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Warfare in the Information Age

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A small and quick introduction to ARP poisoning

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This article won’t be about something new nor something extraordinary for any experienced computer security or even the average hacker, but since I’ve been ask this question quite often by some of my friends, I decided to explain how to sniff passwords from a network.  Moreover, I’m well aware I haven’t been writing anything for a while, and I want to get back to it once all my personal matters are resolved. I’ll concentrate on WEP wireless networks since they are almost certain to be cracked easily. Although those a deprecated, there are still used in many household as the out-of-the-box default configuration, so it’s still pertinent in my opinion. Then I will explain the ARP (Address Resolution Protocol) poisoning attack, which will be used to intercept packets between the target and the Internet.

Attacking the WEP wireless network

Packets in a WEP network are encryted, so in order to sniff packets off from it, you’ll first need to acquire the WEP key. This can be done easily with a wireless network adapter that supports monitor mode and the aircrack suite. For the adapter, I’m using the Linksys  Compact Wireless-G USB adapter, model no WUSB54GC. Plug your adapter into a USB connector and boot up your machine. Once you have booted up, make sure Backtrack or any other distribution has detected your adapter:

ifconfig rausb0 up

and then put the adapter in “Monitor Mode”

iwconfig rausb0 mode monitor

The goal of a WEP attack is to capture as many initialization vectors (IVs) as possible. IVs are random numbers used with a either 64, 128 and 256-bit key to encrypt a stream cipher. Those are used so that two exact same plain text do not produce the same ciphertext. The problem with WEP is that IVs are very short, and on a busy network, the same vectors get reused quickly. The IV is 24 bit long, therefore there are 16 777 216 possibilities1. Moreover, changing the IV for each packet is optional. The keys are also quite short, therefore opening the possibility of finding the key with some brute force calculation. No matter what is they key length, you will just need more packets.

The WEP protocol then use the randomly generated IV, the WEP key and pass it throught the RC4 cipher to produce a keystream. The keystream is then XORed with the plain text stream to produce the cipher text, as shown in the picture below:

WEP Encryption Schema

WEP Encryption Schema (from Wikipedia)

So basically, if you get many packets with the same Ivs, different ciphertext, you can now try to brute-force the WEP key. And to get those packets, you need traffic on the network. Now if there are already some people connected and surfing the web, you can easily capture packets and replay them to get more IVs, otherwise, you need to generate the traffic yourself.

Once you’ve tell airodump to capture IVs, we will use aireplay to generate more traffic, and therefore capture more IVs quickly. If you look at the airodump screen, you’ll see it capturing packets.

Once you have the key, you can finally start the poisoning process. As you have seen, I have not detailed how to crack a WEP network as it is widely described all over the net. You can find find good video tutorials from InfinityExists here and here. The last 2600 issue also had a good article about it.

The ARP poisoning attack

The concept behind this is simple. ARP is the protocol that maintains network devices tables up-to-date by associating an IP address with a MAC address. The problem with ARP is that it doesn’t really care about who answered, it will gladly update the tables from whoever says so. Most of the time, it won’t even ask. So the idea behind the attack, is to send the client an ARP answer saying “hey, I’m the gateway, send stuff to me” and a second ARP answer to the real gateway saying “hey there, I’m this guy, send me his stuff”. Then you just have to relay the packets between the victim and the gateway.Those schemas are more simply to understand:

Schema of an ARP Poisoning Attack

Schema of an ARP Poisoning Attack

In Linux, the rerouting can be done using the following iptables commands:

iptables -t nat -A PREROUTING -i <interface> -p tcp –dport <port> -j REDIRECT –to-port <redirection port>

iptables -t nat -D PREROUTING -i <interface> -p tcp –dport <port> -j REDIRECT –to-port <redirection port>

I’m showing those commands because you can do a lot with those. Many web applications such as some Flash applications use RTMP (Real-time messaging protocol) to control web applications, which run locally.  Flash server send commands to the application using message. Using those commands, you can filter the packets send or receive from the Flash server. Simply use a sniffer first, then locate which packets you wish to drop, alter or whatever.

For example, some sites gives you samples of live music or videos for 30 seconds, then nag you to pay. Using a sniffer, analyze the traffic and find that RTMP Invoke packet that closes the connection with the server. Code a quick proxy that will let all packets go to the flash application except for the connection closing RTMP packet. Then use the commands above to redirect traffic to your proxy.

