Courtesy Reuters

Virtual Defense

THE WEAKNESS OF A SUPERPOWER

Just as World War I introduced new weaponry and modern combat to the twentieth century, the information age is now revolutionizing warfare for the twenty-first. Around the world, information technology increasingly pervades weapons systems, defense infrastructures, and national economies. As a result, cyberspace has become a new international battlefield. Whereas military victories used to be won through physical confrontations of weapons and soldiers, the information warfare being waged today involves computer sabotage by hackers acting on behalf of private interests or governments. The recent escalation of tension between Israel and the Palestinians, for example, has had a prominent virtual dimension. From October 2000 to January 2001, attacks by both sides took down more than 250 Web sites, and the aggressions spread well beyond the boundaries of the Middle East to the computer networks of foreign companies and groups seen as partisan to the conflict.

A decade after the end of the Cold War, the U.S. military stands as an uncontested superpower in both conventional and nuclear force. Ironically, its overwhelming military superiority and its leading edge in information technology have also made the United States the country most vulnerable to cyber-attack. Other nations know that they have fallen behind in military muscle, so they have begun to look to other methods for bolstering their war-fighting and defense capacities -- namely, "asymmetrical warfare," which the Pentagon characterizes as "countering an adversary's strengths by focusing on its weaknesses."

Furthermore, the U.S. military is radically changing. The "revolution in military affairs" seeks to apply new technology, particularly digital information technology, to operational and strategic concepts. With plans ranging from computer-based weapons research programs to software that encrypts classified military data, from computer-guided "smart" bombs to a space-based missile defense, America's military forces are coming to depend more and more on computers and information networks. These two factors -- the dominance of U.S. conventional forces and the military's already extensive and growing use of information technology -- make cyber-attack an

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