Syria is in no position to respond conventionally to a US military strike. Where it and its allies could hurt the US is by lashing back in cyberspace, disrupting and damaging American economic and critical infrastructure.
Translation: A US strike on Syria and other foreign-policy measures could put solution providers on the front line of an extended cyberwar in which they will pay a critical role in defending the IT infrastructure.
President Barack Obama over the weekend announced he would seek approval of Congress to attack and punish Syria for using chemical weapons against civilians and rebels. A vote may not come until 9 Sepember.
Federal government and military cybersecurity agencies are already gearing up for the possibility of a digital response to any attack launched against the Assad regime. Evidence of the threat has been the activity of the Syrian Electronic Army, a hacker group that has launched recent attacks against The New York Times, Washington Post and Twitter.
The Syrian Electronic Army, which isn't officially connected to the Assad regime, in and of itself doesn't have the power to cause serious damage to US interests, officials say. However, the group has proven quite adept at causing disruptions. And, the Syrian Electronic Army says it has several tricks remaining in its arsenal that it will launch if the US strikes.
More worrisome to US officials is the unknown sources of cyberattacks. Syria is backed by Russia, Iran and China, which have substantial cyberwarfare capabilities. Sympathetic elements could unleash a torrent of cyberattacks against the US.
Why cyberattacks, though? What makes cyberspace a better battleground?
Simple: Syria and its supporters do not have the conventional means to retaliate against the US military. The US's most likely option is to launch a series of Tomahawk cruise missiles at strategic targets inside Syria to send a message that Assad's use of chemical weapons will have consequences. The Syrian sophisticated air defense system could take out some of those missiles, but that's the extent of their military capabilities.
Terrorism experts anticipate retaliatory bombings against US embassies and interests around the world, particularly in places such as East Africa, Middle East and the Asian subcontinent.
However, military conflicts over the past decade have demonstrated the power of electronic and internet-born warfare. The Russians obliterated the Georgian Internet capabilities during their brief conflict in 2008. In the early 2000s, Chinese hackers took to the internet to attack US interests when tensions between the two countries tightened. India and Pakistan, which are waging a regional cold war, have an ongoing cyberconflict. And, Iranian nuclear capabilities were disrupted in 2010 by the first weaponised malware, Stuxnet, which was allegedly developed by foreign intelligence agencies.
While the US has extensive capabilities for detecting cyberattacks and, supposedly, launching cyberattacks, it doesn't have centralised command and control to protect all the vital interests attached to the internet. Protecting the economic, communication and critical infrastructure falls to the private sector.
The challenge facing businesses - enterprises and SMBs alike - is the ability appropriately secure their infrastructure. Current regulatory requirements are mostly focused on safeguarding personal data and the integrity of financial information. To safeguard data, infrastructure and continuous operations will fall to solution providers, who will provide the technology, services and human resources to secure, maintain and - in the event of an attack - restoration.
The growing cyberwarfare challenge will mean more than just a sales opportunity for the channel. It means playing a vital role in the US's national defence and economic security. While this is a role integral to solution providers today, it will increase in importance as US foreign and military policy will likely draft them into an active role in national defence.
As part of our special editorial partnership, CRN is republishing this article from Channelnomics.
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