Shlomo Kramer, one of the most respected figures in the cyber security world believes we are only at the beginning of a new military era which includes cyber.
Kramer was speaking at the InfoSecurity Conference in London this week where he was inducted into the Hall of Fame along with security researcher Mikko Hypponen who believes the last ten years mark the best decade for the cyber security industry.
Kramer, who has been in the industry for almost 30 years, has seen the threat landscape alter seismically over that period and he believes that the nation state attacks which have been reported in the media in the last two years mark just the start of a new era - and one which is not going to go away anytime soon:
"I really think the nation state aspect of the [cyber] threat is at its early state. I'm not subscribing to the fact that there is going to be some diplomacy and it's going to go away and the genie is going to back in the bottle. I think what we are seeing now is just the beginning of a new military era which includes cyber."
Kramer is the CEO and founder of Imperva, as well as being involved as an investor with many other security companies around the globe. He started his career in the Israeli army before going out on his own with the launch of Check Point. At the time he was told by a potential investor that there was no money in the internet, and they wouldn't invest. Kramer refuses to name the short-sighted person but said it was "luckily we didn't listen to them."
The ones we know about
Over the past couple of years there has been a huge spike in amount of reported cyber-espionage with sophisticated cyber-weapons like Stuxnet, Flame and Gauss uncovered - though these are only the ones we know about.
Last month security firm Mandiant released a report into a Chinese hacker group known as APT1 which were linked to the Chinese military and we found to be spying on hundreds of US organisations including the Wall Street Journal, New York Times and Bloomberg.
While China continues to deny it is carrying out these attacks, it also claims to be under attack from countries like the US, and Kramer believes that the US government has the capabilities to carry out such actions:
"I would assume that the US government is no different from any other government and develops not only defensive capabilities but offensive capabilities [in cyber]. To what extent it is using them I don't know. I am pretty sure it can use [them] though."
Cyber-espioage in the form we are seeing at the moment does not affect teh vast majority of ordinary people, and while we have yet to see a definitive act of cyber war, Kramer is concerned the impact such an act could have on innocent victims. He recalls speaking to people who were impacted by Hurricane Sandy last year and warns a state-sponsored cyber-attack could have a similar effect:
"Imagine what kind of [impact] an effective cyber-attack on the infrastructure of the state could have? It is something to be really concerned about."
Moving military combat online could see the emergence of new players in the global landscape, with traditional superpowers like the US, China and Russia facing real threats from smaller nations who are able to leverage cyber weapons which cost a lot less to develop.
Earlier this year Stonesoft director of cyber security, Jarno Limnell told IBTimes UK that the coming cyber-wars will see the playing field levelled with traditional superpowers threatened by relative minnows.
Kramer doesn't see things as being this cut-and-dry however:
"I'm not sure it's not a more complex operation than a single person [creating a cyber-weapon which can be used against a larger nation]. Whether it opens the gates for smaller countries to get more disproportionate power, I don't know the answer to that."
Another problem Kramer and his colleagues are seeing is that the sophisticated techniques developed by nation states have gotten into the wild and are now making their way into the hands of cyber-criminals who use them to steal billions of pounds every year from innocent victims around the world.
"We are starting to see cyber-criminals starting to use methods that come from the nation states." Kramer says the trickle-down effect has seen the commoditisation of advanced methods used in cyber-weapons such as Stuxnet, Flame and Gauss.
The security industry has been playing catch-up for the last decade as cyber-criminals organised themselves, continued to innovate and became very good at avoiding traditional security measures such as firewalls and anti-virus software, but Kramer believes things are changing and he is now a lot more optimistic about the state of cyber-security.
"Waking to the reality"
"If you had asked me too years ago the awareness [of the threats out there] was very low. I would say there is an acceleration of awareness in the last couple of years. People are definitely catching themselves and are much more aware of the threat and the need to change course."
Kramer believes "people are waking to the reality of the situation" which is the first step needed in order to address the problem.
Some companies are now taking a more sophisticated strategy when it comes to cyber-attacks, admitting that the criminals are going to get into their systems, and re-engineering their defences to protect the vital data within their networks, and trying to catch the criminals once they are inside the networks.
Kramer says there is "an important role for government in all of this."
He believes some of the "latest initiatives in the US by Obama are heading in the right direction. It is all about information sharing. Not only information sharing between enterprises, but also information sharing with governments."
This is in reference to the Cyber Information Sharing and Protection Act (CISPA) bill which has passed through the House of Representatives but has since been killed before it got to the Senate due to privacy concerns.
Speaking before the bill was rejected, Kramer said the practice of sharing information between private enterprise and government is the only effective way to stop large-scale attacks on a country's infrastructure.
"My opinion is there is there is no other way to win this battle. If you don't counter [cyber-attacks] with information sharing then it's not going to be won." Kramer warns this information sharing has to be done in the "right way" with the proper checks and balances.