Many countries have now assessed their vulnerability and overall risk of being the target of a cyber attack. Inside sources have leaked information to the media stating the heightened state of concern they now have after being briefed on the results of the vulnerability and risk assessments. These results have put pressure on the military and intelligence leaders to address the growing threat. Military and intelligence leaders around the world are struggling with the new reality of cyber warfare. While there are a few hot spots where conventional conflict might erupt, there is growing concern among this group about the new reality of cyber war.
One foreign Intelligence analyst told me that "we face only a remote chance of major conventional military threat involving his country through 2025." She went on to say "Asymmetric capabilities like cyber warfare might threaten the security we have gained over the past two decades."
The cyber intelligence challenge for Intel agencies manifests themselves in the fundamental characteristics of cyber weapons. A cruise missile costs between $1 and $2 million and requires a large manufacturing facility and a substantial amount of infrastructure. A cyber weapon on the other hand costs between a few hundred dollars up to $50,000 and next to no infrastructure. The only infrastructure is a computer and an Internet connection. A cyber weapons manufacturing facility can be located in a single family home.
The challenge for the intelligence community is significant. Perhaps even the greatest challenge in history. While cyber intelligence is rather new, there is some information sources in this area that are actively being used to collect information about attacks that have or are taking place as well as those that are planned. Intel agencies often times are unable to share information they have about planned or current cyber attacks against companies. This is primarily due to the very real possibility that the disclosure would or could jeopardize the source of the intelligence. Many argue what good is the intelligence if we do not use it. This is a very sticky situation that must be evaluated on a case-by-case basis.
Cyber weapons proliferation requires all countries to rethink intelligence collection from the ground up. New sources of intelligence and data are required along with augmentation of our human intelligence sources if we are to reduce the risk of cyber attacks as well as a cyber war.