Cyberwar


War remains a part of human life, so we should have no expectation that in the next 38 years, war becomes anathema and peace breaks out.  War plays an interesting part in Perceval.  I wanted to explore the civilian experience of war, survival instincts, good and bad behavior on the home front, and living with deprivation.  America is technically at war at the moment, but our lives are deprived of night time bombing attacks, food rationing, loss of homes, shortages of goods and services, artillery attacks and roaming soldiers with guns.  The only everyday sign of the war is returning troops and troops shipping out, covered on the news, and the hardships of their families while they are gone.  We have not known the ravages of a war in our own country for 150 years.

Civil war again grips America in 2048 in the Perceval series.  Minnesota, where Evan Quinn grew up and lived, is a border state between the Westerners to the west and the government forces to the east.  Partisan fighters in border states work with the Westerners to use terrorism to attack the government while government forces bomb them using unmanned drones.  It’s a “David and Goliath” fight, but the Westerners have hung on and formed their own government after seceding from the eastern half of the country.  The war allows the government to oppress the civilian population through surveillance and police control.  Evan, although well aware of the partisans because of his father, distances himself from the conflict, focuses on his music.  But he cannot escape war.

Would it be more plausible for a major world war to be conventional or one fought through cyberspace?  We are actually not so far away from cyberwar.  Each day, computers in other countries attack computers in this country.  We have firewalls, often multiple, to protect our data, much like the walls of a castle or fortress.  The attacks so far have been to steal information or to control computers for spammers or scammers.  Would a cyberwar make for good reading, or a conventional war?  And what would the civilian experience look like?

Another war figures prominently in the Perceval series.  So far, I’ve chosen to make it conventional with few futuristic flourishes (no laser weapons), but conventional weapons are just as devastating to a civilian population as unconventional.  As I’ve thought about cyber vs. real war, I’ve realized that I, as a writer, personally believe in a real war but not in a cyberwar.  The latter remains outside my experience and I’m not computer-savvy enough to be able to imagine what it would be like.  Another factor has nagged at me often, i.e. not one of the combatants would want to lose the internet and all its capabilities, especially during a war.  That should make them all vulnerable, but oddly not to each other but to people who want to control the internet by hacking into everyone else’s computers. 

That triggers a thought about conventional vs. cyber war.  What if a conventional war could be stopped by a cyberwar?  The two adversaries must join together to stop the attack on the internet and their computers.  They need their banking infrastructure, commerce, and cultural infrastructure on the internet.  A cyberwar attacks these things, not actual territory, people or governments, although governments have staked out their own internet territories.  With computers running physical infrastructure, power, transportation, and information, destruction of these could impact the civilian population as well as the government.

Originally, I envisioned the civil war in America to be a guerilla war.  The other war in the series would be much larger, involve a good portion of the globe, and nuclear as well as conventional weapons.  People would die.  The sound of a drone flying overhead would terrify people.  I wanted the destruction to include the physical world: land, buildings, roads, people.  For my purposes, I’m not yet convinced that a cyberwar could adequately do the job.  However, it could be a part of the conventional war, or something that complicates the war in a way that might bring the adversaries to the negotiating table faster. 

The important aspect is this: how the war or cyberwar affects Evan Quinn’s life and the lives of the people he knows, meets and works with.  I can make a conventional war a total sensual experience for him, but not a cyberwar.  However, a cyberwar would affect his bookings, his financial business, his contact with other musicians.  I’m open to other thoughts, ideas, suggestions…..

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3 responses to “Cyberwar

  1. There was a story yesterday (Tues 9/7) on MPR about cyber-wars. I think the story was actually on NPR’s All Things Considered, but I am certain I heard it on MPR’s 91.1. It had quite an interesting presentation of the various facets of what would be involved in an e-war and touched on the political aspects of such.

    In particular the current absence of international treaties about the matter, in comparison to “normal” military treaties. We have traditional military mutual-support treaties with other nations. Yet there are none with any other nation about electronic hostilities. One person opined this was due to the lack of any understanding of what exactly would be involved – we don’t want to enter into a treaty and then realize it isn’t really what we wanted or isn’t meaningful. What would one even look like?

    Yet a cyber attack could completely interrupt life in the entire United States of America for a few days at the very least. Sure, people are most likely to think about accessing cash/goods via ATM-credit cards. That’s pretty meaningless in the absence of other things. Water, gas & electricity systems run with computer networks, home security systems that are linked into a central office, automatic bill payments, grocery distribution with on-time-delivery. The newspapers rely almost entirely on computer networks between the journalist and the printer and … God Forbid: the internet and cell phones.

    How would I even know some horrible attack had happened? My cell phone wouldn’t work and I don’t have a land-line. My radio at home doesn’t have batteries at the moment & I couldn’t recharge them anyway. My internet access would disappear. I don’t even own a TV, even if I had electricity. I couldn’t buy a newspaper. I would be in an informational black-out.

    I remember September 11 totally interrupting the phone services. My sister-in-law was working 2 blocks from the White House – I tried calling her after the Pentagon was attacked. We were really worried due to the lack of information. I know intellectually there was no reason to worry – she didn’t work in the Pentagon. But I was worried. I called and called and called and called until I finally contacted her – at which point I could email everyone and relay the only critical information, that she was ok and stuck in traffic en route home. Fear rampages in the absence of information.

    My bigger question wouldn’t be the existence of informational distribution — it would be the sheer mistrust of any of that information. If the only TV station running was Fox News, who would believe them? Would they abruptly beseiged by some Ethics Fairy to start broadcasting more objective information? And to be fair, would PBS be objective if they had absolutely no competition? If it was only PBS/NPR, would Fox-fans suddenly accept what was broadcast? I already know the answer to the first and last – no. No one is going to be abruptly visited by an Intelligence Fairy to accept the information spewed forth from a heretofore distrusted source. A fact that a government (equally un-susceptible to Ethics Fairies) would no doubt take advantage of. You don’t need to censor the journalists – you only need to sensor yourself when speaking to them.

    • You bring up some interesting points. Wish I’d heard the discussion on MPR. I’ll check the website to see if there’s anything there about it. A cyberwar could totally disrupt our lives, but I wonder just how popular it would be. It would not involve directly killing people. The cyberattacks I’ve read about have been toward government sites and sought to steal information as well as disrupt the network. Our electronic gadgets are not necessarily what we’d want to have in case of war whether conventional or otherwise. Knocking out the power grid would effectively crash everything…..

  2. woot, thank you! I’ve finally came across a website where the owner knows what they’re talking about. You know how many results are in Google when I check.. too many! It’s so annoying having to go from page after page after page, wasting my day away with tons of owners just copying eachother’s articles… ugh. Anyway, thankyou for the information anyway, much appreciated.

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