In its fifth annual Virtual Criminology report, McAfee found that five countries, the US, Russia, France, Israel and China, are now armed with cyber weapons.
"Several nations around the world are actively engaged in cyber war-like preparations and attacks. Today, the weapons are not nuclear, but virtual, and everyone must adapt to these threats," says Jayson O'Reilly, regional manager for Africa at McAfee.
Experts are calling for a clear definition and an open debate on cyber warfare, according to McAfee. “Without an open discussion among the government, private sector and the public, future cyber attacks targeting critical infrastructure could be devastating,” it says in a statement.
Nations are targeting government networks and critical infrastructures, with past targets including the White House, the Department of Homeland Security, the US Secret Service, and the Department of Defence (in the US alone), notes McAfee.
The report also shows attackers are targeting infrastructure such as power grids, transportation, telecommunication, finance and water supplies. These are, in most developed countries, connected to the Internet and lack proper security functions.
The rules of engagement are not clearly defined, according to the report. This lack of definition makes it difficult to determine when a political response or threat of military action is warranted.
Private sector risks
Critical infrastructure is privately-owned in many developed countries. If virtual shooting starts, governments, corporations and private citizens may get caught in the crossfire, notes McAfee. Without insight into the government's cyber defence strategy, the private sector is not able to be proactive and take the proper precautions.
"Over the next 20 to 30 years, cyber attacks will increasingly become a component of war," William Crowell, a former deputy director of the US National Security Agency, says in the report.