Cyber Warfare: The New Threat by Air Marshal AKTiwary in IDR 14/12/2012
The cyber warriors will identify own networks weakness which will be followed up by regular patch up of vulnerabilities. In addition their actual target could include blowing up electric generators / motors; use of high power microwave to upset fly by control of combat aircraft and more.
Some contemporary thinkers have equated Cyber-Warfare as another new form of warfare which is on par with Land, Naval and Air Warfare. This is partly reflected in USA creating a new Cyber Command headed by a General, who is also the boss of Central Security Services and Director of National Security Agency. In the 2010 strategic review of security and defense in UK, while many major defense programmes have been cut and overall defense budget is reduced by eight percent, Cyber War has been allotted £ 650 m for the period 2010-14. A significant increase indeed!
While Cyber War seems a very familiar term to everyone, it will be useful to revisit its characteristics which make it so important and so different from other forms of warfare. It is distinctly different from the traditional warfare wherein armies, navies and air forces are massed against each other to fight one another.
Cyber War can be fought by anyone; even an individual using his hacking skills against huge corporations, nations or even different civilizations. One single person’s malicious software can wreck havoc on computer networks and programmes spread across nations and continents. The modem world’s industry, economy, institutions and even other facets of life is supported by computers and associated software. So all these facets of life can be disrupted for prolonged period by cyber attacks. The individual could be -acting alone; he could be part of a group pursuing its inimical agenda or could be state supported, working to further the plans of the state. The defender cannot distinguish between them or pinpoint the full identity of the attacker or the actual source of attack. So while the cyber enemy may be guessed, definite, pinpointing is nearly impossible.
Amongst various types of warfare, cyber war is the cheapest option. At its simplest, all it requires is one individual, on one computer to originate cyber attacks. There is no need for regular massive cyber armies equipped with all the paraphernalia of a conventional war; being trained, sustained and replenished regularly. Unlike in conventional war, where the attacker generally suffers heavy casualties, in Cyber War there is no casualty to the attacker. In this war, it is not the physical might of a soldier, the quality and quantity of equipment, the integration and orchestration of systems, or the strategic genius of a General which is tested. It is only the computer genius and skills – and these too come as easily to gifted teens as to the experts after years of serious study and perseverance. Therefore, each and everyone cannot be a cyber warrior. Conscription cannot create a Cyber Army — it is by recruiting suitable people with aptitude for such work. In cyber force, there is not much place for officer – soldier hierarchy. Rather it is a team of the like-minded.
When one’s computer system does not work, it is not easy to distinguish whether the failure is a genuine malfunction or a result of malicious attack. More often than not one tends to believe that his computer system itself is malfunctioning. So it is difficult to determine if one is under cyber attack. The nature of attacks are such, for example hidden Trojans activated on command or at pre-determined time, that one does not know when the actual attack was launched.
The origins of attack also remain uncertain. The attacking nation or non-state actor can route his attack via a computers located in a third country or even through benign computers based in the country being attacked. These could be the personal computers of citizens of the country under attack. Such an approach poses major dilemma for defender and for the right to computer privacy in democratic societies.
The malware can be inbuilt in to the computer system at manufacturing stage itself. It can be pre-designed in micro chips for various items like sensors, routers, switches etc. It can be injected later on into system as a sleeper cell. Its algorithm can be programmed in variety of ways to defeat most defenses.
The defender in cyber world has to cope with many problems. The existing defenses are against only known viruses/worms. Defense networks, therefore, require constant upgradation. Even secure nets can be injected with virus even though attacker is not physically connected into the net. But then excessive security on the net decrease the system speed.
Detailed information on cyber war in various countries is difficult to find. However, certain amount of information is available about development of cyber war organisation in USA in the open literature. Hence it is proposed to study the evolution of cyber war organisation in USA.
