What Is a Cyber War – Explained

March 30, 2023

A cyber war, also known as cyberwarfare or cyber conflict, occurs in cyberspace, which is the virtual world created by computer networks. It involves using computers, the internet, and other digital technologies to attack or defend against computer systems, networks, and infrastructure attacks.

In a cyber war, the goal is typically to disrupt, disable, or destroy the opponent’s computer systems or networks or to steal or manipulate sensitive data. Nation-states, organizations, or individuals can wage cyber wars, which can take many forms, such as hacking, malware attacks, denial of service attacks, and phishing.

Cyber wars can have significant consequences, including financial damage, loss of sensitive information, and disruption of critical infrastructure, such as power grids, transportation systems, and communication networks.

One of the key differences between a conventional war and a cyber war is the level of physical destruction. While a conventional war can destroy buildings and infrastructure and cause loss of life, cyber warfare may not result in physical damage.

Digital warfare is a frightening reality that the average netizen should educate themselves about. This article will explore the various aspects of digital warfare, including its history, types, examples, and impacts.

The History of Cyber Warfare

The concept of using computers and the internet as a means of conducting conflict is a familiar one. The history of cyber warfare goes back to the 1980s when the US and the Soviet Union engaged in a Cold War-era arms race to develop advanced computer technology.

As the internet became more widespread in the 1990s, the potential for digital warfare and espionage increased. In recent years, we have seen numerous examples of cyber warfare at the state level.

In 2010, the US and Israel launched the Stuxnet virus, designed to disrupt the Iranian nuclear program. And in 2017, the US accused Russia of hacking the US election, leading to tensions between the two countries.

In recent years, there has also been an increase in the use of cyber warfare as a tool for political activism and social change, with hacktivist groups such as Anonymous using cyber attacks to disrupt the websites and operations of governments and corporations.

Overall, the cyber warfare scenario reflects the evolving nature of the digital landscape and the increasing reliance of modern societies on digital technologies. As such attacks continue to evolve and become more sophisticated, the importance of developing effective defenses and strategies for managing cyber attacks is likely to only grow in the coming years.

Types of Cyber Warfare Attacks

There are many types of cyber warfare attacks that can be used to disrupt, disable, or steal sensitive information from computer systems, networks, and devices. Some standard cyber weapons include:

  • Malware attacks involve using malicious software, such as viruses, worms, or Trojan horses, to infiltrate and damage systems or steal sensitive information.
  • Distributed Denial of service (DDoS) attacks involve overwhelming a network or website with traffic or requests, making it unavailable to legitimate users.
  •  Phishing attacks involve sending fake emails or messages that appear to be from legitimate sources in an attempt to trick the recipient into revealing sensitive information or clicking on a malicious link.
  • Man-in-the-middle attacks involve intercepting and altering communication between two parties without their knowledge.
  •  SQL injection attacks involve injecting malicious code into a website’s database through a weakness in the website’s input validation process.
  •  Ransomware attacks involve encrypting a victim’s files and demanding a ransom to restore access.
  •  Supply chain attacks involve compromising a company or organization’s supply chain to gain access to its systems or data.

Some Examples of Recent Cyber Warfare Attacks

Cyber espionage can gather intelligence that will assist a country in preparing to declare a physical attack, cyber war, or hybrid warfare. Cyber attacks on government computer systems can be used to disrupt critical operations and aid conventional warfare efforts. From a national security standpoint, damaging critical digital infrastructure harms vital modern services or processes.

Some of the most significant examples of cyber warfare attacks in recent times include:

  • WannaCry ransomware attack: In May 2017, a ransomware attack known as WannaCry affected over 200,000 computers in 150 countries.
    The attack exploited a vulnerability in the Windows operating system and encrypted the data on infected computers, demanding payment in exchange for the decryption key. It caused widespread disruption, particularly affecting hospitals and transportation systems.
  • SolarWinds hack: In December 2020, a group of hackers breached the software company SolarWinds and inserted malware into their software updates, which many government agencies and major corporations used.
    Authorities are still investigating the damage caused by the hack, but the consensus was that hackers could access sensitive data in the future and potentially disrupt operations.
  • Equifax data breach: In 2017, the credit reporting company Equifax suffered a data breach that affected over 147 million people. Hackers could access sensitive information such as social security numbers, birth dates, and addresses. The breach significantly impacted the affected individuals and the company’s reputation and financial stability.

The Most Prominent Hacker Attacks in History and Their Impact

There have been many prominent hacker attacks throughout history that have had significant impacts on individuals, organizations, and even entire countries. Here are some examples:

Sony Pictures Hack 2014

One of the most well-known examples of cyber warfare or digital warfare is the Sony Pictures hack in 2014. 

This attack, later attributed to North Korea, released sensitive company information, including emails, employee data, and unreleased films. The attack caused significant financial losses for Sony Pictures and led to several high-ranking executives’ resignations.

Yahoo Data Breach 2014

The web giant Yahoo Inc. also confessed to a major attack in 2016 where hackers had stolen personal data linked to at least 500 million accounts. They clarified that the attack happened in 2014, and the culprit was probably a state-sponsored actor.

Uber Data Ransom 2016

Even the current industry giants aren’t immune. In 2022, Uber admitted to covering up a massive data breach in 2016. The company chose to stay silent about an attack that exposed the confidential data of 57 million customers and drivers.

The hackers used stolen credentials to access private source code repositories, allowing them to access and copy large amounts of Uber user and driver data. Uber also revealed paying a ransom of $100,000 to the hackers to delete the information and keep the cyberattack quiet.

