The Scenario surrounding 'Cyberwar'

Our understanding of war itself had changed dramatically. While the risk of a massive confrontation on the central plains of Europe between the massed armies of the Warsaw Pact and NATO has evaporated, new conflicts have come to fill the vacuum.

Today, we are at war on several fronts. The fights against terrorism, organised crime, economic espionage and weapons proliferation are permanent conflicts that are likely to confront us through the next century. At the same time, some of the old tensions remain, with ethnic conflicts in Bosnia and Somalia reminding the revolutionaries and the traditionalists that wars will continue however many chips and computers may populate the world.

A new generation of visionaries has sprung up, enabled by the computer revolution. They predict a very different world that will emerge from the current uncertainty. It will be a place where wars of every type will be fought not by soldiers confronting soldiers but by new warriors engaging in the infosphere, the virtual world where commerce, conversation and connectivity will all occur. In those wars, new weapons will be needed and real power will accrue to the nation or group that understands the use of this new technology.

In this new world, the soldier will be the young geek in uniform who can insert a virus into Teheran's electricity supply to plunge the city into darkness. His civilian equivalent will be able to read every e-mail, crash any office computer anywhere in the world, invade networks and destroy systems, all from thousands of miles away. The bank account of the drug baron or organised criminal located in an apparently safe offshore haven will be an open book.

The soldier will also be the man or woman equipped with a uniform powered by body heat that automatically adjusts to the environment and that relays location and vital signs back to base. That soldier will have on his head a helmet that allows him to see in all conditions, to locate incoming fire and return it with deadly accuracy, and an eyepiece that will provide his location, the location of the enemy and the locations of others in his patrol. He will have in his backpack "ants" powered by new microchips that will be able to see, smell and hear or even explode on command. He will be equipped with tiny aeroplanes no larger than a small notebook that will fly ahead and show him the terrain and the enemy.

 The enemy will be different, too. No longer will it be the simple terrorist armed with an AK-47 or the Semtex bomb (although he will still be around); the new threat will be groups who will bond in cyberspace and attack using the new weapons of war: viruses, bugs, worms and logic bombs.

Although little of the perils and possibilities of this new form of warfare has reached the public or the political leadership, across America and the world, thousands of men and women have been quietly working to make what sounds like science fiction into a reality. And such is the pace of the information revolution that many of the tactics and weapons that sound like fantasy are already in place.

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