The United States is currently working to develop so-called “cyber-warfare” offensive and defensive capabilities in the face of emerging high-tech threats by a number of potential adversaries.
According to Aviation Week & Space Technology, the U.S. Air Force has begun a “quiet” series of organization changes expected to last throughout the first part of 2001 that are intended to make maximum use of “cyber-weapons.”
The result, the magazine said, may be the eventual development and deployment of new cyber-weapons that could “deter hostile threats” before the Pentagon and the administration would have to launch conventional military action.
The Air Force effort is being led by the Air Intelligence Agency, headed by Maj. Gen. Bruce Wright, said the report. Department of Defense strategists “believe the intensive exploitation of intelligence, the use of new technologies such as offensive computer warfare, and clever but closely controlled technological demonstrations of force might deflect aggression aimed at the U.S. and its allies.”
Cyber warfare, which is a new battle concept endemic to the information age, was first used by U.S. forces during the 1991 Persian Gulf War. That effort was primitive, comparably speaking, as it was limited only to the reading of e-mail sent between Iraqi commanders.
The Air Force said such tools had become much more sophisticated by the time the U.S. and allies launched the 78-day air campaign against Yugoslavia. By then, the Pentagon was able to infiltrate Belgrade’s advanced computer-integrated air defense system and inject false messages and targeting data.
But other nations are also developing the capability to infiltrate advanced computer-controlled weapons systems, and are working on technologies that will someday enable them to “attack” U.S. commercial and military computer infrastructures.
Regarding how much is known about these other technologies, “many countries have advocated IO/IW capabilities as a priority,” Air Force intelligence officials told WorldNetDaily.
Hence, the Pentagon — under the direction of President George W. Bush, Vice President Dick Cheney and Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld — is pushing for an advanced cyber-warfare capability of its own, as well as cyber-warfare defensive abilities, hopefully before competitor nations can perfect technologies of their own.
Air Force officials could not say how much resources were being devoted to developing cyber-warfare capabilities and defenses.
“That’s a DoD issue and is best answered by the Pentagon,” officials told WND.
Cyber warfare already global
“In general terms, the cyber-warfare threat to the U.S. national information infrastructure ranges from the mild unstructured threat, represented by the prototypical 16-year-old hacker, to the dangerous structured threat, represented best by the nation-state,” according to a statement by Air Force intelligence officials.
“Unstructured threats run the gamut from hacking groups or rogue individuals worldwide, with varying levels of skill. Most of these threats are fairly low level, with only a few of the top percentage presenting a high threat,” an official told WND. “These are the super hackers that program their own scripts and possess a detailed understanding of the information systems and networks they are attacking.”
The rest are classified as “script kiddies” — hackers, “phreaks” and techno-gurus who copy “other peoples’ work, … generally complicating the process of identifying the more serious threats by creating a large amount of ‘white noise’ on our networks,” Air Force intelligence said.
“The threat also encompasses the gray area between unstructured and structured,” the officials said.
Perhaps the most important potential U.S. adversary working the hardest to perfect cyber warfare and other “asymmetrical” capabilities is China.
Led by what analysts have called a “fear” of U.S. conventional military might, People’s Liberation Army commanders and officials have been pressing Chinese high-tech weapons developers to create these technologies and get them fielded as soon as possible.
Some analysts believe the Chinese are keen to exert regional dominance over areas such as the Spratly Islands and will someday invade Taiwan, but so far have held back because the mainland lacks the conventional weaponry and an adequate defense against expected cyber attacks from protectorate nations like the U.S.
Indeed, both China and Taiwan have already engaged in “cyber battles” of sorts.
In August 1999, Lin Ching-ching, director of the Taiwanese Ministry of National Defense’s Electronic Communications and Information Bureau, said the island democracy was well aware of Chinese e-warfare development and admitted that Taiwan was also developing the capabilities.
“China has put a lot of effort into building up its information capabilities in the past decade,” Lin said. “But Taiwan is also working on it. We are not as fragile as many people think.”
Taiwan press sources said that a power outage that plunged four-fifths of the island into darkness on July 29 “intensified Taiwanese people’s fear of a Chinese military attack. But while those fears have gone unrealized, cross-strait tensions continued to rise in early August, as hackers from both sides of the strait broke into each other’s government websites to post provocative slogans and national flags.”
The Internet skirmishes “also raised public questions as to whether Taiwan has the capability to handle what will be a future trend — information warfare, which is widely viewed as a major challenge to the island’s information technology,” said the China Times.
Lin, however, said the island was well-prepared.
“On a legal basis, we don’t encourage taking the offensive, although we do have the ability to handle any offensive aggression by China,” he said.
Also, as reported earlier by WND, Chinese technicians may have already developed software called “Hacker Killer,” which reportedly can defeat more than 800 attack methods used by hackers.
According to Timothy Thomas of the U.S. Army’s Foreign Military Studies Office in Fort Leavenworth, Kan., China’s leaders believe they can achieve hegemony in Asia only by integrating information warfare into its geopolitical strategies, WND reported.
