Watch CBSN Live

Column: Cyberwarfare Could Cripple The US

This story was written by Alyson Murphy, The Daily Athenaeum

The recent conflict between Georgia and Russia is exemplary of many international conflicts two sides spouting nationalism while using excessive military force.

In self-absorbed America, the conflict is just another in a stream of civilian deaths, environmental damage and military muscle flexing oceans away, but one particularity of the conflict attests to a critical American vulnerability our dependence on the Internet in a world capable of cyber warfare.

Georgias servers were attacked almost two months prior to the physical conflict.

Georgia is less Web-reliant than other countries, so the attack mainly buckled its ability to communicate with its people and others.

The Georgian Foreign Ministrys Web site was completely disabled except for a collage that compared Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili to Adolf Hitler.

Russia denies involvement in the attack on Georgias Web servers and states that its official Web sites were also similarly attacked.

Web-reliant countries, such as the United States, can be crippled by cyber warfare cheaply and anonymously.

All it takes are computers and skilled hackers to launch what is called a denial of service (DOS) attack, which sends repeated requests to a Web sites server, until the server overloads under the duress.

Bill Woodcock, the research director of the Packet Clearing House, a nonprofit organization that tracks Internet traffic, said in an article on The New York Times Web site, Cyber attacks are so inexpensive and easy to mount, with few fingerprints, they will almost certainly remain a feature of modern warfare You could fund an entire cyber warfare campaign for the cost of replacing a tank tread, so you would be foolish not to.

The glory found in the Internet is its ability to disperse massive information in a maze of different service providers.

This is key in cyber warfare, as the maze of traveling information makes it very difficult to pinpoint where the attack is coming from, who is behind it and how to stop its perpetrators.

Since I have most likely already lost half my readers in talking about international bloodshed, I will regain your self-centered attention by answering the one question What does this mean for the Web-dependant America?

Well, were in trouble.

In an article on the Washington Post Web site, Tom Burling, acting chief executive of Tulip Systems, Atlanta, Ga., Web-hosting firm that volunteered its Internet servers to protect the nation of Georgias Web sites, said, The U.S. is probably more Internet-dependent than any place in the world.

So much of what were doing (in the United States) is out there on the Internet, and all of that can be taken down at once.

The Department of Homeland Security recently implemented the National Cybersecurity Center to hasten response time and help fight cyber attacks.

According to the Washington Post article, Homeland Security spokesman William R. Knocke told CNN, When it comes to our government IT security, were pretty strong in protecting against [attacks]But I wouldnt say ... were 100 percent impenetrable.

All of our security systems, military and otherwise, have some component dependent on the Internet.

Our utilities are particularly susceptible.

Attackers could bring down servers responsible for water treatment plants, natural gas pipelines, national banks or security systems at nuclear power plants.

A not-so-ordinary example of our susceptibility to online hackers is British hacker Gary McKinnon, 42, who is facing charges in the United States after.

According to CNN, McKinnon hacked into than 90 computer systems belonging to the U.S. Army, Navy, Air Force, Department of Defense and NASA between February 2001 and March 2002, causing $900,000 worth of damage.

In his defense, McKinnon states that he was merely looking for proof that the U.S. was hiding evidence of the existence of aliens.

The Internet has undoubtedly broken the barriers between information, time and distance.

It has joined people from around the world to one another and allowed for news to travel instantaneously.

It is truly the information superhighway, but the vulnerabilities of such widespread information needs to be acknowledged.

On a tiny scale, students realize the repercussions of having hundreds of drink and drug-induced photographs bite them in the ass years later at job interviews.

We realize that sometimes our credit card information is not as safe as wed hope with the click of a button during online shopping.

We accept that our identities can be stolen, that we are easily traceable by our government and that the Internet maps our every interest, fantasy and economic decision.

We must also face that our strong militaristic nation has a great many enemies and that they can penetrate the anonymous world that many of us feel is a safe haven.

Our country depends on a system that could be cheaply infiltrated by an unknown assailant from anywhere in the world.

Our enemies may not need crushing tanks or guns as our weaknesses may lie in our reliance on a glorious, connecting and consuming technology.