Cyber defence systems weaponised software McAfee
Our cyber defence systems lag decades behind the development of weaponised software. iStock

The high technology of warfare, up until the rise of the Roman Empire, was primarily focused on defence: cities and castles with stone walls ten feet thick, moats, boiling oil sprayed from specially constructed towers, rolling stone balls weighing many tons dropped on attackers. A well constructed fortress was unassailable.

The Roman war technologists changed all of that. The creation of torsion-powered siege machines, rolling towers, incendiary ballistics and a host of other technology-based weapons allowed the Romans to overrun the most hardened fortresses.

Fast forward to 1945 and the first use of atomic weapons in wartime. The only defence was simply not to be anywhere near the blast area - an uncertain defence at best.

As nuclear weapons increased in devastation by orders of magnitude each decade, our defensive systems were virtually non-existent. Underground bunkers are pitiful defences against the destructive power of direct hits from multiple megaton explosions.

Perhaps the most absurd defence against a nuclear attack is the US Ground-Based Midcourse Defense system. Let's ignore for a moment the overwhelming evidence that the system does not work and assume that it functions perfectly. The result of its perfection would result in the very thing that modern day cyber-security specialists fear most: high altitude electromagnetic pulses (EMPs).

If this missile defence system actually succeeded in its goals, then the resulting EMP would destroy the entire electrical grid of the North American continent resulting in the death of 90% of its inhabitants.

But all of this is ancient history. The world has evolved. Why would any nation state waste billions in hardware, fuel and manpower when a few dozen high-level hackers, sitting comfortably in front of a computer screen, drinking coffee, or vodka, or smoking weed, can accomplish far more with a push of a few buttons?

Why this has not yet happened because the target nation probably has equivalent capabilities - powered by isolated systems that will survive an initial attack - who will respond in kind. This detente may keep us secure for a while, but rogue nations, throughout history, led by mad men or women, often haven't cared about the response might come. And what then?

If you doubt that our cyber defence systems lag behind our weaponised software then you are either living in a cave or you never read the news.

Seven years ago, the US and Israel launched a piece of weaponised software called Stuxnet. It infected hundreds of millions of computers worldwide, and was sophisticated enough to locate and isolate control systems in Iran, at which time it activated and destroyed a significant percentage of Iran's nuclear centrifuges.

Last year, however, 23 million records were discovered to have been taken from the US office of personnel management by an unknown agency. The hack began in 2013 and was not discovered for two years. A few months later a teenager hacked the FBI and published the personal records of 20,000 FBI agents, many of whom were undercover.

The news is littered with hundreds of similar cases. If you believe that we have any effective cyber security whatsoever, then you have bought it hook, line and sinker. It's time to get wise to what the government has been telling us.