00 03 0d 4f c0 6d 00 11  20 a8 32 8b 08 00 45 00 …O.m..  .2…E.
00 b2 7e 52 40 00 78 06  d0 a1 50 4d 74 05 43 c1 ..~R@.x. ..PMt.C.
ab 3e 07 8f d0 d8 9b a6  b0 eb ea 61 49 3d 80 18 .>…… …aI=..
fe 4a 76 52 00 00 01 01  08 0a 00 ef a6 d0 02 43 .JvR…. …….C
f4 32 43 00 00 00 00 00  76 14 02 00 0f 63 6c 6f .2C….. v….clo
73 65 43 6f 6e 6e 65 63  74 69 6f 6e 00 00 00 00 seConnec tion….
00 00 00 00 00 05 02 00  57 32 30 38 20 46 72 65 …….. W208 Fre
65 63 68 61 74 20 61 63  74 69 76 69 74 79 20 74 echat ac tivity t
69 6d 65 6f 75 74 2e 20  49 66 20 79 6f 75 20 77 imeout.  If you w
65 72 65 20 61 20 6d 65  6d 62 65 72 2c 20 74 68 ere a me mber, th
65 20 66 72 65 65 20 63  68 61 74 20 77 6f 75 6c e free c hat woul
64 20 6e 6f 74 20 74 69  6d 65 20 6f 75 74 21 20 d not ti me out!

Example of a RTMP Invoke packet to close a connection.

Of course you could just use Ettercap, which does exactly what have been mentioned above. Start Ettercap with the following:

sudo ettercap -G -W 128:p:25AAAAC18DEADDADA433332B65

This will open the graphical interface (-G), that is if you have installed the GTK interface to Ettercap. -W specify to listen for wireless networks and to use a 128-bit key with key found earlier. I don’t know what the p is really for. You can also use the text mode.

Ettercap

Ettercap

Then select Sniffing > Unified Sniffing > select on which interface you want to sniff. Then start the sniffing: File > Start Sniffing. Now let’s specify which targets you wanna sniff. Go to Hosts > Scan for hosts. That will locate the hosts on the current network. Then popup the hosts list, Hosts > Show Hosts List.

Ettercap - Hosts Found on the Network

Ettercap - Hosts Found on the Network

On the list, add the router to target 2 and the hosts you wanna sniff to target 1. Only one step left: MITM > ARP poisoning.  Select Sniff Remote Connections > OK.

Ettercap ARP Poisoining Options

Ettercap ARP Poisoining Options

Then you wait for users to connect to pages like MySpace or Hotmail etc…and Ettercap will find out the sensitive information for you.

See also:

Wireless Networking, Praphul Chandra, Alan Bensky, Ron Olexa, Daniel Mark Dobkin, David A. Lide, Farid Dowla

RFC 826 – Ethernet Address Resolution Protocol, David C. Plummer, November 1982, http://www.faqs.org/rfcs/rfc826.html

Wired Equivalent Protocol, Wikipedia, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wired_Equivalent_Privacy

Ettercap, http://ettercap.sourceforge.net/

The Palestine-Israeli Conflict on the Web

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As any conflict that happened in the 21st century, there is usually a parallel conflict raging online as well. Either commanded by individuals or groups, which can be helped or not by either government agencies or other interest groups, acts of cyberwarfare are getting more and more common. The conflict in the Gaza strip offers a new opportunity to explore this kind of activity. This time, reports of websites defacement are numerous and ongoing, some reporting that malware is spreaded from hacked websites and even an Israeli botnet is starting to grow in order to attack Hamas supporters servers.

Reports are now growing over hundreds of websites defacements of Western websites by Palestinians supporters1. Various Palestinian groups and supporters have been vandalizing Israeli and other western nation commercial websites by putting propaganda and redirecting to jihadist forums and/or uploading malware on the hacked web servers. Hackers mentioned in the article are Team Evil, DNS Team, Tw!$3r, KaSPeRs HaCKeR CreW, PaLiSeNiaN HaCK, MoRoCcAn HaCkErZ.

