New report: The line between cybercrime and cyberwar is blurred

Published 29 November 2009

New McAffee cybersecurity report: “International cyber conflict has reached the tipping point where it is no longer just a theory, but a significant threat that nations are already wrestling with behind closed doors. The impact of a cyberwar is almost certain to extend far beyond military networks and touch the globally connected information and communications technology infrastructure upon which so many facets of modern society rely”

Organized Internet-based crime has reached such intensity and scale that the distinction between cybercrime and cyberwar is being blurred, security giant McAfee said in its annual Virtual Criminology Report. McAfee Inc., based in Santa Clara, Calif., is the world’s largest dedicated security technology company. UPI reports that the report’s findings come less than a month after the United States ran a nationwide campaign to raise awareness of cybercrime risks among individuals and businesses.

Is the age of cyberwar at hand?” McAfee asked in the report, citing evidence that countries hostile to industrial democracies are involved in some of the more serious and sustained cybercrime. In response, McAfee said, “nation-states are arming themselves for the cyberspace battlefield.”

The number of reports of cyberattacks and network infiltrations that appear to be linked to nation-states and political goals continues to increase, McAfee said. “There is active debate as to when a cyberattack reaches the threshold of damage and disruption to warrant being categorized as cyberwarfare,” said the report. “With critical infrastructure as likely targets of cyberattacks, and private company ownership of many of the information systems in these sectors, private companies will likely be caught in the crossfire,” the report warned.

McAfee CEO Dave DeWalt said, “Experts disagree about the use of the term ‘cyberwar,’ and our goal at McAfee is not to create hype or stoke unwarranted fear. But our research has shown that while there may be debate over the definition of cyberwar, there is little disagreement that there are increasing numbers of cyberattacks that more closely resemble political conflict than crime.

We have also seen evidence that nations around the world are ramping up their capabilities in cyberspace, in what some have referred to as a cyber arms race. If cyberspace becomes the next battleground, what are the implications for the global economy and vital citizen services that rely upon the information infrastructure?” DeWalt asked. “What should those of us outside the military do to prepare for the next wave of cyberattacks?”

McAfee believes the private sector at large needs to prepare for cyberattacks, and “those businesses that can weather the storm better than their competitors could be in a position to gain considerable market