The threat posed by cyber-attacks and the impact of the Arab spring were the key topics on the final day of the Munich Security Conference in Germany on Sunday.
Experts spoke about the emergence of “cyber-weapons” like the Stuxnet software ‘worm’ that was used about a year ago to sabotage Iran’s nuclear programme. The usage of such software tools for warfare has changed the entire security ballgame.
General (retd) Michael V Hayden, former director of the American CIA and National Security Agency, said, “Someone used a cyber-weapon in peacetime to physically destroy what the nation (Iran) would describe as its critical infrastructure. It was a new class of weapon that caused a thousand centrifuges in Iran to self-destruct.”
Carl Bildt, the Swedish foreign minister, expressed the fear that the risk of terrorists or others getting hold of cyber-weapons and wrecking havoc in key targets.
The panellists were of the opinion that every time an attack like Stuxnet is waged, neutral bystanders and targets of the attack then have access to the virus so they can study it and perhaps think of ways to launch an assault themselves.
That creates the possibility for yet more attacks. EU Digital Agenda Commissioner Neelie Kroes raised the spectre of future cyber attacks focused on everything from food delivery to energy supplies.
“We are talking about a technology that is across borders,” she said. “We should be prepared for that kind of destructive purposes, and not just disruption.”
Russian Internet entrepreneur Eugene Kaspersky said the answer will probably be more regulation, but pleaded that safeguards not be too onerous.
“Please let the internet be partly free,” he called.
Kaspersky also warned that developed countries would be the “main victims” of cyber-warfare since they were the most inter-connected in terms of information technology.