Palestinian Propaghanda insert into Defaced Websites

Palestinian Propaganda insert into Defaced Websites

Recently, sites from the U.S Army and NATO have also been targeted by the vandals2. Archived versions of the hacked NATO webpage can be found here and here for the hacked version of the U.S Army website. For now, only defacements have been reported and no real attack has occured. Web defacement is a very easy attack to do on web servers with weak passwords. Most of the time, the attackers are script kiddies using software such as AccessDiver with a list of proxies and wordlists to conduct dictionaries attacks on servers. Using AccessDiver is fairly simple and many tutorials can be found on YouTube. Other ways include of course exploits and SQL injections attacks. Surprisingly, no DDoS attacks have been reported yet, but a group of Israeli students launch the “Help Israel Win” initiative3. At the time of writing, the website was online available through Google’s cache. Anoher website (http://help-israel-win.tk/) has been suspended. The goal was to develop a voluntary botnet dubbed “Patriot” to attack Hamas-related websites:

We have launched a new project that unites the computer capabilities of many computers around the world. Our goal is to use this power in order to disrupt our enemy’s efforts to destroy the state of Israel4.

The website offered a small executable to download. This bot would receive commands as a normal criminal bot would. Hamas-friendly sites like qudsnews.net and palestine-info.info were targeted by the IRC botnet. Still according to the article, the botnet has come under attack by unknown assaillants5. No definitive number is given as to how many machines the botnet is controlling, it might range from anything from 1000 to 8000 machines6. Very few detail is given on how the bot actually works.

There was a very similar attempt to create a “conscript” botnet known as the e-Jihad botnet that failed to realized its objective last year, as the tool was unsophisticated and rather crude7. The e-Jihad tool had the same objective as the Patriot botnet, which was to launch DDoS attacks against various targets.

e-Jihad 3.0 Screen

e-Jihad 3.0 Screen

Nevertheless, this kind of parallel attack is due to become a popular civilian option to attack servers. The only thing needed is to create a solid botnet, by using some of the most sophisticated criminal botnets and transform them into voluntary “cyber-armies”. There is one problem thought…how can we make sure it’s legitimate ? Making such programs open source ? But then you reveal your command and control servers and information that could make the enemy hijack our own botnet. It then all comes down to a question of trust…and of course, a clear and easy way to remove the bot anytime.

See also :

“Army Mil and NATO Paliarment hacked by Turks”, Roberto Preatoni,  Zone-H, http://www.zone-h.org/content/view/15003/30/ (accessed on January 10, 2009)



1“Battle for Gaza Fought on the Web, Too”, Jart Armin, Internet Evolution, January 5, 2009, http://www.internetevolution.com/author.asp?section_id=717&doc_id=169872& (accessed on January 10, 2009)

2“Pro-Palestine vandals deface Army, NATO sites”, Dan Goodin, The Register, January 10, 2009, http://www.theregister.co.uk/2009/01/10/army_nato_sites_defaced/ (accessed on January 10, 2009)

3“Wage Cyberwar Against Hamas, Surrender Your PC”, Noah Shachtman, Danger Room, Wired, January 8, 2009, http://blog.wired.com/defense/2009/01/israel-dns-hack.html, (accessed on January 10, 2009)

4Copied from Google’s cache of help-israel-win.org

5Ibid.

6Hacktivist tool targets Hamas”, John Leyden, The Register, January 9, 2008, http://www.theregister.co.uk/2009/01/09/gaza_conflict_patriot_cyberwars/ (accessed on January 10, 2009)

7“E-Jihad vs. Storm”, Peter Coogan, Symantec, September 11, 2007, https://forums.symantec.com/t5/blogs/blogarticlepage/blog-id/malicious_code/article-id/170#M170 (accessed on January 10, 2009)

To the New President: Secure Cyberspace

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As the transition period leading to the new presidency is almost coming to an end, everyone will probably have multiple requests to the president, and of those is to increase cyber defence. In this optic, a new report created by the “CSIS Commission on Cybersecurity for the 44th Presidency[1]” has release its recommendations on how to secure cyberspace. They consist of:

  • Create a Comprehensive National Security Strategy for Cyberspace
  • Organizing for Cybersecurity
  • Rebuilding Partnership with the Private Sector
  • Regulate for Cybersecurity
  • Identity Management for Cybersecurity
  • Modernize Authorities
  • Build for the Future

This report comes 5 years after the “National Strategy to Secure Cyberspace” document released in 2003 by the National Advisory board which goal was to “engage and empower Americans to secure the portions of cyberspace that they own, operate, control, or with which they interact[2]“. The CSIS’ document doesn’t mention the previous efforts by the National Advisory Board but declares the previous efforts of the Bush administration as “good but not sufficient[3]“.

