This past January, members of the U.S House of Representatives decide to give the Pentagon authority to declare cyberwar. Robert Gates, former U.S. Secretary of Defense, had previously declared the Internet the "fifth domain" next to air, sea, land and space, so the Department of Defense wanted the ability to aggressively protect American interests online if necessary.
In 2009, the primary content security concern was Russia or China. America was already fighting wars on the ground and via intelligence in Iraq and Afghanistan as part of Strategic Command (USSTRATCOM) when the Cyber Command division teamed up with strategic nuclear and missile defense. Currently, the United States is pursuing an international code of conduct for activity online, almost an Internet Geneva Convention, but military contractors are still putting their money into zero-day exploits and preparing for a declaration from the Pentagon.
More recently an expert with the Department of Defense said all this preparation may come in handy as a new cyberthreat rises in Iran. The country recently suffered an attack on its oil ministry thanks to a worm of such size and complexity that some experts believe it's the first shot in a cyberwar on Iran, or at least its oil industry. In 2010, a similar virus called Stuxnet specifically targeted systems responsible for the country's uranium enrichment facilities. Due to certain precautions written directly into the virus's code to make it self-terminate after a set period of time, experts say there's no doubt it government-made.
The Iranian government isn't treating the attack as a crisis, saying it had Internet protection in place after the Stuxnet attack, even though the targeted terminal at Kharg Island handles 90 percent of Iran's oil exports, according to an AFP report. Despite data protection, the ministry's servers were hacked and its websites failed, though the computers driving refinery operations had been taken offline. Now the entire ministry is staying offline through a voluntary blackout until it can repair its systems.
"To say that no data was harmed is not right," said ministry spokesman Alireza Mikzad, according to the AFP. "Only data related to some of the users have been compromised."
According to the International Atomic Energy Agency, the damage from Stuxnet has been repaired and Tehran is operating its uranium enrichment at twice its previous efforts, though suspicion still exists about American and Israeli involvement in the Stuxnet's manufacture. The latest attack has left OPEC's second largest oil exporter at a stagger as it tries to recover. Whether Iran will be firing back at the United States anytime soon is still in question.
Russia is trying to encourage a worldwide consent on Internet compliance and regulations to address what it feels is a mounting threat of cyber warfare. The country is trying to gain enough support to bring a motion before the United Nations that would draw guidelines for cybercrime and rules of engagement. A treaty has been proposed in light of more than 100 nations conducting 'war games' online to test viability of the fifth domain as a platform for global terrorism. Russia wants countries to acknowledge that Internet-based attacks on other nations' data and endpoint security constitute crimes against global peace.
While a more peaceful solution than USSTRATCOM's militarized Cyber Command, the United States has been a major opponent of Internet peace bills, saying they encroach on user privacy and information freedom.
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