Worms are the future of warfare. No, not the non-arthropod invertebrates, worms as in computer viruses.
The conception of Stuxnet, a Windows based computer worm that targets industrial software and equipment, was a seminal moment in the evolution of warfare as it is the first-known virus specifically designed to target real-world infrastructure, in this instance, power stations.
In the case of Stuxnet, the malware damaged as many as a fifth of the nuclear centrifuges responsible for regulating temperatures in Iranian nuclear reactors. It is not beyond the realms of possibility to imagine worms of similar sophistication targeting anything from air traffic control computers to stock exchange systems and the London Stock Exchange has already admitted that it was subjected to cyber attacks over a concentrated period of time throughout 2010.
Arguably the most remarkable element of the Stuxnet story is that, far from being conceived by some bored, teenage hacker, the sophisticated nature of its structure and the highly targeted nature of its intentions suggests that the conception of Stuxnet came about through collaboration with a nation state (the popular consensus being Israel, possibly acting in concert with the US).
Add to that Foreign Secretary William Hague’s appeal at the Munich Security Conference earlier this month for governments to come together to agree a set of rules amid growing fears of ”cyber war” between states and it becomes clear why the Coalition Government highlighted cyber security as a core priority in the UK’s National Security Strategy in October last year.
The importance of this focus to the aerospace and defence industry was starkly illustrated last week when BAE Systems, Europe’s largest defence company, reported financial results for 2010. While the company reported virtually flat group sales, profits and underlying earnings, BAE’s Detica business, which focuses on the cyber-security market, saw topline growth of 13% prompting Ian King, BAE’s CEO, to claim that “the market is in its infancy – this is a whole new Cold War.”
So, in a month when the US Department of Defence disclosed that it was looking to cut $78 billion of total defence expenditure over the next five years and the UK’s RAF said it would reduce its number of trainee pilots by a quarter in order to cut costs, it is clear that although expenditure on “traditional” tanks and fighter planes looks likely to remain under pressure for the foreseeable future, areas such as cybersecurity are likely to see significant levels of ongoing investment as Government’s and businesses continue to adapt to what is a very fast changing and dynamic environment.