As usual, it remains difficult to see how much of this report is based on real facts or just a way to secure funds from the new president by linking potential damage to the cyberspace infrastructure to the economy . It states that “America’s failure to protect cyberspace is one of the most urgent national security problems facing the new administration that will take office in January 2009[4]“. It uses the cyber attack that occurred on various American networks in 2007 as an example[5].

While they may be some part of fear mongering in this report, we should not completely put aside threats mentioned in this report. As cyber warfare is mostly a war happening without much fanfare and therefore happens in the shadows, it is hard to really determine what’s going on. Since there is no open war between modern countries, we won’t see any cyber warfare for the time being. For the moment, cyberspace will be used for spying mostly and this is what this document mostly addresses.

The unclassified e-mail of the secretary of defense was hacked … A senior official at the Department of State told us the department had lost “terabytes” of information,” declares the report, also: “Senior representatives from the intelligence community told us that they had conclusive evidence, covertly obtained from foreign sources, that U.S. companies have lost  billions in intellectual properties.

Unfortunately, “senior representatives“, “conclusive evidence” and “foreign sources” are so vague that it’s impossible to validate the scope of the problem…or even believe it. Another document though[6], mentioned in the present reading give some examples of the uses of terrorists for cyberspace. It mentions among others the “Muslim Hackers Club” website and the information posted to it, and the use of stolen credit cards and bank account information to finance the Bali attack in 2002[7].

The authors are putting a lot of emphasis on treating cybersecurity as a priority on the same levels as WMD and any other subject that requires national attention therefore requiring that the federal government take charge of the national cybersecurity instead of IT departments. It proposes that:

1)      Standards for computer security be enforce for to the industry such as manufacturing plants and power plants.

2)      Cyberspace security be overlook by a cybersecurity chief and that security agencies such as the National Cyber Security Center (NCSC) and the Joint Inter-Agency Cyber Task Force (JIACTF) be merged into one.

A central office in charge of enforcing computer security standards will have to be formed later or sooner. Fortunately this will be sooner. Information Technology departments should not only have a national reference on the standards to achieve, but also have the opportunity to know how to implements those standards by having government-accredited security companies implementing those standards to networks of various industries. I also believe this new agency should periodically test the security of those networks, as I presume, should already be done. The reports propose that instead of a new agency, the Whitehouse be in charge of the national cybersecurity with an assistant to the president.

The difficulty in this resides in the fact that only one weak link is sufficient to be able to attack the entire system. Therefore, it is necessary to screen the entire critical infrastructure in order to be efficiently secured. And since this implies that systems are often connected internationally for large industries, it means an international consensus.

One thing is for sure, is that all the existing computer-security related need to be consolidated in order to focus on a common goal, and that is the protection of cyberspace. As the report states, it also need to be working hand-to-hand with the private sector in order to have a quick reaction to emergencies. Unfortunately this is only another report amongst other. Maybe a more tech-savvy president such as Barack Obama will catch on quicker to this threat. Until then, the battle still rages on in the shadows of the Internet…

See also

“Obama urged to create White House cybersecurity chief “, Dan Goodin, The Register, December 8, 2008, http://www.theregister.co.uk/2008/12/08/cyber_security_report/ (accessed on December 10, 2008)

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[1] “Securing Cyberspace for the 44th Presidency”, CSIS Commission on Cybersecurity for the 44th Presidency, December 8, 2008, http://www.csis.org/component/option,com_csis_pubs/task,view/id,5157/ (accessed on December 10, 2008)

[2] “The National Strategy to Secure Cyberspace”, National Advisory Board, February 2003, p. VII

[3] “Securing Cyberspace for the 44th Presidency”, CSIS Commission on Cybersecurity for the 44th Presidency, December 8, 2008, p.15

[4] Ibid. p.11

[5] “Pentagon shuts down systems after cyberattack’, Robert McMillan, InfoWorld, June 21, 2007, http://www.infoworld.com/article/07/06/21/Pentagon-shuts-down-systems-after-cyberattack_1.html(accessed on December 10, 2008)

