Hundreds of thousands of targets around the world were struck by dangerous weapons in May. These weapons were not kinetic, biological, chemical or nuclear; they were electronic. The targets were computers across 150 countries, including an estimated 70,000 devices inside Britain’s National Health Service such as computers, scanners and storage equipment. The attack also struck FedEx, Deutsche Bahn, Telefónica, Taiwan Power Co., investment firms, insurance companies and numerous other companies, organizations and individuals.
The weapons were variations of a cyberattack called WannaCry. The malicious software accesses computer files, encrypts them, and holds them ransom, demanding payments of $300 to $600 per computer in exchange for returning the files to their unencrypted state. Europol called the attack unprecedented.
Wanna Cry is the latest reminder that the world has entered a new age that was formerly only science fiction. Cyberwar is no longer a movie fantasy but rather a real-world reality that threatens entire nations. A new arms race has begun, not for warships, planes, tanks or even nukes, but for cyberweapons.
And Germany has just lurched forward in the race, in a big way.
On April 1, the German military launched its biggest venture to combat cyberthreats, establishing a new sixth branch: Cyber and Information Space Command. The command will operate on the same level as the Army, Air Force and Navy.
Defense Minister Ursula von der Leyen appointed Lt. Gen. Ludwig Leinhos to be Germany’s first cybergeneral. Leinhos will eventually head a team of 13,500 computer specialists, many of whom are already employed by the Bundeswehr in various locations. This is a huge force. The staff comes close in number to that of the German Navy.
Germany wants to take this massive cybermilitary and train it not just to defend against attacks like WannaCry, but also to launch its own cyberattacks.
‘More Than a Milestone’
April 5 was the first day in the office for the new team and a big day in German military history. Von der Leyen called it “morethan a milestone” for the Bundeswehr. “This puts us in the top field internationally,” she said (Trumpet translation throughout).
The weekly newspaper of the German Army, Bundeswehr Aktuell, praised the new command in April and said that with it the German Army “takes on a pioneering role within nato.”
Germany’s Ministry of Defense says cybersecurity is crucial. It estimates that up to 80 percent of military-relevant new developments are now taking place in the cyberarena, and says most conflicts today are fought—in part or entirely—in cyberspace.
In just the first nine weeks of this year, 284,000 attacks were aimed at Bundeswehr computers.
Germany is also creating a cyber-research center at Bundeswehr University in Munich. This Cyber Innovation Hub aims to combine the resources of the Bundeswehr with the ingenuity of private-sector, start-up entrepreneurs. In 2016, the Bundeswehr hired 60 percent more computer scientists than it hired in 2015, thanks largely to successful public relations campaigns and generous benefits. If this trend continues, obtaining skilled personnel will be a problem of the past.
The Best Defense: A Good Offense
As in any other type of warfare, offense is the best defense. The only way to completely eliminate the threat of cyberattack is to eliminate the source.
“If the German military’s networks are attacked, then we can defend ourselves,” von der Leyen said at the launch of the new facility. “As soon as an attack endangers the functional and operational readiness of combat forces, we can respond with offensive measures.”
Deputy Defense Secretary Katrin Suder described part of the Cyber and Information Space Command’s foreign mission as monitoring, disturbing and isolating opponents’ communications.
The new team will have the technological means and training to lead these offensive strikes, but the legal basis still needs clarification. In an interview with Die Welt published on April 16, von der Leyen said that, according to German Basic Law, the Bundeswehr is allowed to strike back when the Army itself is under direct attack. She said the same is true in cyberspace. But the situation is different when the German state is attacked. If there is an attack on the Bundestag, for example, von der Leyen wants the Army to be able to strike back. Since cyber-capabilities developed long after the German Basic Law was formulated, German courts will have to clarify to what extent the team can use its offensive capacities.
An Age of Post-Deterrence
Regardless of legality, Germany is building the capability to launch cyberattacks in an age where we are only just beginning to see the potential power of such attacks. Leaders are comparing the potential potency of cyberweapons to nuclear weapons. In 2013, U.S. Sen. John Kerry called the new cybertechnologies the “21st-century nuclear weapons equivalent.”
A nation no longer needs to fear its opponent’s nuclear weapons if it can use cyberwarfare to paralyze its ability to launch those weapons. The nation with sufficiently superior cyber-technology could freeze the infrastructure of its opponent and immobilize its ability to go to war.
Just decades ago, Germany was the greatest threat to world peace. Today it is beginning to develop powerful technology that could pose a major threat, yet the world is unconcerned.
The American economy and military rely heavily on exactly the types of information systems that can be exploited by cyberattacks. One would think the U.S. would try its utmost to stay ahead in the race so nobody could exploit its weakness. But in reality, the U.S. is actually urging the German military to catch up. Washington has encouraged Germany to double its military budget and has upgraded the nuclear weapons it has stationed in Germany.
The world would be shocked to see Germany suddenly enter the nuclear arms race, yet it has just moved forward dramatically in another threatening race, the winner of which could gain control over its opponent without launching a single missile or dropping a single bomb.
None Goes to Battle
What would a war be like when a nation like the U.S. finds itself under attack and calls up its military to go to war—but not a ship, plane or tank makes a move?
The Bible describes exactly this scenario. Trumpet editor in chief Gerald Flurry pointed to that description in 2005: “I believe one key end-time Bible prophecy could well be fulfilled through … cyberterrorism …: ‘They have blown the trumpet, even to make all ready; but none goeth to the battle: for my wrath is upon all the multitude thereof’ (Ezekiel 7:14). The trumpet of war is to be blown in Israel—mainly America and Britain. … It seems everybody is expecting our people to go into battle, but the greatest tragedy imaginable occurs! Nobody goes to battle—even though the trumpet is blown! Will it be because of computer terrorism?” (Trumpet, May 2005).
Technology has finally caught up with a prophecy that was recorded more than 2,000 years ago.
The threats are real, and anyone can recognize them. But, apparently having largely forgotten what happened in two world wars, the world seems unconcerned about German advances in cyberwarfare. This is certain to prove to be a critical miscalculation. As technology drives us into an uncertain future of new dimensions in war-making, Germany is positioning itself to be at the vanguard.