The web was flooded recently with news of new malware called Flame which appears to target specific regions of the globe. Like the Stuxnet worm discovered in 2010 many people on the Internet are speculating that the code is the work of government agencies in an ongoing cyber-war. Regardless of which side of the fence you sit and whether you believe the rumors, the visible uplift in targeted computer attacks specifically focused on strategic targets raises an interesting thought – whether a full blown cyber-war in on its way.
In 1940, President Franklin Roosevelt signed the Selective Training and Service Act into law in essence creating the countries first peacetime draft and formally establishing the Selective Service System as an independent government agency. What this did was begin the process of “drafting” people into military service along with those who openly volunteered thus boosting the size and power of the forces. It was only in 1973 the US ended the draft and the military became an all-volunteer force.
As technology advances and the world becomes more connected and therefore smaller, today’s military no doubt finds itself with different challenges and will be forced to maintain different strategies. If Stuxnet demonstrated anything it was that governments are capable of causing devastating damage to an enemy countries’ infrastructure without putting actual boots on the ground – just by attacking their computing resources.
So fast forward 10 – 15 years and visualize a full scale cyber-war, what will it be like? With so much of our domestic business relying on the web today its not just a matter of disconnecting the Unites States from the rest of the planet to protect it as that in turn could do more damage. What could happen is that the government could look to draft people and their computers to join the fight just like in 1940. We’re not just talking about the average desktop or laptop either, military software applications could exist on smartphones, slates, MP3 players and whatever else exists in 10 years time. I can even imagine driving to work with my in-car computer helping me navigate traffic and defending a bot-net attack from a rogue nation at the same time.
Granted the government has computing resources substantially more capable and in vaster numbers than us regular citizens however its the reach of these devices that make them important to a battle. Consider a preemptive strike as an example; it could be easy for a country to protect itself against this simply by blocking traffic from the US however what if the traffic came from all around the globe? When you consider that Americans live in many different countries, the idea of them being drafted into a technical army becomes very powerful, especially if managed from a central command and control.
I wonder if countries will ever start to mandate the inclusion of military override chips into any technology built within their jurisdiction and if so, what the technology builders will do. If digital Armageddon comes, will people be waiting in lines at military recruiting stations, not to signup and be shipped off to basic training but instead, to have some tech install some software that turns you to a willing volunteer.