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Image courtesy of Flickr

Image courtesy of mdid on Flickr

Here’s a scenario: Gmail has deleted your inbox, Facebook and Twitter have blocked you from your account and every piece of personal information published online and site you have ever used is now inaccessible to you. No, this isn’t some abstract, virtual Hell. This would be reality if World War III were to occur at this very second.

This week, the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (widely known as NATO) will publish a 282-page handbook on the rules of cyber warfare. Dubbed the “Tallin Manual,” it serves as a guideline on battlefield protocol in the Internet age, detailing what constitutes cyber war crimes and forbidding attacks on “civilian objects” (Tallin Manual). This manual is the first to truly discuss the consequences of cyber warfare and foreshadows what to expect in terms of international aggressive behavior in the future.

The truth behind the publication of this manual is the paralyzing fear of both global powers and normal citizens in what cyber attacks would entail and to what extent they would damage our online personas and lives. While also a threat to national security and economic investment, the true danger lies in the actions of civilian “hacktivists” and their potential impact on the average citizen. In Georgia (the country, guys), websites were targeted and attacked through “distributed denial of service…[a technique] in which networks of personal computers, infected and enslaved unbeknown to their innocent owners, are used to bombard the target’s web servers so that real users cannot get through.” (Washington Times) These hackers, considered to be Russian ultranationalists, had the power to take away web usage and online media from both civilian and government users. It was as simple as sending around malware to potential users and having them re-distribute it—and just like that, no more access to Georgian Pinterest.

Unfortunately, none of this is hypothetical—this anxiety is completely justified. Just today, South Korean’s largest broadcasting networks were hacked and related web sites shut down by a penetrative virus from an unknown source. The United States and China are constantly at ends about hacking into government databases and seeking confidential information from both sides. And it seems that on a daily basis every online community from LinkedIn to eHarmony has passwords and user profiles handily hacked and deleted.

So take a moment to hug your Macbook Pro and save those tagged photos. No one is safe in virtual warfare.

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One thought on “Virtual Armageddon: How cyber warfare could spell the end for social media

  1. This is a topic that has the potential to be catastrophic to our day-to-day life that has only recently been considered with a great deal of gravity. Though many people would be affected in the way you described in your first paragraph, that kind of disruption would merely be petty compared to the kind of damage cyberwarfare can potentially inflict. That kind of damage lies in the ability of hackers to attack vital infrastructure and perhaps even military compounds. With this kind of threat, it’s no wonder why the Obama administration is taking a more serious look at how to deal with cyber security, including recently announced plans to scan even private web trafficking and email and Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel’s emphasis on improving cyber defense in the shrinking defense budget. Social media is undoubtedly an invaluable tool when it comes to a conflict – just look at its usage in the Arab Spring. However, when you live by the sword, you die by the sword and unfortunately social media is its own kryptonite. Because we rely so heavily on it for communication and distribution of news, a well-coordinated attack on the communication systems as well as on social media platforms would render us absolutely clueless. While the federal government is doing all it can to prevent such a disaster, it can only do so much and with the savvy of hackers nowadays, it might not be enough. It’ll be interesting to see how the platforms themselves deal with the increasing threat of cyberwarfare.

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