Although broad in terms of its exact meaning, a cyber arm typically describes a set of tools necessary to carry out cyber warfare. A recent study even suggested that the Windows operating system can be described as a type of cyber arm, seeing that when connected to the Internet, it is constantly feeding data to unknown servers. Be that as it may, a cyber arm is best described by its function, which varies based on the stage of conflict.
This type of cyber arm is pretty much self-explanatory and can involve phishing, keyloggers, and in more sophisticated scenarios, DNS poisoning. Regardless of how its deployed and ultimately installed, the purpose of surveillance software is to monitor user activity on certain networks and devices. Advanced techniques might even scour an infected system for any useful information (like passwords and private keys), which will in turn be used for the next course of action: the Attack stage. A common weapon of this category is known as Fin Fisher, or FinSpy. Having been used successfully for market and political gain, this software suite makes use of fake software updates and email attachments to latch onto host computers—all while diligently avoiding detection of anti-virus (AV) software.
Simple data that may have previously deemed useless is constantly increasing in value—both monetary and otherwise. Lifting this data involves penetrating a targeted system, and, depending on the motives of the attacker, illegally acquiring classified information or tweaking its details. No data or document is ever really safe. A cyber arm in the “theft” category can take on a number of forms, including screen scrapers, backdoor viruses, and the many flavors of botnets.
This stage is perhaps what best distinguishes a cyber arm from common malware and viruses. Depending on who writes the program, and more importantly, how it is written, a cyber arm tends to have subroutines with the sole purpose of destroying the data it leaves behind. In some cases they might even take out entire systems, as seen in certain instances of the Stuxnet software. Deletion is an important, final step in cyber espionage—especially when trying to gain a leg up in cyber warfare.
The Difference between a Cyber Arm and Other Forms of Malware
A cyber arm, unlike many threats in the wild, is usually selective in its process and course of action. It is written to only attack specific systems, and is typically more advanced when it comes to avoiding detection. An important takeaway is that not all forms of malware are cyber weapons, but depending on their capabilities, they can easily be converted.
As is the case with all weapons, disarmament can be achieved. It is difficult, though, as the exclusive nature of a cyber arm makes it very difficult to detect. The simple solution is to be aware of all traffic moving through your network and devices.