September 20, 2023

Virtual warfare bigger threat than nuclear war, experts caution at Arab Media Forum

DUBAI- A new world war where faceless enemies are out to destroy societies, values, cultures and morale using the internet and social media, is gaining momentum with more than 18 attacks taking place per second globally and costing the United States a whopping $250 billion (Dh991 billion) a year alone.

Cyber attacks and the virtual warfare are gradually replacing nuclear warfare as the biggest threat to civilization and mankind living in a world where social media is playing a greater role in reshaping the values, morale, cultures and societies.

Moutaz Kokash
Moutaz Kokash

“It’s a global phenomenon. It transcends across all borders. It’s faceless and unknown. The effects could be lethal,” Moutaz Kokash, an expert on cyber warfare in the Arab World, told delegates at a panel discussion at the 13th edition of the Arab Media Forum.

“In a real war, you know the enemy, its strength and weakness and the possible tactics. You also know the place of conflict and perhaps the time. In a virtual warfare, you know nothing about the enemy, its strength, its tactics, where it is coming from and most dangerously – when it will take place. The attacker takes the victim off-guard most of the time.”

He said, a group of trained IT professionals are recruited by entities with vested interests and vengeance to carry out these sophisticated attacks to destabilize societies. “These are the new cyber mercenaries who carry out the attacks,” he said.

“Cyber attack costs the Gulf Arab countries $1 billion (Dh3.67 billion) a year and it is growing. No countries are immune to this and the virtual world is the new battlefield where attacks are not limited to any particular border or territory. It’s global.”

Quoting a Danish warrior, they said, one cannot send an army to fight ideas. “You can’t fight ideas by sending an army battalion”.

Describing the effects, Kokash cited an example of a hacker who brought an airport in California to a standstill by just hacking into the operations of the airport. “All flight movement came to a standstill, delaying take-offs and landings adding misery to the passengers stranded there before the authorities could fix the bug,” he said. “However, in the Gulf, they are targeting the key installations – the oil and gas industry, the infrastructure and all of us should guard ourselves against these attacks.”

Experts and media analysts have asked the Arab World to guard against such attacks that could destabilise the societies as more and more people embrace social media in the region.

Ali Al Nuaimi
Ali Al Nuaimi

“We are living in a new world, a totally different world shaped by the internet, mobile phones and the social media,” Ali Al Naoimi, Vice Chancellor, UAE University, said. “These are the tools of cyber warfare and we need to create a massive awareness campaign on the dangers. Our young generations are being targeted by extremist groups who spread different views that challenge our values, morale and culture.”

He said, in a cyber war, there are barely any rules and regulations, let alone morale and values. “In a cyber war, there is no ethics and damages are done in seconds,” he said. “We have a wide battlefield – which is global and the consequences of these warfare could be catastrophic. Our values, morale and cultures are in danger and we need to act fast and decisively.”

Sabah Yassin
Sabah Yassin

Dr Sabah Yassin, Media researcher, Jordan, said, the cyber warfare also points fingers to the conspiracy theory on who actually caused the Arab Spring. “I do not rule out the conspiracy theory that some external forces and countries might have caused the Arab Spring which was triggered by the Social Media,” he said. “We, the Arabs are very late in realizing these threats. Our countries and societies need to be immunized against these threats and we could do it by launching long term community awareness.”

Mansour Al Shammari
Mansour Al Shammari

Unfortunately, terrorist groups have been more active than the rest in spreading their venom and running their agenda through the cyberworld. “They are targeting the women, especially those who are active on the social media,” Mansour Al Shammari, Writer and Academic, Saudi Scholar who is also an expert on terrorist groups, said.

“These young men and women are being targeted by the terrorist groups to air their views challenging the age-old social values and norms. Often they become prey to the plots of these extremist groups, without knowing what this could lead to.”

A region-wide awareness among the new generation could help save them from the evils of the social media, Ali Al Naoimi, says. “We need to engage with the young generation and help create a massive awareness campaign.”

He said, today’s children spend more time on the virtual world, than their families. The engagement should start from the childhood, at home, he said.

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