[6] “Threats Posed by the Internet”, CSIS Commission on Cybersecurity for the 44th Presidency, October 2, 2008, http://www.csis.org/component/option,com_csis_pubs/task,view/id,5146/type,1/ (accessed on December 10, 2008)

[7] “Bali death toll set at 202”, BBC News, February 19, 2002, http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/asia-pacific/2778923.stm (accessed on December 10, 2008)

Use of Cyber Warfare Will Limit U.S Freedom of Action says Intelligence

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Not entirely cyber warfare related but still a very interesting read, but according to the Global Trends 2025 report by the National Intelligence Council, irregular warfare, which cyber warfare is part of, will play a determinant part into the future of the United States:

“… expanded adoption of irregular warfare tactics by both state and nonstate actors, proliferation of long-range precision weapons, and growing use of cyber warfare attacks increasingly will constrict US freedom of action.[1]

Unfortunately this is the only mention of cyber warfare in the report, which fails to go into further details. This shouldn’t come to a surprise to anyone though. We all know how reliant on technology everything is nowadays and the interconnection between every part of the modern society. Not only does the United States recognized that cyber warfare will be an important part of the upcoming conflicts, but also does China and Russia, which are stated to become heavyweights on the world stage:

“Few countries are poised to have more impact on the world over the next 15-20 years than China. If current trends persist, by 2025 China will have the world’s second largest economy and will be a leading military power.[2]

Right now, even with her very large armed forces of 2 million active personnel[3], China is trying to modernize its military to be more mobile and efficient. In order to accomplish that modernization, it has explored many new avenues that western societies are still trying to grasp. In 1999, two Chinese Air Forces colonels discussed new ways to conduct war in a guide titled “Unrestricted Warfare”, where they describe the use of computers as new weapons for future warfare:

“With technological developments being in the process of striving to increase the types of weapons, a breakthrough in our thinking can open up the domain of the weapons kingdom at one stroke. As we see it, a single man-made stock-market crash, a single computer virus invasion, or a single rumor or scandal that results in a fluctuation in the enemy country’s exchange rates or exposes the leaders of an enemy country on the Internet, all can be included in the ranks of new-concept weapons.[4]

Experts seem to agree that this kind of “new weapon” could do far more damage than one can imagine:

“If someone is able to attack information that is needed by decision makers, or that is crucial to organizing logistics and supply lines of an army on the ground, that means they can induce chaos in a nation[5] said Sami Saydjari, who worked as a Pentagon cyber expert for 13 years and now runs a private company, Cyber Defence Agency.

. If current trends persist, by 2025 China will have the world’s second largest economy and will be a leading military power

... by 2025 China will have the world’s second largest economy and will be a leading military power

We don’t know how much of the concepts explained in this book as been accepted by the People’s Liberation Army (PLA), but events from the last decade can gave us clues as how much China has developed cyber warfare capacities based on the text of the two colonels. . Concretes realizations of these ideas may have happened as soon as four years after the publication of the guide during Operation Titan Rain in 2003. With a computer network of more than 3.5 million computers spread across 65 countries, the Pentagon faces many challenges against a strong and sophisticated attack and Operation Titan Rain proved this. According to an article on ZDNet[6], 20 hackers, based or using proxies based in China, successfully attacked American networks in a coordinated attack:

 

  • At 10:23 p.m. PST, the Titan Rain hackers exploited vulnerabilities at the U.S. Army Information Systems Engineering Command at Fort Huachuca, Ariz.

  • At 1:19 a.m., they exploited the same hole in computers at the Defense Information Systems Agency in Arlington, Va.

  • At 3:25 a.m., they hit the Naval Ocean Systems Center, a Defense Department installation in San Diego, Calif.

  • At 4:46 a.m., they struck the U.S. Army Space and Strategic Defense installation in Huntsville, Ala.

The results from this operation were the theft of several classified information:

“From the Redstone Arsenal, home to the Army Aviation and Missile Command, the attackers grabbed specs for the aviation mission-planning system for Army helicopters, as well as Falconview 3.2, the flight-planning software used by the Army and Air Force,” according to Alan Paller, the director of the SANS Institute[7].

