CyberWar: What if…?


By William B. Scott

Warfighting has moved well beyond the realms of land, sea and air, and is now being waged daily in cyberspace. Over the past few decades, military units engaged primarily in computer network defense (CND) have focused on keeping low-level hackers and nation-state bad actors from penetrating critical U.S. systems. Cyber-warriors now cautiously launch limited computer network attacks (CNA), because leaders are concerned about the unintended consequences of offensive cyber operations. For example, what if a cyber attack on a sophisticated hacker cell in North Korea went astray and seriously disrupted or destroyed an ally’s banking system?

Today, U.S. cyberwar methods and capabilities are highly classified, but one can extrapolate from what is known and make some educated guesses. We know that cyber attacks on Iran’s nuclear facilities seriously damaged dozens of centrifuges. Sources imply—but never confirm—that adversaries’ electrical power grids and oil or natural gas pipelines have been disrupted by “cyber” means. Undoubtedly, other cyberwar engagements have been undertaken with results known only to those holding high-level clearances.

If we look farther into the future, what breakthrough technologies might be used to wage cyberwar? As an old fiction-writer, I ask: What if a number of notional weapon systems evolve from high giggle-factor ideas to real-world capabilities? Could the targets of “cyberwar” gravitate from silicon chips and software to synapses, dendrites and other biological systems? These might include:


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