7.3.4.3 Sabotage and Cyber-attacks

(This is a current page, from the Patterns of Power Edition 3 book contents.  An archived copy of this page is held at https://www.patternsofpower.org/edition03/7343.htm)

Sabotage in the past might have taken the form of destroying key elements of the country’s infrastructure, for example by blowing up a bridge.  Unless the attacker is caught, it is difficult to be sure which country was responsible.

Nowadays sabotage can take the form of cyber-attacks.  A Guardian article in 2017, Fake news and botnets: how Russia weaponised the web, reported that:

“The digital attack that brought Estonia to a standstill 10 years ago was the first shot in a cyberwar that has been raging between Moscow and the west ever since.”

The attack was a Russian retaliation against Estonia’s removal of a Soviet statue.  “Vast “botnets” – networks of captured and linked computers – were attempting to bring down computer systems with automated queries as part of a large DDoS (distributed denial-of-service) attack” which reached 4 million data packets a second at the peak, and “paralysed parliament, shut down banks, and fuelled violence in the streets” before the government was forced to sever the country’s ties to the Internet.

It is difficult to prove who has carried out a cyber-attack, although there is strong evidence that the attack on Estonia came from Russia.  Attacks can be carried out by malicious individuals, terror networks or government agencies.  The target country has no recourse in law because cyber-attacks can be carried out from a remote location and extradition would not be granted.

Defence against cyber-attacks is costly.  A Statista.com report, Proposed budget of the U.S. government for cyber security in FY 2017 to 2020, quoted a predicted spend of $17.43bn for “securing the government, enhancing the security of critical infrastructure and important technologies”.

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