What better way to cripple a nation your trying to topple than to take down key websites in the country.
That's what happened recently in the country of Georgia, just before Russian forces invaded its neighbor. The New York times reports an American security researcher picked up data streams with coded messages, which eventually lead to distributed denial of service attacks. A number of government sites were down weeks before the attacks began, and some Internet services were so barraged with the requests that many Georgian servers were overloaded.
As the story suggests, this could lead to a trend in future skirmishes, especially with powerful countries who depend heavily on computer technology. It seems reasonable that a way to slow down the opposition would be to render their Internet service nearly useless.
Of course, Russia has said it was not behind the DDOS attacks. And it would be disturbingly difficult to determine who was behind it, making an online attack fairly easy to get away with, at least at this point.
The next question, however, is whether or not a cyber war will eventually replace conventional war as a means to disrupt a warring nation. By cutting off the Internet from a world power, you are theoretically shutting it down for a certain period of time. With so many transactions occurring online, how would the U.S. cope if no one could do business via the Internet? There are hackers in every developed nation, and even some in developing ones, who could put together an attack like this, assuming they had enough financial backing.
Maybe computer programmers will become newest first line on the warfront. At least that would be one way to limit meaningless human causalities.