What Is Cyber Warfare, Meaning, Definition, Types, Cyber Attack Meaning

In the present digital world where internet has become more important and it is being integrated into industrial and defence related networks around the globe, it has become increasingly important to focus on cyber warfare networks. Cyber warfare uses internet as a weapon against the enemy state without having any physical presence and thus making it one of the most deadly weapon to be used in the 21st century. The contemporary states are using the internet as a foreign policy tool. The internet, powered by satellites and under sea cables has become more relevant in aiding national security, such as in the development of remote radars and national security communication systems.

The use of internet in an integrated and connected world has made it possible to attack the enemy nation with the click of a keyboard key. Thus, the internet forms the basis of cyber warfare in the present world.

What is Cyber Warfare?

Cyber warfare refers to virtual warfare conducted in the cyberspace through the means of internet and cyber methods. The cyberspace can be described as globally interconnected network of digital infrastructure which involves the information and communications infrastructure such as computer systems, internet and telecommunications network, and digital information transmitting devices that mainly uses internet.

Cyber warfare involves agencies that are organised along nation state boundaries, in offensive as well as defensive operations by the use of computers, which are used to attack other computers or networks through electronic means. The impact of cyber warfare varies according to the target and severity. Through disrupting networks, the cyber attackers target real world infrastructures such as Internationa airports, power grids etc. The nation states are increasingly getting dependent upon internet networks from financial services to transport networks. Dependence on the internet networks has made them more vulnerable to cyber attacks. The cyber attacks can be launched instantly from any distance with no evidence or traces of any path that could be travel back, which makes retaliation much harder. Though cyber attacks are mainly carried out by non-state individuals but if these attacks are aided by state machinery, they take the form of cyber warfare. Cyber warfare involves secret operations over the internet and there is equivalent destruction and damage as in a conventional warfare operation.

Types of Cyber Warfare

Cyber warfare can present multitude of threats towards any nation. At the fundamental level, cyber warfare is used to support traditional warfare. But various other modes of cyber warfare also exist. These are


Cyber warfare techniques are used for espionage where critical information is stolen from the enemy servers via communication networks. Out of all cyber attacks, 25% are espionage based cyber attacks where information is related to a country’s infrastructure such as transport, power, etc. The cyber attackers steals classified and sensitive data to gain advantage over the rival country. Many of the cyber attacks uses Advanced Persistent Threats (APTs) as their tools to secretly enter networks or systems and remain undetected for years. This gives advantage to the attacking side of initiating an attack whenever it wishes to.


Sabotage attacks are made on useful and strategic infrastructure of a country. Components of military and defence are usually connected and integrated to national level control systems that run via satellite networks. Sabotaging is an act of disrupting this important system to undermine military and defence capabilities of a country. In addition to the military infrastructure, other types of infrastructure such as communication networks, power grids, transport networks, fuel and water supplies, port infrastructure as well as coal and nuclear power plants are also at risk of disruption.

Denial of Service Attack Denial of Service (DoS)

attack or Distributed Denial of Service (DDoS) attacks are an attempt to make a machine or network resource unavailable to its intended user. These attacks targets services such as banks, financial systems, payment gateways etc. to cause financial disruption and loss to the country. It either consists of buffer overflow attacks which sends more traffic to a network address than it can handle. This leads to a crash in the network. When multiple systems are used to cause a synchronised attack to a single target, it is considered as a Distributed DoS (DDoS) attack. It makes the location of attack undetectable.

Cyber Propaganda

Cyber warfare also includes cyber propaganda to control information and influence public opinion in a country. It is a form of physchological warfare and it uses social media, fake news and other digital means that are accessible by a large number of people. It is a form of long term warfare and it uses a delibrate, systematic technique to shape perceptions, manipulate minds and change or modify behaviours in a manner that a propagandist would like.

Phishing Attacks

A phishing attack sends fake attractive offers to the people in an attempt to obtain financial details. Other form of details such as secret and classified information can be obtained through these attacks. To make the attacks more convincing the attacker uses spear phishing that looks more formal as it uses detailed information such as a proposal with a banner, logos, website addresses etc. which makes it easier for the attacker to obtain credible information. Phishing attacks can be used by countries to obtain information from government sources as well as private sources which are providing essential services to the government ministries and departments at the central as well as state levels.

The Challenges of Cyber Warfare

The unique nature of cyber warfare presents many challenges that require special mechanisms to cope-up with. These challenges are

No physical Boundaries

The cyberspace has No Physical Boundaries limitations. It is not bound by geography and time. A cyber attack can be carried out from thousands of kilometers, without any physical presence. The increasing connectivity makes a cyber attack possible in any country from any place . Cyber attacks have also replaced traditional military attacks in several countries.

Increasing dependence on Information Technology

Networks Today countries are dependent upon IT networks for banking and finance infrastructure, telecommunications infrastructure, electric power distribution systems, energy systems, transport management systems, strategic military and defence systems. This has made countries vulnerable as with a single click, the whole of critical infrastructure of a country can be disrupted.

No Battlefield

There are no general battlefronts in cyber warfare. It can be carried out from anywhere on any network with the use of World Wide Web and satellite communication. Thus, traditional war techniques are being replaced by cyber war techniques that have potential to create blackouts, rail crashes and disruption at the financial institutions of a country such as the stock exchanges.

No Physical Damage

Cyber warfare does not involve any physical strike or damage to any infrastructure. It only involves disruption of systems to create loss to the rival nation. It also makes it difficult to detect a cyber attack. Several times, it is not even possible to tell whether the disruption was due to a cyber attack or a systematic fault

Easy to Organise

It only requires a couple of computers with good internet access to organise and launch cyber warfare. Hackers often use tools that are free and simple to operate. It is much cheaper to finance cyber warfare as compared to conventional warfare.

Difficult to Trace

The cyber attacks are very difficult to trace as they do not leave any evidence of any attack. The point of origin can not be tracked because it is launched by hacking into other computers. Even if the origin is traced, it is not easy to launch a counter offensive.

Difficult to Defend

In conventional warfare, there are counter offensive and defensive techniques that are installed in a country’s land boundaries but in cyber warfare, there are not any defensive systems that could be installed to defend against a cyber attack. Thus, it makes the cyber attack more complex and difficult to defend.


At present, there are no rules of engagement either at the national or international level. Thus, cyber space warfare has remained a borderless and complex entity that has the potential to create more damage than even the traditional military warfare. It is considered as a modern form of warfare that has anonymity as the biggest advantage associated with it. The rapid expansion of cyber war techniques puts the people in developing countries like India at much greater risk. Organisations such as DRDO has developed high grade cryptographic techniques to safeguard Indian networks against internal as well as external attacks. Partnerships with the private sectors is an essential step as majority of country’s cyber assets are controlled by entities outside the government. There is an urgent need to train more cyber security experts so that Indian cyber space can be made more secure. India is fortunate to have an expert talent pool, which can be employed to make India free from surprise threats.

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