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Friday, 7 February, 2003, 16:31 GMT
US ponders cyber war plans
Soldiers in the US army
Will cyber war ever replace convention military tactics?
The US is reportedly drawing up guidelines for cyber attacks against countries such as Iraq.

According to the Washington Post, President Bush has already laid the foundations for the US Government to develop a strategy on how and when it can penetrate and disrupt enemy computer systems.

There has also been speculation in Washington that the Pentagon is considering some form of cyber war in conjunction with any military action against Iraq the paper said.

The US army is always on the lookout for new forms of weaponry and much consideration has been given to how cyber weapons can sit alongside conventional ones.

Information warfare

Some so-called smart bombs already have the capacity to knock out electricity supplies when detonated.

Baghdad
Baghdad is not particularly wired
Any cyber war against Iraq would have to take into account how crucial computers are to the running of the country.

"Iraq has a relatively advanced telecommunications infrastructure and any cyber attack could cripple emergency services and prevent both the military and civilians from talking to each other," said DK Matai, Chief Executive of security firm mi2g.

"It would play an important part in shaking citizens' confidence in the government," he added.

There is nothing new in disabling communications and information warfare has always been a part of any military strategy.

Topography of networks

More sophisticated targeting of computer systems is unlikely, said Mike Knights, a cyber warfare expert for specialist military publisher Jane's.

"Iraq is a non-wired economy and all Iraqi computers with sensitive information will be stand-alone and not connected to the internet and therefore invulnerable to attack," he said.

The US military has never regarded computer hacking as a particularly useful part of information warfare, he said.

Ironically the US are the people that are most effective at information warfare but also are the most vulnerable to it

Mike Knights, expert on information warfare
"It will be some decades before it becomes an important strand of military strategy."

"It is not always easy to see the effects such computer attacks are having and it is difficult to understand the topography of computer networks especially primitive ones such as in Iraq," he added.

That has not prevented the US from shipping computers with backdoor snooping facilities to Iraq and engaging in psychological warfare via e-mail said Mr Knights.

"Iraqi generals have been sent e-mails saying 'we know you personally' and requesting they send light signals to show the positions of weapons of mass destruction," he said.

US vulnerable

Iraq has about 12,000 of its 23.5m people online and was one of the last countries in the Middle East to join the net community.

It only has a tiny amount of international bandwidth.

The US on the other hand is very dependent on computer systems.

Following the 11 September terrorist attacks, the US Government has stepped up its own cyber security.

President Bush ordered a $1.5bn increase in spending on computer and network security as well as training an army of workers to thwart any cyber attack that terrorists might launch.

"Ironically the US are the people that are most effective at information warfare but also are the most vulnerable to it," said Mr Knights.

Credible threat?

Opinion differs widely on how likely such an attack is.

To bring a nation to its knees any cyber warfare attack would require nation state backing

DK Matai, mi2g
Some commentators point to nightmare scenarios in which power supplies, telecommunications and financial systems are severely disrupted by an attack.

Mr Knights does not think Iraq would be a serious player in any cyber war despite giving some consideration to such attacks.

Security firm mi2g takes the threat more seriously.

"The Slammer worm paralysed Korea, disrupted 13,000 ATMs in the US and disabled the emergency services in Seattle," said Mr Matai.

He imagines a scenario where a piece of malicious software is released onto computer networks, causing serious disruption in the cyber equivalent of a dirty bomb.

And any such attack would require state sponsorship.

"To bring a nation to its knees any cyber warfare attack would require nation state backing," he said.


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21 Jan 03 | Technology
11 Sep 02 | Technology
23 Oct 01 | Americas
01 Mar 02 | Business
11 Oct 01 | Science/Nature
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