Monday, December 22, 2014

Why cyber warfare is so attractive to small nations

Enabled by Internet connectivity, cyber war provides more bang for the buck than investment in conventional weapons.

Last week news broke that North Korea, which is believed to be responsible for a massive cyber attack against Sony SNE 0.97% , may have as many as 1,800 cyber warriors. That may seem like a large figure for the nation of 24.9 million people, especially considering that Pyongyang isn’t exactly known for its centers of higher learning. Yet many small nation-states—even those that are in regions that lack universities with notable computer science programs—are finding that cyber war provides more bang for the buck than investment in conventional weapons.

“Cyber warfare is a great alternative to conventional weapons,” says Amy Chang, a research associate in the technology and national security program at the Center for a New American Security. “It is cheaper for and far more accessible to these small nation-states. It allows these countries to pull off attacks without as much risk of getting caught and without the repercussions when they are [caught].”

There are many reasons why a nation-state or non-nation entity would pursue a cyber war program, and today many countries large and small invest in cyber warfare. According to recent intelligence studies more than 140 countries have some level of cyber weapon development programs. In 2012 the U.S. Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, the research arm of the Pentagon, invested $110 million in Plan X, a “foundational cyber warfare program” that aims to harness computing power to wage war more effectively. The program was only one part of DARPA’s reported $1.54 billion cyber budget for 2013 to 2017.

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