PUT away the tanks and bombs — World War III will be fought online and Islamic State is better prepared for the cyber war than any Western military superpower.

That’s the warning to the US military from a prominent online security identity.

John McAfee says the West is living in “a doomsday machine of our own design”, and it’s only a matter of time before our weapons and technology are turned against us.

The creator of the first commercial antivirus computer program says the US may be well prepared for traditional warfare but IS is streets ahead in cyber warfare, using social media to recruit more members with hacking skills.

Writing for the International Business Times, Mr McAfee calls out the US government on its “incompetence” in preparing for war.

“No one can predict the future. We can make educated guesses or, more prudently, explore the different possibilities and scenarios. And for a scenario of cyber war we are woefully unprepared — one could even say defenceless,” he writes.

“Our arsenal of bullets, bombs, tanks, planes, boats, missiles and our nuclear capabilities are rivalled by few, and likely exceeded by none.

“None of this matters in a cyber war — a fact that could damage us when our weapons and

equipment are turned against us using computers.”

Islamic State is well equipped to fight a war online.

McAfee said the US and other Western powers were preoccupied with debating whether or not to put boots on the ground in the Middle East or how best to attack IS using massive machinery.

“The fact is that the rules of engagement for 21st century conflicts lie along different

lines,” he says.

McAfee says governments have left networks open to hacking.

“If we are unable to protect our networks, everything connected to them can be infiltrated by

hackers,” he writes.

“In our modern world this includes our power grid, nuclear power stations, planes, cars and

our entire financial infrastructure. These will be the weapons of cyber war — turned against us

in a perversion of their intended purposes.

“We are living in a doomsday machine of our own design — one that when activated will make the Battle of Antietam look like a Sunday picnic.”

Director of the Australian Centre for Cyber Security at UNSW, Professor Jill Slay, says while there is some truth in McAfee’s predictions, she is wary of cyber warfare hype.

“We’ve known about insecurities in many different pieces of infrastructure, the internet, mobile phone, and they’re all being exploited all the time. You’ve got to be very clever to do what [McAfee] is suggesting.”

Prof Slay said there were two different schools of thought when it came to anticipating cyber warfare, and she has researched both sides of the argument thoroughly.

“There are groups who firmly believe cyber warfare will happen and groups who believe that it won’t,” she said.

“The statement most researchers would come to is that any potential war would be a normal, kinetic war, but with what you would call cyber effects.

“Cyber warfare is manipulating technology, and we know that infrastructure is vulnerable, but you have to have a very clever, very well-financed team of hackers.”

As McAfee’s article suggests, IS is trying to sell itself as such a team.

John McAfee was also at one stage named as a ‘person of interest’ in the murder of his Belize neighbour but was never charged or named as a suspect. He will run for US president with the newly formed Cyber Party. Picture: AP Photo/Guatemala’s National Police

John McAfee was also at one stage named as a ‘person of interest’ in the murder of his Belize neighbour but was never charged or named as a suspect. He will run for US president with the newly formed Cyber Party. Picture: AP Photo/Guatemala’s National PoliceSource:AP

Prof Slay concedes that technology and the potential damage hacking can cause has changed the game for governments with only a few “very clever” individuals needed to come together to launch a cyber attack on an entire nation or government system.

While IS has worked to recruit educated people so that they can have warfare “at the information level”, Prof Slay said governments and intelligence agencies were working quietly to counter future cyber attacks.

“We need to understand who the bad guys are, what they’ve got and if there is any possibility they’ll launch such an attack or cyber espionage, but cyber warfare is still hyped as far as I’m concerned.”

Australia had its closest shave with cyber espionage when data was apparently stolen from the Bureau of Meteorology, but Prof Slay said this couldn’t be classed as an attack.

She said while she doubted a cyber world war would become a reality, governments should be as prepared as possible for security breaches.

“We’ve created an environment where citizens can use the internet as a weapon, but it’s not as easy as some people have been scared into thinking,” she said.

In comments to news.com.au following the BoM hacking, another Australian cyber security expert, Curtin University professor Mihai Lazarescu, said: “Cyber warfare is a reality of life and Australians have to take it seriously.”


By Adam