Why the West is losing the cyber-war

The hack against Sony is the latest lost battle in the war in cyberspace. Emily Hohler reports.

It's time to calm down about the hack which resulted in Sony scrapping its "poorly reviewed" comedy about a plot to kill the North Korean leader, says Trevor Timm on guardian.co.uk.

Putting aside for a moment the fact that many security experts don't agree with the FBI's conclusion that the North Korean government is responsible, we shouldn't be calling them "cyber-terrorists", as the Motion Picture Association of America chairman Chris Dodd did on Friday.

They may be "sadistic pranksters", but "anonymously posting a juvenile and vague word jumble incorporating 9/11' that has no connection to reality does not make them terrorist masterminds".

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That may be why Obama has described the incident an episode of "cyber-vandalism" rather than an "act of war", says Rhys Blakely in The Times although the White House did say that it was formulating options for a "proportionate response".

The phrase "cyber-war" may sound "fantastical", says Fraser Nelson in The Daily Telegraph. "But the war is real, and the West is losing." This is just the most "spectacular" example of the kind of conflict that has been happening for years.

The Pentagon ranks cyberspace as the fourth field of military conflict after land, sea and sky. David Cameron's National Security Strategy ranks it as one of the four greatest threats, and MI5 now helps companies guard against "hostile state cyber-activity".

However, the West is at a distinct disadvantage in this "invisible war", says Nelson, because "we observe laws, while our opponents do not", and "diplomacy is impossible, because all of the attacks are deniable".

The Russians and Chinese can spend as much time as they want thinking up new ways to attack. Russia's cyber-warriors have been menacing countries for years. Computers in Georgia came under "sustained attack" prior to the South Ossetian conflict in 2008 and Estonia was targeted the year before. "Until we learn to fight this defeat will be the first of many."

It will, agrees Dominic Sandbrook in the Daily Mail. We tend to think of war as something that happens on foreign battlefields, but military experts warn that this view is "dangerously outmoded".

Richard Clarke, the former White House counter-terrorism chief, pointed out in 2010 that the Russians, Chinese and North Koreans had already recruited "legions of hackers".

An all-out cyber-attack could bring Western society "to its knees within 15 minutes" given our dependence on internet-connected electronic systems to run everything from nuclear power stations to hospitals (unlike North Korea which has a population of 25 million and a total of 1,024 IP addresses). We are too complacent. There is a "dimension to this story that should frighten every man, woman and child in the Western world".

Emily Hohler

Emily has extensive experience in the world of journalism. She has worked on MoneyWeek for more than 20 years as a former assistant editor and writer. Emily has previously worked on titles including The Times as a Deputy Features Editor, Commissioning Editor at The Independent Sunday Review, The Daily Telegraph, and she spent three years at women's lifestyle magazine Marie Claire as a features writer for three years, early on in her career. 

On MoneyWeek, Emily’s coverage includes Brexit and global markets such as Russia and China. Aside from her writing, Emily is a Nutritional Therapist and she runs her own business called Root Branch Nutrition in Oxfordshire, where she offers consultations and workshops on nutrition and health.