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The developed nations are so reliant on computer-mediated communications and computerised control of systems that war can now be waged on them in a new way. By jamming signals or injecting spurious commands an attacker can paralyse its opponent’s military command structures, communications, transport, financial and banking systems, and emergency services; false information could be planted as a form of psychological warfare. Some of these techniques were used in the Gulf War and the Pentagon is now developing its techniques further.

The military is just as conscious that the US could be done by as it does and is uniquely vulnerable (the possibility of an “electronic Pearl Harbor” has been mooted), and is as actively planning electronic countermeasures. It is perhaps an indication of the intensity of interest in the topic that so many near-synonyms have been generated in the past five years: infowar is the current buzzword, an obvious contraction of the fuller term information warfare; but it is also called cyberwar and netwar (this last term was apparently coined by David Ronfeldt of the RAND Corporation in 1993).

The possibility that freedom fighters, insurgents, guerrillas or terrorists could use the same techniques has led to the catch-all term cyberterrorism. Those engaging in such warfare are sometimes called cyberwarriors, net warriors, or infowarriors.

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Copyright © Michael Quinion, 1996–. All rights reserved.

Page created 15 Mar 1997