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New Zealand's longest-running online daily news and commentary publication, now in its 25th year. The opinion pieces presented here are not purported to be fact but reasonable effort is made to ensure accuracy.

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Cyberspace, the new battle-front

24 June 2019

There is a war being fought between the USA and its enemies; a silent war.

There are no bullets flying and no missiles being fired in this war.

This is a war taking place inside the networks and CPUs of computers where virus versus anti-virus and firewalls work to fend off probing attacks.

This is a very real 21st century cyberwar and it's taking place every minute of every day.

Unlike traditional war, fought with bombs, tanks, aircraft and boots on the ground, there are few eye-witnesses to what's going on and little reliable reporting of events.

Right now, the biggest fight appears to be between Iran and the USA. In fact, this cyber-conflict is now so heated that the mainstream media are beginning to report on the fallout.

The LA Times reports that the USA struck at Iranian military computers in the wake of the downed American drone last week.

It is also possible that the USA's attack was also in retaliation against cyber-attacks made by Iran against a contractor to the US military and security agencies earlier this year.

As someone who relies on the internet for my livelihood, I have to say that I am not the least bit impressed that governments and militant groups have taken to using it as a battlefield.

These guys need to get an empty field somewhere, a bunch of slingshots and rocks -- and go to it; leaving the rest of us to get on with our work in peace.

Of course this isn't the first significant cyber-attack launched against Iran. Back in 2010, the Stuxnet worm caused the Iranian nuclear program to go into virtual melt-down by destroying centrifuges and other uranium enrichment technology.

What I personally get annoyed at is the hypocrisy of governments.

Hack a computer in the USA (government or otherwise) and you risk a lengthy term in prison -- just ask Gary McKinnon about that.

However, even though computer hacking is seen as an extremely serious crime worthy of up to 70 years in jail by the US government, they use it freely as a weapon against their military and economic foes, as witnessed last week. "Do as we say, not as we do".

In light of recent events however, it becomes very clear as to exactly why the USA is so hot over the issue of Huawei.

Clearly, cyber-conflict is going to be a huge component of any future conflict, especially where the USA is involved. The last thing Uncle Sam wants is for his software advantage (guess where MS Windows is developed and where Google is based) to be neutralised by the potential for a foreign power to build a kill-switch into the hardware on which a nation's communications infrastructure relies.

Only one thing is certain... there will be an increasing level of battle fought over the Net and the ultimate losers will be those of us who rely on the Net. We will ultimately be caught in the fall-out, just as if a nuke had been dropped a few miles away.

One thing the USA has to be very careful of now however, is that the rest of the world does not wake up to the fact that in a cyber-war, the weapons may well be built into the software you're already using.

What country would want to continue buying MS Windows -- or any US-made software for that matter, in the full (and almost certain) understanding that there could be back-doors built in to allow for the delivery of malicious military payloads in time of (cyber)war?

What country would want its citizens using Google, Amazon or other services in the full awareness that the USA has law in place to allow for the covert handing over of that data to authorities on-demand?

Trump has fired a very public cyber-weapon by launching a cyber-attack against Iran but he needs to be very careful that in doing so he doesn't shoot key US industries in the foot.

Who knows... "The Year of Linux" may not be brought about by superior features or better performance; it may be adopted by many nations simply as a "safe" option in response to the worrying potential of any US-made non-open-source software.

What do readers think?

Although Microsoft and Apple *publicly* protest strongly against US government moves to deliver back-door access, what are the odds that they're working (under duress or otherwise) very closely with Uncle Sam, so as to provide a huge military advantage to the USA in the field of cyber-conflict?

Let the revelations of Edward Snowden (and the US government's response to those revelations) be foremost in your mind when you contemplate that question.

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