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Cyber-wars

The malware coding part of Acid Rain that was used in the attack to Viasat satellite system to block communication at the start of the Russia war on Ukraine. Image credit: SentinelOne

If there ever was a doubt war will be moving to the cyberspace now we can definitely say that it is happening.

The news of the hack on the Viasat satellite an hour before the Russian invasion of Ukraine has been on newspapers and magazines for quite a while. Now the latest issue of the MIT Technology Review provides an in depth discussion of what happened and it makes for an interesting reading.

The attack was launched 60′ before the invasion hitting the Viasat network by wiping out the memory of its modems and routers. It was a few days before service could be completely restored.

Our communication and service infrastructure has become so pervasive, and fragmented, that protecting it is a hugely complex task (that does not mean you cannot do it!). Think of scattering the gold contained in Fort Knox in million of locations and trying to protect all of them at the same level Fort Knox is protected! Impossible, in practice.

The comparison, however, is not a good one (and I intended it to be so). If you scatter the gold that is now in Fort Knox in million of locations the value of the gold in each location will a millionth of the one of Fort Knox. Not so in the case of a connected infrastructure. By hacking a single node (a modem, a router) you get access to all the others and therefore to all the “gold”.

This is what makes cyberattacks so dreadful and potentially disruptive (as it was the case with Viasat).

There has been a lot of talk about the potential for a cyber-war so we can’t say that the attack came as a surprise. It was, however, a reality check that prompted actions by several Governments. The fact that cyberattacks in the ongoing war have not escalated seems to be tied to immediate actions taken by Ukrainians with the support of a few Western Agencies.

About Roberto Saracco

Roberto Saracco fell in love with technology and its implications long time ago. His background is in math and computer science. Until April 2017 he led the EIT Digital Italian Node and then was head of the Industrial Doctoral School of EIT Digital up to September 2018. Previously, up to December 2011 he was the Director of the Telecom Italia Future Centre in Venice, looking at the interplay of technology evolution, economics and society. At the turn of the century he led a World Bank-Infodev project to stimulate entrepreneurship in Latin America. He is a senior member of IEEE where he leads the New Initiative Committee and co-chairs the Digital Reality Initiative. He is a member of the IEEE in 2050 Ad Hoc Committee. He teaches a Master course on Technology Forecasting and Market impact at the University of Trento. He has published over 100 papers in journals and magazines and 14 books.