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OU on the BBC: Digital Planet: Learning Zone - Cyberwar

Updated Tuesday, 8th May 2007

As technology becomes more important in maintaining our lives, warfare is following us into cyberspace.

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Throughout history we've always known what war was about - physical attacks with swords, spears bombs and bullets. But today that's changing. Generals brought up on missiles and nuclear deterrents are struggling to respond to a new military threat - the launch pad no longer a runway, but a computer; the attacker no longer a combat pilot, but a computer hacker bent on destruction. Welcome to Cyberwar.

As the global network of computers becomes the communication backbone of our society we become increasingly vulnerable - stop the networks and you stop the world. And no army with a million men can help.

In future might wars themselves be fought over lines of communication with software armies, jostling for control of nations? Where a dissident group of computer hackers have the same power as mighty nations - information technology is the great leveller, for the technology of cyberwar is not controlled by armies, but sold by commerce.

Suprisingly military leaders are looking towards a two thousand five hundred year old Chinese philosopher for inspiration. Sun Tzu wrote a book of strategy: The Art Of War, and made claims that resonate with our world today - "The greatest general is not he who wins a thousand battles, but he who subdues his enemy without fighting at all".

And corporations are looking to Sun Tzu as well. Suddenly companies whose whole businesses depend on information being held and transferred securely are realising how big the potential threat really is.

For military strategists and corporate presidents alike solutions to the new threats might lie even further back than Sun Tzu - with life itself. In the future we might be protected by white knight software - computer code which would hunt and destroy hostile software assailants. But if the nature of war has told us anything in history, it is that for every new answer to conflict there is always a new threat.

To find out more about the Cyberwar programme, you can read the script and the contributor biographies





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