Cyberwarfare is likely to continue to grow as a threat to the political and economic sovereignty of nations, despite the best efforts of industry and defenders to protect national assets.
This was the consensus of a panel of experts at RSA Europe 2007. However, there is widespread disagreement on the definition, even though all agree it means the use of computers and networks to steal, disrupt or otherwise alienate the resources of another country.
An analysis of the attacks against Estonia in April and May this year suggested that it was a unqiue event, but that there would be more, and that the threats would be different, said Mikhel Tammet, director of the communications and IT department at the Estonian Ministry of Defence.
"The attack was part of a political campaign and also designed to test our capabilities. The next one will be different," he said.
He said the attack revealed a high security risk because it targeted critical national infrastructures such as government websites, news sources and Estonian banks. "There is very little cash in Estonia," he said, noting that about 75% of Estonians banked at just two banks. Both suffered DDos attacks that disrupted commerce for several days.
"It is hard to predict where or how such attacks will escalate, but we expect it," he said. The solution was more co-operation between government and industry players such as internet service providers. Tammet said Estonia is working on a memorandum of understanding that will spell out how this will work in practice. He expects it to come into force next year.
"In an attack things happen so fast that we need to pass some of the decision-making to the industry to help defend," he said.
The United States is to contribute a top Navy cyber defence expert to the Nato Centre of Excellence on Cooperative Cyber Defence that Estomia has formed with Germany and Spain. The centre aims to enhance Nato's cyber defence capability and to serve as an essential source for providing Nato with expertise on cyber defence.
Welcoming the move, Estonian defence minister Jaak Aaviksoo said, "The support of the USA is not only proof of the strong alliance between our countries but also a crystal clear message of divided threat awareness."