Arms in cyberspace

It’s been a busy time on the cyber warfare front. First there were rumblings of attacks on Georgia governmental websites, then actual attacks, followed by gunfire. The usual suspects are being blamed: overzealous teenagers, Russian mafia hoodlums, nefarious spy rings.

Then speculation came in over the wire that the Air Force Cyber Command was doomed. The Navy was supposed to take over. A statement rushed out from the pentagon countered by saying:

“The Air Force remains committed to providing full-spectrum cyber capabilities to include global command and control, electronic warfare and network defense. The Secretary and Chief of Staff of the Air Force have considered delaying currently planned actions on Air Force Cyber Command to allow ample time for a comprehensive assessment of all AFCYBER requirements and to synchronize the AFCYBER mission with other key Air Force initiatives. The new Air Force leaders continue to make a fresh assessment of all our efforts to provide our nation and the joint force the full spectrum of air, space, and cyberspace capabilities.”

So now what? One of the main tenets of modern warfare is that the first target of choice in any campaign is the enemies’ command and control capability. Destroy that, and you can get on with obliterating the civilian populace. Given that most command and control relies on IP networks everywhere, instead of wasting munitions on cabling plant and computer centers, all that is necessary is to overwhelm the enemy with a few dozen hackers in a well-connected bunker.

Nevertheless, a cyber arms race is raging. McAfee has claimed that approximately 120 countries have been developing ways to use the internet as a weapon. And the U.S. military, the most technological in the world, is not exactly unaware of its cyber strengths and vulnerabilities. For example, it has long implemented a classified, encrypted military internet that parallels the ordinary internet, called SIPRNet. SIPRNet is made up of interconnected computer networks to transmit secret information by packet switching over TCP/IP protocols. Sound familiar?

Considering the general impression that comes on the heels of Black Hat and Defcon, this is a daunting revelation considering how dozens of presenters seemed to prove once again that IP is doomed. SIPRNet is securely sealed off, but you get the impression from some researchers that, regardless, implementing military network security is like chasing a will o’ the wisp.

The point is that conflict in the future, if the Georgian conflict is any guide, will involve cyberspace in a big way, and reliance on internet communications should be considered tenuous even before the bullets fly. 

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