In earnest Electronic Warfare (EW) started during World War II. It matured as the radars and radar guided SAMs and anti-ac artillery evolved through the Vietnam war; the wars in the Middle East etc, Till recently EW meant brute jamming of signals or breaking the electronic lock on an aircraft by moving the lock away spatially. In the Op Desert Storm of Gulf War 91, false target information was injected into Iraqi Integrated Air Defence System, thereby misleading its computers. This can be considered the start of Cyber War in military domain. The Cyber War in the civil domain by way of unethical hacking into banking networks started little earlier.
So now there are three terms : EW, Cyber War and Information War often loosely used to convey the same thing. Electronic War is said to take place when electrons in a system are disturbed. Cyber space is also the space where electrons flow conveying information. But cyber space is normally referred to space in which computer electrons move around – either within the computer itself or between many computers connected in a network. The network itself could be a cable or fiber optic network or a wireless net in which electronic signals move between a transmitter and a receiver — the most apt example being a satellite and its terminals. Thus, in the militaries too, initially terms like EW, IW and Cyber War were used loosely and interchangeably.
Cyber War has become a major subset of warfare now, because the militaries and their equipments rely on many systems, each of which has computers, often many computers in each system. At the same time all facets of civil life, industry, banking and financial service power generation etc have also been based on extensive computer networks and infinite number of software lines. In such a huge complex of electrons, EW as practiced till 1980s, forms a small subset. Altering cyber electrons means altering information-hence the term IW. However, in current US terminologies IW means irregular warfare. Cyber War includes the earlier EW and IW.
Evolution of Cyber War
USAF set up IW squadrons in 1980s. All banking institutions and major industries especially the Aero Space industries also started building in cyber security in their networks. The financial institutions were at the forefront of cyber attacks, wherein hackers tried to steal/siphon money. This threat to banks and the security precautions could not be made public in order to retain the investor confidence.
As a result of success of IW in the Gulf War 91, USAF decided on IW across full spectrum of command and control. So the 688th Information Operations Wing was set up. The Wing has technical skill sets of AF Electronic Warfare centre; AF Cryptographic support center’s Securities directorate and Intelligence capabilities from former AF Intelligence Command. As on 2010, it has a staff of 1000 which includes military and civil.
In 1993 USAF established an IW Cell at Kelly Air Force Base, Texas. By mid 90s, the IW flight, consisting 25 personnel, would work alongside Combined Air Operation Centre (CAOC) whenever operations were going on. IW operations were undertaken during Bosnia Operation in 1995 and against Serbia in 1999. The comprehensive operations included EW against Radars and SAMs, cyber attacks against IADS, operations against Television, Radio as well as cyber attacks against computer based systems like power generation, Oil refining systems etc.
In the past, the US caused a massive explosion in a new trans-Siberian oil pipeline running from the Urengoi gas fields in Siberia across Kazakhstan, Russia and Eastern Europe. It did it by causing its pumping station to over rev by computer malware in cooperation with some outraged Canadians who had supplied the software for the pumps.1 USN established its cyber cell in 1999 and mandated the unit to become like the ‘Top Gun’ amongst fliers.
In Dec 1998 DoD/USAF established Joint Task Force on Computer Network Defense ITF – CND. It was headed by a Maj Gen and was to work with the Army, Navy and the Marine Corps. This was an immediate result of a massive malware attack on US -military nets. It took the US 14 months to clean up this virus from its systems. It also revealed the enormity of possible damage to improperly secure networks.
Cyber War exercises named “Eligible Receiver” and “Solar Sunrise” were conducted in which Federal Agencies/Services, Israeli analysts and Californian teens attacked Defense networks. Weaknesses and vulnerabilities were identified and preventive steps initiated. In Sep 2001 Pentagon created Joint Task Force-Computer Network Operations- JTF-CNO. The replacing of CND by Computer Network Operations (CNO) implied the need to attack in order to defend proactively.
In 2008 DoD defined cyber space as, “a global domain within the information environment consisting of interdependent network of information technology infrastructures, including the Internet, telecommunication network, computer system and embedded processor and controllers.” It illustrated that cyber space has data, networks and electronic devices. Good cyber defense implies protecting all three components and not merely data. Earlier, it was believed that encrypting data was enough for cyber security.
