospital systems, bringing life-saving care to a standstill. Nothing is safe from the cyberwar. The time left to prepare is zero. The time to fight was yesterday. Nothing is safe from the cyberwar.
“We care about your data.” “Protecting you is our first priority.” “It is of the utmost importance that we at Insert any company name here protects your data and your privacy.”
It is likely that in the last couple of weeks you have been bombarded with emails and messages very similar to those statements above. By now, you probably know that these messages were entering your inbox by the masses due to GDPR taking effect. For those not up to speed, GDPR is the General Data Protection Regulation implemented by the European Union that went into effect last week. Simply, this is a new law that requires websites that have a certain impact on the European Union’s citizens -- this is the Internet so this means basically almost every website -- to take specific measures to ensure that people's’ data, collected by the websites, is protected and made accessible by those whose data is being collected. The thought behind these laws is not just to control what specific companies can do with people’s data, it is also to make sure that the data is not taken and used maliciously by cyber-criminals (or hostile governments). Whether you agree with the specifics of GDPR or not, this is likely the beginning of several laws that will be rolled-out in coming years to try and control what happens with individual people’s data. It is not just what Facebook, Google, or Amazon could do with your data, it is also about what could happen if hackers or other cyber-criminals got their hands on the treasure troves of data that these companies collect.
In 2015, cyber crime caused damages of approximately $3 trillion dollars. By 2021, that number is expected to be $6 trillion. Ginni Rometty, President and CEO of IBM, says that “Cyber crime is the greatest threat to every company in the world.” What is increasingly clear though is that the threat isn’t just to companies. It is to every human being.
What defines war? What is today’s most imminent threat? Is it the fire that is exchanged on a battlefield? Is it a missile that launches that decimate a city? Is it a hacker causing millions of people’s hearts to immediately stop when they hack a pacemaker’s main database? The truth is, many believe cybersecurity to be the most imminent threat to lives all around the world. Unfortunately, things are just getting started. The war has just begun.