Cyber Attacks and Their Impact on Businesses

Cyberattacks can significantly impact businesses in terms of financial losses and damage to their reputation.

Financial Losses

Cyberattacks can result in direct financial losses, such as the cost of paying a ransom to unlock encrypted data in a ransomware attack or repairing or replacing damaged systems. They can also result in indirect financial losses, such as lost revenue due to downtime or lost customers due to a breach of their personal information.

For example, in 2017, the global average cost of a cyber attack was $1.3 million.

Cost to Reputation

A cyberattack can damage a business’s reputation, mainly if it results in losing customer data or other sensitive information. This can lead to a loss of trust and a decline in customer loyalty, which can have long-term impacts on the business.

Legal and Regulatory Issues

Cyberattacks can also lead to legal and regulatory issues, such as fines and penalties for failing to protect customer data or not disclosing a breach promptly.

Disruption to Operations

Cyberattacks can disrupt a business’s operations, causing downtime and making it difficult for employees to access the systems and resources they need to do their jobs. This can lead to lost productivity and revenue.

How to Protect Your Business from Cyber Threats?

There are several steps that businesses can take to protect themselves from cyber risks:

  • Implement strong passwords: Use complex passwords that are difficult for attackers to guess, and use different passwords for different accounts. Enable two-factor authentication whenever possible.
  • Keep software and security systems up to date: Regularly update software and security systems to fix vulnerabilities that hackers could exploit.
  • Educate employees: Train employees in identifying and avoiding phishing attacks and other common cyber threats.
  • Use firewalls and antivirus software: Use firewall and antivirus software to protect against malware and other threats.
  • Use secure networks: Use secure networks, such as virtual private networks (VPNs), to protect data when accessing the internet over public WiFi.
  • Implement data backup and recovery procedures: Regularly back up important data and have a plan in place to recover it in the event of an attack.
  • Use secure protocols: Use secure protocols, such as HTTPS, to protect data transmitted over the internet.
  • Conduct regular security assessments: Regularly assess and test the security of your systems to identify and fix vulnerabilities before they can be exploited.
  • Consider cybersecurity insurance: Cybersecurity insurance can provide financial protection in the event of a cyber attack.

The Future of Cyber Warfare

The future of cyber warfare is a topic that is garnering increasing attention in the modern world. As we increasingly rely on technology, the potential for digital attacks and conflicts increases.

Artificial Intelligence

A key trend in digital warfare is the increased use of artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning. These technologies have the potential to enhance the capabilities of cyber attackers and defenders alike significantly. 

For example, hackers can use AI to automate identifying and exploiting computer vulnerabilities, making it easier to launch successful attacks. On the other hand, organizations can also use AI to analyze large amounts of data and identify potential threats, allowing them to defend against cyberattacks proactively.

Internet of Things (IoT)

Another trend is the rise of the internet of things (IoT). IoT refers to any interconnected network of devices, such as smart thermostats, security cameras, and medical devices. These devices often have weak security and can be easily hacked, making them a prime target for cyber wars.

Quantum Computing

In addition to AI and the IoT, quantum computing will likely shape digital warfare. Quantum computers have the potential to significantly increase the speed and power of computing, making them valuable tools for both attackers and defenders. However, they also present unique challenges for the future of cyber warfare, as hackers can use them to break traditional encryption methods, leading to new cyber-attacks.


In conclusion, cyber warfare is a complex and rapidly evolving field that has significant implications for citizens, governments, and businesses worldwide.

If you are interested in pursuing a career in cyber security or want to learn more about cyber warfare, consider enrolling in a cybersecurity degree program at NEIT.

NEIT has been designated a National Center of Academic Excellence in Cyber Defense (CAE-CD) by the Department of Homeland Security and the National Security Agency, lending credibility to our network engineering and cybersecurity degree programs.


How does cyber warfare affect citizens?

Citizens are primarily affected by cyber warfare through the theft or loss of personal information, such as financial or identification data. This can result in identity theft, financial losses, and reputational harm.

Another way cyber warfare affects citizens is through information manipulation. Hackers can disseminate false or misleading information, which causes public confusion and mistrust.

What is the main purpose of cyber warfare?

The main purpose of cyber warfare is to gain an advantage over an adversary by disrupting their ability to communicate, gather intelligence, or operate military systems. This can be done for various reasons, including to disrupt an enemy’s military capabilities, gain an advantage in a conflict, or disrupt critical infrastructure or government operations.

In some cases, cyber warfare may also be used to gather intelligence or to engage in espionage.

How long do cyber attacks last?

The duration of a cyber attack can vary significantly depending on the attack’s nature and the attackers’ resources. Some attacks may only last a few minutes or hours, while others can continue for days, weeks, or even months.

One of the main factors determining the duration is the effectiveness of the defender’s response. If the defenders can quickly identify and mitigate the attack, the attack may be short-lived.

Which country is leading in cyber warfare?

It is difficult to determine which country is leading in cyber warfare due to the secretive nature of these activities. However, several countries, including the United States, Russia, China, and Israel, are widely regarded as having advanced capabilities in this area.

What is the difference between cyber war and cyber warfare?

Cyberwar is a conflict between two or more states primarily conducted through cyber means. It involves using computer systems, networks, and the internet to attack and defend against other countries.

On the other hand, cyber warfare is a broader term that refers to using digital means to achieve strategic objectives. This can include cyber war and different types of digital conflict, such as espionage, propaganda, and information warfare.

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