Thomas believes that China is rapidly integrating the latest state-of-the-art information warfare techniques into its “People’s War” strategy. This action has, for the most part, been overlooked by the United States and its allies abroad. It has been addressed, however, by the Rand Corporation and other independent think tanks. China’s new high-tech information warfare capabilities will pose both strategic and operational problems for the West.
Meanwhile, as the latest Palestinian intifada continues to rage in and around Israel, the Jewish state has launched cyber attacks against Palestinian Internet sites and information centers.
Lebanon’s Hezbollah movement said Oct. 21 — less than a month after the intifada began Sept. 29 — that its website server crashed after being targeted by millions of hits and hostile e-mails from Israel and the United States.
“Hezbollah’s website is coming under a fierce offensive staged by the Zionist enemy which amassed huge capabilities inside the occupied Palestine and throughout the world, especially in USA — in order to paralyze the website [and ban] the readers from being acquainted with the materials and information concerning the struggle against it,” the group said in a statement.
The terrorist group, which is sponsored in part by Iran and Syria, said the crash occurred Oct. 7, the day Hezbollah fighters captured three Israeli soldiers in an ambush at the border in south Lebanon.
And in the never-ending conflict between Pakistan and India, cyber-warfare attacks dominated much of the “action” between both nations long after last year’s flare-up over the Kashmir region.
In December, Pakistani press sources said Indian hackers had attempted to hack into the government’s website but had failed, though Indian sources refuted those claims.
Better late than never
As early as May 2000, reports said that the Pentagon had begun work on new projects designed to better protect U.S. military and commercial assets from cyber attacks, as well as project “cyber power” abroad, rather than rely so heavily on conventional forces.
On May 30, the Pentagon released a report that said U.S. military forces will, within two decades, “develop the capability to conduct attacks on foreign computers and networks while defending its systems against strategic information warfare strikes,” the Washington Times said.
The report, “Joint Vision 2020,” said, “We have superior conventional warfighting capabilities and effective nuclear deterrence today, but this favorable military balance is not static. … In the face of such strong capabilities, the appeal of asymmetric approaches and the focus on the development of niche capabilities will increase.”
Though the report did not name specific countries that would pose real threats to U.S. power by then, the repeated references to asymmetric warfare indicated that the Pentagon at least believes China may be one of them.
“The overall goal of the transformation described in this document is the creation of a force that is dominant across the full spectrum of military operations — persuasive in peace, decisive in war, preeminent in any form of conflict,” the report said.
“The United States itself and U.S. forces around the world are subject to information attacks on a continuous basis, regardless of the level and degree of engagement in other domains of operation,” said the report. “The perpetrators of such attacks are not limited to the traditional concept of a uniformed military adversary. Additionally, the actions associated with information operations are wide-ranging, from physical destruction to psychological operations to computer network defense.”
Preparing for the inevitable
“Transnational groups such as politically motivated hacker groups, terrorists and industrial competitors best represent the threat. They usually possess some elements of both unstructured and structured threat,” Air Force intelligence officials said in a statement to WND.
“The last group, the structured threat, represents the most serious threat. … This threat is best represented by the nation-state,” said the statement answering WND’s inquiries. “The nation-state can bring to bear all the military, economic and technological resources they possess to create a pantheon of cyber threats. These nations understand that this new type of warfare is the future.
“Defending against such attacks, from the full range of threats, represents one of this nation’s most serious defense challenges ever,” said the statement.
Attacks on U.S. and Japanese computers have already been traced back to China and, to a lesser degree, Russia, defense officials have said. Also, in February, U.S. intelligence officials told Senate Intelligence Committee members that Cuban leader Fidel Castro could be preparing a wide-ranging cyber attack against the U.S.
In an open session, Rear Adm. Tom Wilson, head of the Defense Intelligence Agency, said Castro’s armed forces could initiate an “information warfare or computer network attack” that could “disrupt our military.”
Asked if he believed Cuba would take that action, Wilson said: “There’s certainly the potential for them to employ those kinds of tactics against our modern and superior military,” adding that while conventional Cuban military might was lacking, the island’s information and intelligence operations were “substantial.”
During the same hearing, CIA Director George Tenet told the panel that U.S. intelligence and military agencies were becoming increasingly concerned by “the fact that international terrorist networks have used the explosion of information technology to advance their capabilities.”
“The same technologies that allow individual consumers in the United States to search out and buy books in Australia or India also enable terrorists to raise money, spread their dogma, find recruits and plan operations far afield,” Tenet said. “Some groups are acquiring rudimentary cyber-attack tools.”
Protecting U.S. interests
“The Air Force … is continuously looking for opportunities to put the technology in place,” intelligence officials told WND in writing.
Asked how difficult would it be for a nation to develop countermeasures or defense against such technology, officials said the effort could be relatively easy but would require constant updating.
“With the wealth of commercial intrusion detection systems, firewalls and router technology, any country could develop and implement a secure architecture,” the Air Force intelligence statement said. “One could assume this would be required to cope with a potential cyber war. A dedicated effort must be made to stay ahead of the technology trend.”