The job of the historian is often to pull together broad themes and trends, then give them a snappy title that people will easily recognise and understand. That’s how we end up with labels like “The decline and fall of the Roman Empire” or “The Rise of Hitler and the Third Reich”.
The article We’re living through the first world cyberwar – but just haven’t called it that appeared in the Guardian on 30 Dec 2016.
TL;DR: Essentially the piece proposes that the war started around 2007 with the cyber-attacks on Estonia. In 2008 we had a series of major undersea cables cut, causing massive disruption in the Middle East. Various accidents have been blamed but there are still many cases unexplained. 2010 saw the arrival of Stuxnet and the release of the American Cables on WikiLeaks (Cablegate). The scenarios are not black and white because not only nation-states are involved, but also pressure groups, whistleblowers and hackers. In 2014, North Korea was accused of hacking Sony Pictures. In 2016, the US Presidential Campaign has allegedly been undermined by foreign state intervention. Although the piece does not mention the Panama Papers “leak” of 2016 which, in my view, falls into the same category (it was a WordPress plugin hack that gained access to the email servers).
The article suggests that this will be the ‘first’ Cyberwar because it will ultimately de-escalate as it will become too expensive to continue to escalate. This may be as a result of a UN summit.
It’s an interesting idea, and if I were to give it a name I might pick WCI (World Cyberwar 1). Though WC also means toilet, so maybe the 21st century will mark the start of when humanity sends itself down the toilet? Cynic? Moi?
Personally, until the objective of this presumed war is truly known we can never call it a war. A war has an objective, but all we are seeing is a set of exchanges between different actors, some possibly connected and others unrelated.
Or is this simply a new phase of our human evolution? Our collective war on information? After all, information is power. With the Internet, there is so much information and disinformation out there it is hard to know what is real and what is fake. Are these acts part of a campaign to control the information? Or are they coincidentally being used to achieve this? New laws are being passed on this very matter and censorship and surveillance (in varying degrees) are already present in many forms.
Only time will tell.