Many other attacks have been suspected to originate from China afterwards. Attacks against most of the G7 countries such as France[8], UK and Germany[9], New Zealand[10] and India[11] have been reported by many medias.

Cyber War

Attacks against most of the G7 countries such as France, UK and Germany, New Zealand and India have been reported

Although evidence gathered shows that China is aggressively pursuing irregular warfare, Russia is also gaining a strong cyber warfare reputation on the world scene. Its attack against Estonia has won world coverage and succeeding attacks on Georgia gave the country experience in that domain. It is again unclear though if attacks from Russia are actually coming from government agencies or from criminal behaviour.

The first incident concerning Russia goes back to 1999, before the Chinese cyber attacks. American networks went under siege in what is now called Operation Moonlight Maze. Back then, FBI officials were investigating a breach into the DOD satellite control systems. Again, while the first accusations for the source of this attack were Russian authorities, it was soon shown that they were not implied in this attack[12]. The only certitude about this operation was that the attack went through a Russian proxy.

Nevertheless, Russia cyber warfare was displayed on Estonia in 2007. Once against, it was unclear if the government was involved or if Russian patriotism over the removal of the war memorial[13] caused Russian script kiddies and botnets to answer with a massive DDoS attack. Moscow always denied any involvement in that case. It is also well known that major botnets that are lurking on the net are often controlled by Russian cyber-criminal gangs such as the Russian Business Network. It’s quite possible that those cyber-gangs ordered their botnets to retaliate against Estonia, especially since the attack consisted mostly of a denial-of-service attack, and wasn’t not as sophisticated as a coordinated hacking attack on networks. Another plausible option would be that Russia’s cyber army is a mercenary force.

A repetition of the Estonia cyber attack then took place against Georgia during the Russia-Georgian conflict. The same kind of attack occurred and took down various governmental and commercial websites: HTTP floods were send to www.parliament.ge and president.gov.ge. Some other sites were hi-jacked and displayed fake information. The Georgian government had to put up a temporary website on Blogspot. This time, the Russian Business Network was openly suspected by many analysts to be behind the attacks[14].

HTTP floods were send to www.parliament.ge and president.gov.ge.

HTTP floods were send to http://www.parliament.ge and president.gov.ge.

McAfee claims that 120 countries around the world are now developing cyber warfare strategies[15]. It is inevitable that countries without cyber warfare capacities will be at great disadvantage in any arising conflict, as disruption of communications will be the first objective of any belligerent. It’s crucial that a strong offensive and defensive cyber war force be developed in order to not only defend against cyber threats, but also wage war in cyberspace.

See also:

“Inside the Chinese Hack Attack”, “Nathan Thornburgh”, Time, August 25, 2005, http://www.time.com/time/nation/article/0,8599,1098371,00.html (accessed on November 21, 2008)

“Coordinated Russia vs. Georgia cyber attack in progress”, Dancho Danchev, August 11, 2008, http://blogs.zdnet.com/security/?p=1670 (accessed on November 21, 2008)


[1] “Global Trends 2025: A Transformed World”, National Intelligence, U.S Government, November 2008, p. XI

[2] Ibid. p. 29

[3] The Asian Conventional Military Balance in 2006: Overview of major Asian Powers”, Anthony H. Cordesman, Martin Kleiber, CSIS, June 26, 2006, p.24

[4] Translation from “Unrestricted Warfare”, Qiao Liang, Wang Xiangsui, PLA Literature and Arts Publishing House, February 1999. p. 25

[5] “China flexes muscles of its ‘informationised’ army”, Ed Pilkington, Bobbie Johnson, The Guardian, September 5, 2007, http://www.guardian.co.uk/technology/2007/sep/05/hacking.internet (accessed on November 21, 2008)

[6] “Security experts lift lid on Chinese hack attacks”, “Tom Espiner”, ZDNet, November 23, 2005, http://news.zdnet.com/2100-1009_22-145763.html (accessed on November 21, 2008)

[7] Ibid.

