Simply put, cyber warfare is the use of hacking to conduct attacks on a target’s strategic or tactical resources for the purposes of sabotage. Nation/State-sponsored hackers attack computers and networks that are involved with sensitive resources within a country (Quora, 2013). They do this like you would hack any other computer or system: you learn as much as you can about the system, you figure out its flaws, and you exploit those flaws to either gain control of that system or destroy it.
You could learn how fast a missile flies and build a plane that can outrun it. You could learn where your target is moving troops and set up an ambush. You could learn about which scientists are important to developing those weapons, or which congressmen were instrumental in getting funding for said systems and personally attack them.
You can also sabotage people if you have control of those systems. What if I snuck a secret program into the source code of that missile that would allow me to remotely detonate it while it was on the ground? What if I could figure how the troops are communicating and gain access to their network so I could confuse them and sneak forces in to destroy them?
I think cyber warfare is scary for two reasons:
- Strategic cyber warfare does not distinguish between civilians and military: Just like nuclear weapons in the cold war, cuber weapons are just likely to be targeting civilian resources as they are military ones. While a nuke is obviously way more damaging than a piece of malware is alone, a cyberattack can cause civilian casualties and death.
- It’s really hard to figure out who launched cyberattacks, and as such, governments don’t have to be held accountable for their actions.
Quora. 2013. Forbes. How Does Cyber Warfare Work?. Available from: http://www.forbes.com/sites/quora/2013/07/18/how-does-cyber-warfare-work/#47ff57d133c3 [Accessed: 16 October 2016]