Cyber Defense now meant following:
- Secure and exclusive networks in which individuals cannot plug in Pen Drives, CDs and external devices.
- Defense in depth by firewalls. So that when under a cyber attack the system degrades gradually rather than suffer catastrophic collapse. And after attack is over, the system recovers.
- The system should be Self Diagnosing and to have built in healing capability.
- Data bases must employ stealth methodologies where for example, modulating chip technology enables them to hide, morph and masquerade as effectively as any attacking agent.2
Cyber security is akin to Air Superiority. One has to fight to attain it and thereafter sustain it with constant effort. Also cyber security relates to place and time. Unlike air war in which offense is the best defense, in cyber war defense becomes primary because of nature of attacker. There are no hostile cyber bases which preemptive bombing can destroy.
In 2001 USAF placed Cyber Wing under Space Command. By May 2002 it had a manning of 340 personnel. Later Cyber Command was made a sub unit of US Strategic command. It achieved full operational capability on 31 Oct 2010. The Cyber Command is headed by a General who also is the Director National Security Agency (NSA) and Chief of Central Security services. This arrangement in one stroke has made cyber structure more horizontal and integrated. Cyber command looks after all military networks numbering 15000 in all the Services. It has replaced the earlier Joint Task Force – Computer Network Operating and the Joint Functional Component Command for Network Warfare JFCC-NW. It has under it the Cyber Commands of US Army, Navy, Marine Corps and Air Force. It is responsible for both defense and offense in Cyber War. In addition it provides technical and electronic warfare support to Department of Homeland Security (DHS). If and when asked by DHS it will provide additional assistance. DHS looks after civil and private networks.
NSA looks after all the government networks apart from the ones in military domain. US CYBERCOM has been tasked to develop:
- Methods to assess operational impact of intrusions.
- Identify proper response.
- Coordinate action with appropriate organizations.
- Prepare Response Plans.
- Execute plans through Service components.
US CYBERCOM will also issue Operational Alert conditions depending upon detected threats. The conditions are normal, A,B,C & D. Over and above these arrangements the Cyber organizations seek support and rely on private security specialists companies to deal with cyber threat.
The earlier concept of cyber security was purely defensive. However, as the cyber process and attacks kept increasing, especially post 9/11 and after the incident of US spy plane P3C Orion’s collision with a Chinese interceptor in which the Chinese pilot died, USA selected a new strategy for cyber security. Now it was felt that purely defensive strategy was reactive and insufficient to ward off cyber threat. For proper cyber security there is a need to actively patrol the cyber network for detecting potential trouble. So the new strategy of cyber attack comprises following:
- Denial of Service
- To patrol the Internet to pinpoint attackers.
- To create Logic bombs, worms, Trojans & Malware for use as and when needed.
The diagram illustrates the working of a computer network attack (CNA).3
Rivet Joint is an specialist transport aircraft (KC-135) which is used for CNA. It is in contact with ag
Agencies like NSA, JTF – CNA, and IW – EW centers via satellite links to receive and send back latest information for CNA planning. It injects cyber weapons as appropriate into hostile IADS network, Scud type missiles command and control centre and the communication networks. Another special aircraft called Compass Call (C-130 modified) monitors the effectiveness of communication network attacks.
In USA 24th AF looks after cyber operations, manned by 14000 airmen. The 24th AF has three major wings and an operations centre under it. These are:
- 67th Network Warfare Wing: It looks after information operations. Its 8000 strong manpower is located at some 100 locations worldwide. There are 35 squadrons and these deal in operations of Television, Radio, Telephone exchange and networks including mobile phones and networks.
- 688th Information Operation Wing: Deals in cyber space R&D and manned by 1000 staff which is a mix of military and civil.
- 689th Combat Communication Wing: Its mission is to train, deploy and deliver expeditionary and specialized communication; air traffic and landing systems for relief and combat operations.