[8] “French government falls prey to cyber-attacks ‘involving China'”, Agence France-Presse, September 9, 2007, http://www.france24.com/france24Public/en/news/france/20070909-Internet-piracy-france-secuirty-china-hacker.php (accessed on November 21, 2008)

[9] “Chinese government at the center of five cyber attack claims”, Jeremy Reimer, September 14, 2007, http://arstechnica.com/news.ars/post/20070914-chinese-government-at-the-center-of-five-cyber-attack-claims.html (accessed on November 21, 2008)

[10] “New Zealand hit by foreign computer hacking”, Agence France-Presse, The Age, September 11, 2007, http://www.theage.com.au/news/Technology/New-Zealand-hit-by-foreign-computer-hacking/2007/09/11/1189276701773.html (accessed on November 21, 2008)

[11] “China mounts cyber attacks on Indian sites”, Indrani Bagchi, The Times of India, May 5, 2008, http://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/China_mounts_cyber_attacks_on_Indian_sites/articleshow/3010288.cms (accessed on November 21, 2008)

[12] “Russia hacking stories refuted”, Federal Computer Weekly, September 27, 1999, http://www.fcw.com/print/5_188/news/68553-1.html?page=1 (accessed on November 21, 2008)

[13] “Estonia hit by ‘Moscow cyber war'”, BBC News, May 17, 2007,  http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/europe/6665145.stm (accessed on November 21, 2008)

[14] “Georgia: Russia ‘conducting cyber war'”, Jon Swaine, The Telegraph, August 11, 2008, http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/worldnews/europe/georgia/2539157/Georgia-Russia-conducting-cyber-war.html (accessed on November 21, 2008)

[15] “China Disputes Cyber Crime Report”, Jordan Robertson, Washington Post, November 29, 2007, http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2007/11/29/AR2007112901588.html (accessed on November 21, 2008)

Chinese Cyber Warfare to Gain Military Superiority

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Since the 70s, when Deng Xiaoping was the head of China, the People’s Liberation Army tried to modernize itself and cut its size in order to become more efficient. Still, China is still behind when it comes to military even if its defense budget is the second largest after the United States on the planet, with US$57 billion in 2008[1]. According to an article published in Culture Mandala, China could boost its cyber warfare capabilities in order to compensate for their technological backwardness.

It started as soon as in 2003, when it deployed its first cyber warfare units, the “zixunhua budui[2]“. Since, many attacks have been attributed to China, such as Operation Titan Rain in 2003[3]. China hopes that by using asymmetrical warfare, such as information warfare and cyber warfare, it might level other modern armies.

Michael Vickers, Senior Vice President for Strategic Studies at the Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments declared that “a Chinese attack on Taiwan could entail special operations and cyber attacks on U.S. regional bases in Japan and South Korea, and might even include cyber attacks on the U.S. homeland that target the U.S. financial, economic, energy, and communications infrastructure[4]“. In the same document, we can read:

“One way to assess this risk is to ask whether a cyber attack by China launched a few days in advance of a clash could prevent U.S. carrier battle groups from deploying to the Taiwan Straits. Launching the attacks too early would create the risk of discovery and countermeasures.[5]

China could boost its cyber warfare capabilities in order to compensate for their technological backwardness

China could boost its cyber warfare capabilities in order to compensate for their technological backwardness

It is clear to me that a nation with a technologically late compared to modern armies have all the advantage to develop asymmetrical warfare. We can assess its effectiveness in Afghanistan and Iraq. And cyber warfare is a perfect way to destabilize modern armies used to technology in their daily operations. But this is far from being easy for both sides, as talented individuals and highly skills hackers are needed to develop this kind of warfare. Terrorists and groups are unlikely to develop a high quality cyber warfare force, although they still can be efficient. China, on the other hand, can and is smart to do it. After all, if a force can disable communications the enemy’s communications networks, such as GPS, emails and phone networks, it can makes a strong army useless. Like a strong man or woman, if the brain can contact the muscle through the nervous system, the body is powerless…

See also:

“How China Will Use Cyber Warfare To Leapfrog in Military Competitiveness“, Jason Fritz, Culture Mandala, Vol. 8, No. 1, October 2008

China’s Military Modernization and Its Impact on the United States and the Asia- Pacific“, U.S.-China Economic and Security Review Commission, 110th Cong, 1st Sess., March 29-30, 2007


[1] “How China Will Use Cyber Warfare To Leapfrog in Military Competitiveness”, Jason Fritz, Culture Mandala, Vol. 8, No. 1, October 2008, pp.29

