As a kid I remember watching War Games, staring Mathew Broderick, who as a teenager helps avert a nuclear war about to be started by a computer gone berserk. It sounds cliche now, but at the time, the plot was quite fresh and a bit terrifying. The U.S. and the U.S.S.R. already seemed on the brink of all out war and the idea that a computer could pull the trigger was quite a real concern – at least to a middle schooler such as myself.
And now, here we are again.
In the wake of recent cyber attacks on Iran’s nuclear facilities and on U.S. military systems and contractors, the Pentagon has given official notice it will assume cyber attacks as an act of war and will respond accordingly. Says one military official: “If you shut down our power grid, maybe we will put a missile down one of your smokestacks.”
As a citizen I think this is probably a good stance to take, at least publicly. Mutually Assured Destruction kept a tenuous peace back in the War Games 80’s, so maybe it will keep a lot of would-be hackers in check. But the author in me can think of several plausible scenarios where someone can manipulate international politics to their own ends like a James Bond villain. Plus, now the world’s governments have responsibility over the online activities of their own citizenry. They may not have a dog in the fight, but they will be the ones to get bit.
I am working through a lot of these scenarios as I update G.K. Chesterton’s The Man Who Was Thursday, and it almost feels like I can’t work fast enough to bring its message to the world. At no other time has the individual had such power and reach for good or ill and the means to collaborate online without anyone knowing. We already have a sort of online anarchy movement. I’m just waiting for online vigilantism to arise. And who know what else.
So, what do you think? Will the internet be the opening battleground in the next major outbreak of war?