Posts Tagged ‘WarGames’

Cyber WarGames

March 15, 2011 Leave a comment

Every computer hobbiest of a certain age remembers fondly the second-greatest film of 1983: WarGames. Matthew Broderick, at the time a mere 21 years of age, unknowingly discovers a back door into NORAD’s computer systems and, having been invited for a quick game of Global Thermonuclear War, almost triggers World War III. Star Wars VI may have made more money, but WarGames had a much deeper impact in certain areas of society.

In the last few years, the concept of ‘cyber warfare’ has taken on a newer meaning. With Stuxnet apparently targetted at industrial control equipment,  and funded at least partially with Government money, it has turned from a hacker’s hobby into big business.

The term ‘cyberwar’ is an ambiguous one, as admitted by the former US Secretary for Homeland Security, Michael Chertoff, and former director of the National Security Agency Mike McConnell:

“When it comes to defining cyberwar, Chertoff and McConnell say espionage and information theft don’t qualify, but destruction of data or systems do. Designating the latter as an act of war, however, would still depend on the scale and genesis of the attack.”

The definition of ‘attack’ in the first place is also ambiguous, in my view. The release of the Wikileaks cables could have been seen as an ‘attack’, or simply a misunderstanding of the difference between ‘freedom of information’ and ‘protection of the state’.

Governments cannnot handle these threats on their own; although they are powerful, they don’t necessarily have the reach to get enough people interested. As a result, third parties are stepping forward.

“‘We need the help of [the IT] industry because cyber security is a team sport that brings together government, industry and international allies,’ General Keith Alexander, commander of US Cyber Command told RSA Conference 2011.”

One element that may help are the various Cyber Security Challenges being set up around the world. The US Cyber Challenge freely admits that they are looking for 10,000 talented individuals to help both the Government and US businesses with the challenges ahead, whilst the UK Cyber Security Challenge is more focused on driving interested parties towards IT security career paths.

I was recently honoured to be invited to attend the ceremony for the first UK awards, and in the process met a number of very interesting individuals. Some worked within certain Government agencies or in security roles for large corporations, whilst others were students finishing off their degrees with no particular career path planned.

Over 4,000 people applied when the UK challenge launched in 2010, and hopefully more will apply this year. Baroness Neville-Jones announced during the awards that the Government has already pledged £180,000 to part-fund the 2011 competition, due to open for registration on the 28th March. I’ll be applying, with the aim of being more than just a spectator next year.

In WarGames, WOPR concluded that “the only way to win is not to play”. News just in: it’s already playtime!