Enhancing cyberwarfare capabilities

One shocking fact in the ongoing Israel-Hamas war was the spectacular failure of Israel’s vaunted intelligence agencies to foresee the land, sea, and air attacks.

Intense speculations are rife on how the ragtag Hamas blinded Israel’s highly touted intelligence and cyber capabilities to tap into their enemies’ networks.

But for many governments now scrambling to reexamine their own intelligence capabilities critically, Israel’s failure serves as a dire warning that even one of the world’s best and most sophisticated intelligence agencies can miscarry in the face of a wily determined foe.

Similar intelligence and cyber challenges confront the Marcos administration now that it recognizes that its foremost and core security agenda is none other than the country’s sovereignty and territorial integrity. It’s an agenda made painfully clear by China’s frequent illegal excursions and abuses in the West Philippine Sea.

Be forewarned, however, that such security trials have more to do with effectively confronting modern warfare primarily driven by sophisticated cyber technologies than the usual romantic stuff like spies and spyware.

In fairness, this administration sufficiently realized this modern mode of warfare or cyberwar even before the brutal Israel-Hamas war.

The administration’s recently approved five-year National Security Policy, for instance, says, “the changes brought about by technology on warfare have, likewise, expanded the attack surface to include critical infrastructure, leaving societies highly vulnerable.”

Recognizing the changes brought about by technology in warfare is a necessary first step. But what’s recognized and set down on paper faces enormous challenges in its practical implementation.

Last week, Defense Secretary Gilbert Teodoro Jr., in describing the modern era as a “constant battle of technology,” exhorted his fellow officials to invest in fortifying their cybersecurity defenses and enhancing the skills of their cybersecurity staff.

Teodoro’s remarks came after he expressed serious worries over the reported a series of hacking attacks on government agencies’ information systems.

Of these hack attacks, the House of Representatives was the latest institution to be hit. Previously, the Department of Science and Technology, PhilHealth, Philippine Statistic Authority, Department of Education, and possibly the Philippine National Police’s Forensic Group were attacked.

As yet, it isn’t sufficiently clear if the cyberattacks were the handiwork of ransomware criminal gangs or by state-sponsored bad actors called “cyber troops” exploiting sophisticated computer and social media technologies.

At any rate, hacking directly attacks a country’s digital infrastructure and is one form of cyberwarfare.

Meanwhile, worldwide massive disinformation campaigns were unleashed online in the wake of the violence of Hamas’ attacks and Israel’s response. The disinformation continues.

Disinformation is another form of cyber warfare. Often classified as “low-grade information warfare,” it’s a war effort utilizing either state-employed or state-sponsored “cyber troops.”

In a recent report, Time Magazine said an Oxford research group was “able to identify 81 countries with active cyber troop operations utilizing many different strategies to spread false information, including spending millions on online advertising.”

This country’s vulnerability to foreign “cyber troop” activities constitutes another significant security challenge.

In fact, “low-grade information warfare” is also highlighted by the administration’s security policy document, which in part says, “frontier technologies, specifically in social media, have polarized societies through fake news, disinformation, hate and abuse.”

In connection with this, cyberwarfare adds a whole new dimension to the raging controversy over the realigned confidential and intelligence funds or CIFs of Vice President Sara Duterte.

Ms. Duterte’s peeved allies, including her autumnal father, dismissed the issue as no more than 2028 politicking, thereby attacking the House leadership and threatening some critical solons. House leaders and critical solons have since pushed back on the attacks.

Policy wise, however, CIFs are better off realigned to beef up the country’s defenses against cybersecurity threats posed by modern warfare.

As Teodoro pointed out, staying ahead of the curve on modern warfare “needs a hefty budget, not only for the platforms but also for the training of our personnel. This is not an overnight thing. It takes a long time to build information technology hygiene and architecture.”

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