If you are not familiar with the term virtual-state you are not alone – but it’s a term you’re going to hear more often.
Here is a working definition that has broad acceptance: A virtual-state is defined as a nebulous community of individuals that self-identify and share in common one or more social, political and/or ideological convictions, ideas or values. They act collectively to influence and bring about changes they deem appropriate. You can read more about virtual-states here.
Perhaps the best known example of a virtual-state is the international group Anonymous. They have a reputation for being a hacktivist community. But more than that, they are an example of the growing role of such groups becoming part of the larger geopolitical landscape.
Last week the group was called upon by an unnamed entity to get involved in the conflict between Israel and Hamas. One webite that makes note of hacktivist activities notes that Anonymous was asked to hack, deface, dock, hijack, database-leak and takeover Israeli cyber space by any means necessary. A call to cyber arms to say the least!
Sources familiar with the turn of events in Israel say that now the Israeli government has confirmed publicly that a massive cyber attack targeting them is underway.
This raises a number of questions. How will a nation-state, such as Israel, respond to a cyber attack by a virtual-state (such as Anonymous), a nebulous entity to say the least?
It should be noted that there are reports, (yet to be confirmed) of collateral damage (including cyber assets impacted by the attacks that were not part of Israeli government or military) from the assault by Anonymous. Israel is no slouch when it comes to cyber capabilities – offensive and defensive.
In fact, Israel is rated 4th in terms of cyber military capabilities, based on research I’ve done for Cyber Commander’s eHandbook (version 4), following China, Russia and the United States, which are in a dead heat for the top spot.
Egypt is trying to negotiate a cease-fire between Hamas and Israel, according to media reports, but that also begs the question: How would you negotiate a cyber cease-fire with a virtual-state such as Anonymous? Who would you contact?
Moreover, I was not able to find any sign Egypt has a cyber diplomat! Cyber researchers and scholars are now fixated on cyber conflict. Currently there is very little unclassifed information on cyber attacks available for study and use in training programs.
Pay close attention to this one! It may provide a glimpse to what is to come.
Kevin G. Coleman is a long-time security technology executive. He is a senior fellow with the Technolytics Institute, a former chief strategist at Netscape and writes periodically for Breaking Gov on the topic of cyber intelligence.