The world has come a long way in the last twenty years. For the second half of the 20th century, the biggest fear was nuclear war. Today that's still a concern, but for most governments, a bigger worry is in cyberspace.
We've already seen the beginnings of what a cyberwar could look like with nations trading viruses that sabotage equipment. The U.S. and Israel allegedly attacked Iran's nuclear program with Stuxnet.
Then Iran turned around and used parts of Stuxnet to attack Saudia Arabia's oil production systems. China, Iran and Russia have been poking around in U.S. government and company systems, and the NSA regularly tampers with Internet equipment so it can return the favor.
However, that's just the beginning. Speaking to Forbes, Ray Boisvert a former director in the Canadian Security Intelligence Service, highlighted four big threats that cyberwarefare will bring.
1. Asymmetrical warfare
Everyone knows that the U.S. has the most powerful military in world history. Sane countries (and even most insane countries) know not to engage us in a conventional war.
However, a small nation, terrorist group or even just a group of hackers, doesn't have to slip a bomb past our defenses. They can use a virus to shut down the U.S. power grid, mess with the stock market, damage air traffic control, steal our information or hundreds of other attacks.
Any of these can throw the U.S. into panic as much as any bombing campaign.
2. Military cyberwarfare
Modern militaries rely heavily on electronics, from communications and navigation to vehicle functions and drones. So the first strike on a country has to include some attempt to take out those systems.
That's why countries, notably Iran, China and Russia, are spending an increasing amount on their cyberwarfare divisions. These are already probing other countries for weakness, stealing military secrets and getting ready to launch full-scale attacks when needed.
3. Attacks against citizens
If you're going to hack a company, the easiest tactic is social engineering. This means finding a person inside a company you can trick into giving up vital information. I've already told you how hackers use LinkedIn for this.
If a hacker can trick an employee with full access to the company's systems, then they can do whatever they want. It doesn't matter how secure the company's systems are if the hacker looks like someone who is supposed to have full access.
I'd bet that foreign hackers are scouring the information released in last year's data breaches for information on people in high-ranking positions. Even if that only gets the hackers into the person's personal accounts, that's more information they can use to get into the person's company accounts.
4. Industrial controls
Most industries like water, electric, heating, transportation, and even nuclear, rely on SCADA, or supervisory control and data acquisition, systems. Unfortunately, these aren't foolproof.
Stuxnet, which I mentioned early, targeted Iran's nuclear enrichment SCADA controllers. Russia and China have allegedly cracked other SCADA systems in the past.
Any nation or hacker that could reliably take down SCADAs could cripple an entire country without firing a shot.