While no universally accepted definition of cyberwarfare exists, some definitions state that a cyberwar involves one nation-state performing cyberattacks against another; however, third-party actors can perform attacks on a nation’s behalf. Other definitions focus on the impact of the attacks, stating that cyberwarfare causes significant harm, potentially up to the point of death.
While the definition of what constitutes an act of cyberwarfare is murky, some incidents have occurred where cyberattacks were used to advance a nation-state’s goals during a period of conventional warfare. For example, during the 2022 Russian invasion of Ukraine, wiper malware was deployed on Ukrainian systems to cause disruption and hinder the country’s efforts to defend itself.
Cyberwarfare is intended to achieve the same goals as traditional warfare through different means. According to the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA), part of the US Government’s Department of Homeland Security (DHS), the objective of cyberwarfare is to “weaken, disrupt or destroy” the target nation-state.
In traditional warfare, an attacker commonly attempts to disrupt a nation-state’s operations, collect intelligence about its plans, and use propaganda to sway public opinion and damage morale. Cyberwar may also include disruption of civilian institutions (banks, stores, transportation, etc.) to cause confusion and distract attention and resources away from the war effort.
While these goals can be achieved using human personnel and military ordnance, an attacker can also use cyberattacks and cyberespionage to achieve the same goals. For example, cyberespionage is often more effective than traditional espionage due to increased reliance on computer systems.
Various types of cyberattacks can be used to achieve the goals of cyberwarfare. Examples include:
Cyberwarfare uses many of the same attacks and techniques as traditional cyberattacks; however, the resources available to nation-states may make them capable of performing more numerous, sophisticated, and long-lived attacks. Protecting against cyberwarfare requires deploying many of the same cybersecurity defenses needed to defend against traditional cyberattacks, including:
As demonstrated by conflicts between Ukraine and Russia, the use of cyberattacks for warfare is increasingly common. Organizations need to be prepared to defend themselves against attacks designed to cause damage and disruption during wartime.
Check Point’s 2022 Cyber Security Report provides descriptions of the cyberattack tactics in common use today and most likely to be employed during cyberwarfare. After learning about the threats, take Check Point’s free Security Checkup to identify vulnerabilities in your organization’s cybersecurity defenses that may be exploited by an attacker.