The information wars are underway, yet most of us toil away on the web, blissfully unaware of the artillery fire lighting up the distant horizon.

News of another round of Chinese-sourced attacks on Google — high-quality phishing attacks targeted at defence establishment personnel, and almost certainly by the Chinese Government despite its inevitable denials — comes only days after the United States announced that the Pentagon is developing a new cyberwarfare strategy that calls for the use of military force — including conventional weapons — in response to certain kinds of damaging online attacks on U.S. institutions.

A major US defence contractor, Lockheed Martin, has recently also come under attack. In Australia, Estimates hearings have been revealing the extent of online attacks against the Australian Government, and today the Federal Government announced the development of a new cyber strategy.

Growing evidence that many of the world’s biggest corporations are unwilling or unable to keep their sites secure means the “cracking” of websites to obtain personal, national security and commercially confidential data to embarrass the company, harm it commercially, sell its data or for the purposes of espionage, is surely only going to increase rapidly. This is a complex and confusing battlefield where states, corporations, individuals, criminals and loose groups of activists are engaged in conflicts. And many players are not what they seem.

It’s unlike any previous conflict and yet the stakes are very real — for governments anxious to keep secrets, for dissidents trying to keep their identities secret, for major banks that could be greatly damaged by the revelation of confidential material, for companies desperate to keep rivals in the dark and for developing countries anxious for an economic advantage (the Chinese record on high-tech innovation appears to depend very strongly on its ability to buy or steal Western technology).

Crikey is attempting to make sense of one particular sector of the information war. Our “War on the Internet” series will chronicle the wave of attacks being launched by governments the world over on both the internet and its users. Regardless of how you use the web, this is a conflict that is set to affect all of us.

Peter Fray

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Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey

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