A hundred years ago, World War I moved warfare into the skies. Today no nation regards its security as complete without an air force, and no serious future conflict will lack a cyber aspect, either.
Russia and Ukraine apparently traded cyber attacks during the referendum on Crimea. Media reports indicate NATO and Ukrainian media websites suffered DDoS (denial of service) assaults during the vote, and that servers in Moscow took apparently retaliatory – and bigger – strikes afterward.
Observers tend to miss, though, that these are relatively modest skirmishes in cyber space. They routinely break out among competing states, even without concurrent political or military hostilities. Angling to hobble an opponent’s web resources by clogging networks with junk traffic? Another day at the office.
I see three distinct levels or “rings” to contemporary cyber conflicts. Only the first is clearly apparent in the Ukraine crisis. Full-blown cyber war is not yet occurring. The prospect of escalation, however, is real and worrisome. The West should watch carefully, because developments in Ukraine offer a model for contemporary conflicts worldwide – which will henceforth have integral cyber elements for all but the least developed nations.