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Cyberwar, new field of combat

THERE is a new unseen war that is now going on in the world, involving forces organized by Russia, China, North Korea, and the United States. Where there used to be combat on land and sea, in the air, and in outer space, the new operational domain is cyberspace, according to a US Army Cyber Command spokesman.

As early as 2015, the US Office of Personnel Management announced that it had been the target of a data breach, exposing the records of 18 million federal employees, in the assessment of the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI).

The US military is now reportedly organizing 133 teams for its “cyber mission force” by 2018, 27 of them to support artillery and aircraft combat missions. They are up against China’s own “specialized military network forces,” North Korea’s “Bureau 121” hackers, as well as hacktivists of Anonymous and other private enterprises.

According to one report, the Spratly collection of hundreds of islands and reefs in the South China Sea has become a center of a new cyber Cold War, with cyber attacks not only on American military drones but also on government websites in the Philippines and Vietnam.

It is against this background that the US is now investigating the reported cyber attacks on the recent US presidential election allegedly by Russians. A secret assessment by the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) reportedly found that Russia interfered in the election, hacking emails of the Democratic National Committee and Hillary Clinton’ campaign chief, among others. One US official was quoted as saying, “It is the assessment of the intelligence community that Russia’s goal here was to favor one candidate over the other, to help Trump get elected.

That’s the consensus view.”

As may be expected, President-elect Donald Trump’s transition team has rejected the report. Any confirmation that the Russians had hacked the US election processes would indeed taint Trump’s election. In an interview, Trump said he thinks the intelligence was politicized. Worried that Trump would simply sweep the issue under the rug upon his inauguration on January 20, 2017, Democrats in Congress have asked President Barack Obama for a classified briefing.

This is truly a critical time for the US government. Cyberwar has long been acknowledged as a fact. An effort by some enemy nation to use it to mess up with the US elections was almost to be expected. It is unfortunate that the net effect of all this is a taint on Trump’s triumph.

It is not expected to overturn the election results but the new American president – and all others who will follow him in the coming years – will have to live with this fact of cyberwar. Certain unfriendly nations, unable to do harm in the usual conventional manner, will be out to do harm in this new field of difficult to detect and extremely difficult to trace cyberwar.