The value of magic in warcraft and cyberspace

Updated: Sep 1, 2021

Hit points, armed class, speed, cost and area-of-effect are well understood character and weapon attributes in massively multiplayer online role-playing games (MMORPG). Magic can be exceptionally powerful but it’s value isn’t always appreciated by conventional fighters.

Cyber is like magic.

An electronic cloak of invisibility can allow one to penetrate defenses, exploit systems and steal secrets undetected. Clairvoyance a can help defend forward in time. An offensive payload can destroy a nuclear capability, blow up a gas pipeline, disruption critical infrastructure or paralyze a government and military.

With the supernatural power of suggestion, a character can conduct psychological warfare, spread toxic memes, misinformation or launch an influence campaign targeting cognitive domains that can effect the outcome of elections or overthrow a government without a shot being fired.

How does magic of cyber match up with conventional warfare:Starting with cost, range and speed:

A typical tank will cost you $14m, and can travel 400km at 72kph. An artillery and tank round is about $2000 travels 2000kph and range between 4-30km.

The price-tag for a 5th generation fighter aircraft is a cool $135m but can travel 3000km up to1250kph.

If you have more money and time on your hands, a naval ship will set you back $5b and can operate 17,000km. With a speed of 54kph, it takes awhile.

In a rush, fire off a missile. It will cost you $150k, speed away at 1600kph and hit a target 10-100km away.

Go big you say. A nuclear program like the USA will cost you $5.8 trillion and $35.4 billion/year to maintain. The price of one weapon including a delivery system $8.4m with a W80-1 warhead at $16.3M. The range of a cruise missile is 1000km flying at 800kph. If you chose to upgrade to an ICBM for $70m you get a range of 13,000km and speed of 25,000kph

In total, a conventional armed forces like Canada would mean a $1T investment and $30b per year operating budget. A conventional military is not cheap.

What is the effect of do these weapons generate?

Conventional shells, bombs missiles generally have an area of effective damage of 20-100m

Nuclear weapons pack a bigger punch. Blast radius for 150kt is 2-6km, 1mt is 6-17km and 20mt is 17-47km. Then there is all that radiation and messy fall out. Once you set one off, you are committed to the after effects


Cyber like magic operates differently. And this is where it gets interesting

Ships, aircraft, space platforms, land systems, weapons and soldiers are floating data centres, software in the cloud and end-points on the Internet-of Everything.

The non-recurring engineering for a Cyber payload or exploit can vary from a free download, a days work up to a $1m effort for the most complex code – on average $5k. What is attractive is that the cost per unit cost afterwards is zero. The price of a nation-state level capability can be acquired or outsourced for less than $25m. In fact, a few sophisticated actors with access to the cloud can generate nation-crippling effects for less than the cost of an army jeep.

Such is the asymmetric nature of cyber - talent trumps troops.

A cyber weapon travels at the speed-of-light (1billion kph) and has unlimited range. The area of effect can be tuned to complete a surgical strike or be used as a WMD. Multiple delivery systems can be used (USB, social media, network, RF etc) and the payload itself can serve multi-purposes (Intelligence, surveillance, reconnaissance, exploitation, influence disruption or and destruction)

Cyber can and has killed people by direct and proxy attacks. The largest conventional exposition in recorded history, was caused by a cyber weapon. Direct energy weapons and EMP bombs fall within the cyber domain.

Cyber is extraordinarily resilient with cloaking and moving target defence. An adversary can be anywhere and everywhere on the planet. Making convectional weapons ineffective against cyber.

Conversely, cyber can hit conventional weapon platforms and critical infrastructure and cause real-world damage. Mouse can be mightier than the missile

There are a number of incidents where a cyber and influence attack has disabled weapon platforms or and paralyzed units in theatre. Cyber attacks have seriously disrupted military operations. One such incident resulted in a $1.2billion budget impact and in reparation costs upward of $100m. An estimated $1.6B intellectual property was stolen. Total costs of foreign military cyber attacks against Canada in one year cost $8.5B.

One of the most poignant examples of a cyber weapon is that of Stuxnet.

Stuxnet has been described as cyber-kinetic weapon and the first digital weapon of geopolitical importance. It cost an estimated $1M to develop and caused $11B in damage. Targeting industrial control systems, the exploit infected over 200,000 computers and caused 1,000 machines to physically degrade destroying one-fifth of Iran's nuclear centrifuges.

Cyber weapons may be the most versatile and have best ROI, but unique exploits have a limited shelf-life before counter-measures are developed. They can also be reverse engineered, repurposed and reused.

Hence, just like a magical, Cyber has to continually innovate and come up with new tricks. Governments and industry must continuously develop cyber payloads and delivery systems. Furthermore, a robust vulnerability equities framework must be established to ensure that that our own environment and society are not left exposed.

The value of cyber in competition, conflict and war should not be underestimated. One just needs to study magic.

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