COLORADO SPRINGS — Cyberwarfare was recognized as a major form of warfare in the 2000s, and it has been evolving. This form of warfare can have devastating impacts with minimal loss from the opposition.

With this tactic, countries are able to use the internet, GPS, power grids or anything transmitted through satellites and broadcasts against another country to cause nearly immediate destruction.

“The United States, China and Russia all have pre-positioned malware to attack each other’s electrical grids. So pretty much we can do this at any time we decide to,” said Elizabeth Van Wie Davis, Ph.D., a Colorado School of Mines professor of humanities, arts and social sciences.

Russia is no stranger to cyber attacks and already they have been able to successfully use this tactic against Ukraine.

Davis speaks on cyberwarfare and its threat to the US. Credit: Rachel Saurer

“Russia has used cyber weapons to turn off the capitol of Ukraine — Kyiv’s — electricity. Twice,” Davis said.

Just turning off the electricity for a country can have serious implications.

“You couldn’t pump gas from most of our gas stations. You couldn’t fill your car. It’s very hard to do a bank transaction or something like that because all of that happens electronically,” Davis said.

However, this isn’t even the most concerning thing enemy countries can do with cyberwarfare.

“Even more than populations losing their electricity in interfering with military command and control because that means that it is very difficult for a country to defend itself properly,” Davis said.

However, the most worrisome aspect of cyberwarfare, Davis said, is the fact that it can cause a lot of damage which sometimes can’t be prevented.

“This is why places like the United States have so many backups for our particular services so that… you would feel an interruption, but it wouldn’t be days,” Davis said.

Another defense against this is relying on the notion that a country may choose not to attack another in fear of equal retaliation.

“The reason that countries don’t do this is something that we relied on in the Cold War with nuclear weapons – MAD–mutually assured destruction.”

This is why some experts said an attack on the U.S. via cyber space is unlikely, because we have the capability of an equally proportionate attack. But, as technology increases, so does the threat.

According to Davis, one of the earliest cyberattacks on a university happened right at the Colorado School of Mines in 1996 which was part of a two-year Russian cyber-espionage operation dubbed “Moonlight Maze”.

Intruders were able to snag information on NASA, NOAA, U.S. Navy, Air Force and others over several years, proving that a cyberattack can happen right in our own backyard.