In 2010 USAF undertook some important steps with regard to cyber branch. It established a new cadre for Cyber War with 1000 cyber warriors. These personnel were selected after a strict screening process which also judged their aptitude for cyber work. Their performance in online games was also a major criteria. This cadre is to be expanded to 6000. The cadre will comprise military, government employees, contractors and willing patriotic youths. Specialist cyber strike units will be created from these personnel. The training will include undergraduate cyber training, initial qualification training. The standards, evaluation and examinations will follow similar pattern as for flying training. The cyber warriors will get incentive pay similar to flying pay. Their main communication devices will be Droids and I Phones connected on secure and non-secure networks.
The cyber warriors will identify own networks weakness which will be followed up by regular patch up of vulnerabilities. In addition their actual target could include blowing up electric generators / motors; use of high power microwave to upset fly by control of combat aircraft and more.4
The NSA and JFCC – NW have worked together since 2005. The NSA has 700 personnel with Ph D. This vast experience is shared by the other cyber warriors who have benefited immensely. The CYBERCOM has partnership with 100 universities to train students on net security. Many of these students, thereafter, join NSA or civil cyber agencies. Now using the computer net attack, US forces can penetrate hostile computers systems and either mine it for data or damage it with crippling algorithms or even spoof it with false information. Some of the CNA tricks include ringing hostile phones every 30 seconds; send a fabricated Fax directly to the enemy operator to do things that would lead to trouble; sending accusatory e-mails etc. The idea is to make the enemy distrust own communication system or to shut down all communications.5
The Israelis established in Umbrella C4I in Mar 2003. By 2007 all intelligence networks were connected, sharing all sensor information. The network includes fixed sites as well as mobile sites. During 2009 Gaza conflict Israeli Air Force down loaded sensor imagery on U-tube; its tweets warned of rocket attacks and it used ‘help-us-win.com’ blog to mobilize public support.6
Placed below are the recommendations with respect to Cyber War by a USAF study in 2008. The study was undertaken to suggest needed reorganization within the USAF for 2018-2023 time frame. Cyber War is a new domain for all the countries. It appears that USA and China have a lead in Cyber War domain over India of about ten years. The emphasis placed by them on cyber war is instructive for us to take note.7
Cyberspace : Boundless Opportunity and Significant Vulnerabilities
- USAF must not focus solely on protecting its databases, but rather it must also protect its networks and the functioning of electronic devices to enable cyberspace control.
- USAF must be prepared to conduct warfare in cyberspace to secure the domain at the time and place of its choosing.
- Call for an interagency commission to resolve the issues of jurisdictional authority and, if needed, author legislation for title 10 revision.
- While offense offers a distinct advantage for airpower, deterrence and defense must become co-equal propositions in cyberspace.
- Reclaim the internet, moving to a closed network, one that does not allow interaction with its civilian counterpart in any capacity or other open systems across the DOD.
- View cyberspace holistically, developing organizations and tactics to defend regardless of location, while retaining freedom of action for our forces.
- Develop system resiliency, with a layered defense in depth, that reacts to threats and sets in motion procedures for post – attack recovery.
- Develop and field self-diagnosing and self-healing systems with adequate redundant capacity for survivability.
- Develop systems to support real – time Cyberspace Situational Awareness (CSA)
- Develop a new corps of professionals capable of waging cyber warfare.
- Develop a structured professional development curriculum with a UCT school that provides the needed military education required for newly minted second lieutenants.
- Create a National Cyberspace Studies Institute (NCSI) that provides an increased understanding of cyber operations appropriate for success at the advanced ranks.
- Ensure adequate pay, attendance at the right schools – PME and weapons school – and promotion.
- Find a home/advocate for future cyber – warriors, one equal to that of air/space.
- Identify Guard and Reserve billets for cyber – professionals who are separate from active duty.
- Develop a construct to incorporate Guard and Reserve into the “fight”, either through stand – alone units or as a part of active duty units.
- Develop a Cyberspace Red Team to probe DOD networks and provide input for offensive, defensive, and counter offensive strategy.
- Develop an industry council where senior military and industry representatives convene to establish requirements and propose technological solutions.
- Partner with the private sector – universities and commercial industry to properly leverage American expertise.