Authoritarian states benefit from the “public-private partnership” in which they are often indistinguishable from private companies. As a result, those countries, such as Russia, China and North Korea, can deliver cyber attacks quickly.
Cantay Çalişkan, an assistant professor of mathematics and computer science at Ohio Wesleyan University, presented an overview of different kinds of cyber attacks at the weekly Great Decisions foreign affairs lecture series.
He explained how cyber attacks happen and who the major players are. Many of the attacks Çalişkan listed had familiar names: malware, phishing and eavesdropping. To illustrate how topical cyber security is in foreign affairs, Çalişkan displayed a map of recent cyber attacks, updated at 9 p.m. Feb. 28. The countries of origin for these attacks included the United States.
For democracies, all is not lost in the cyber war. Another important factor is a country’s investment in research on technologies such as graphic processors and quantum computing. Çalişkan explained the latter as computing where the “range is infinite” between zeros and ones, which is the current computer language. This leads to encrypted data being nearly impossible to hack. Çalişkan placed China and the United States, two fierce competitors, at the head of the race to obtain quantum computing technology.
A third factor Çalişkan mentioned was a country’s financial resources. The oil rich states of the Middle East may not have the same engineering expertise as China or the United States, but they can afford to hire engineers from abroad.
But what can people, those without technical expertise, do to prevent cyber attacks? Çalişkan recommended a “cultural update” involving increased conscientiousness about allowing companies to access personal data. He also suggested limiting the amount of time spend using devices and getting educated about hacking.
Bob Gaffey, a Delaware resident who attended the lecture, agreed. People should know about the “red flags” about cyber attacks, he said, and cultivate an “awareness of scams” to protect against them.