[2] “Trojan Dragon: China’s Cyber Threat”, John J. Tkacik, Jr., The Heritage Foundation, February 8, 2008, http://www.heritage.org/Research/asiaandthepacific/bg2106.cfm#_ftn6 (accessed November 3, 2008)

[3] “Titan Rain – how Chinese hackers targeted Whitehall”, Richard Norton-Taylor, The Guardian, September 5, 2007, http://www.guardian.co.uk/technology/2007/sep/04/news.internet (accessed November 3, 2008)

[4] China’s Military Modernization and Its Impact on the United States and the Asia- Pacific, U.S.-China Economic and Security Review Commission, 110th Cong, 1st Sess., March 29-30, 2007, p. 2

[5] Ibid. p.144

A Brief Overview of the Cyber Command

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As more and more of the infrastructure of modern societies gets inter networked, the more the authorities are taking notice of the possible disasters that ought to happen if those networks would be attacked and controlled by malicious individuals. Based on that, the U.S Secretary of the Air Force announced the creation of the AFCYBER, the Air Force Cyber Command, whose mission “will be to provide combat ready forces trained and equipped to conduct sustained global operations in and through cyberspace, fully integrated with air and space operations[1]“. Let’s go deeper into that interesting new agency and try to see if it can actually matches the challenges of this century.

Origins

U.S Air Force Cyber Command Shield

U.S Air Force Cyber Command Shield

The United States government released in February 2003 a 76 pages document titled “The National Strategy to Secure Cyberspace”. This document recommended numerous solutions and actions to better protect the American cyberspace.  Among these actions, one of them recommends to “Improve coordination for responding to cyber attacks within the U.S. national security community”[2]. Based on that recommendation, the former U.S Secretary of the Air Force, Michael W. Wynne decided to establish a cyberspace command. He also stated:

“The aim is to develop a major command that stands alongside Air Force Space Command and Air Combat Command as the provider of forces that the President, combatant commanders and the American people can rely on for preserving the freedom of access and commerce, in air, space and now cyberspace[3]

It then has been decided that the 67th Network Warfare Wing and some elements of the 8th Air Force would serves as the core of the new command. It’s interesting to note that the goal of the 67th is “organizes, trains, and equips cyberspace forces to conduct network defense, attack, and exploitation.” Therefore, the Air Force already had an unit trained to conduct cyberspace operations, and more interestingly, this unit was also train to conduct attacks, not only defensive operations. Thus, in 2006 the Air Force Cyberspace Command (Provisional) unit was put into place.  but faced many difficulties. The first came as to define the term “cyberspace”, define the command’s operations, find a location to base the unit, then find the personnel and define all their functions, train them and organize the unit. Those challenges were perfectly summarized when Maj. Gen. William T. Lord answered a Slashdot user about the location of the new command:

I would hope that no matter where it was located, we would still be able to attract the talent needed to work in this exciting command and that all communities see the need to protect this domain[4].”

Attracting specialists and talented individuals is getting harder and harder. The private sector in technology is still offering, for now at least, good opportunities for graduated students.  Maybe that’s why the AFCYBER touted is creation and development with TV ads and advertisement all over the web. A great mistake, as it opened it to greater scrutiny from the public and observers, which would now be able to witness the success or the failure of the new command…

And not only did it have difficulties organizing itself, it was in competition with other similar services of the military, with the Navy (Naval Network Warfare) and Army already having such organizations, without forgetting about organizations such as the National Security Agency (NSA).

Even with the fore mentioned difficulties, “We’ve figured all that out” said General Lord in October this year, “We’ve outlined how to organize cyber forces, i.e., what capabilities fall into, or not into, a cyber organization[5]“.

Dismay

The optimism expressed in Lord’s comment was hard to share. One month earlier, the establishment of the Cyber Command was suspended and the transfers of units were halted[6]. In June, different actors were still discussing if the command should concentrate on defense and protection or if it should also conduct offensive operations[7]. The ever growing size of the command and the confusion about which operations of the unit was to conduct were slowing any progress and all this amid numerous other Air Force scandals about nuclear management, which later caused Wynne to resign from his post.

As by October 8, 2008, the Air Force decided that the Cyber Command will finally be a numbered unit under the Air Force Space Command as told by Staff Gen. Norton A. Schwartz (see previous post “U.S Air Force Cyber Command is Working on a new Roadmap“, October 24, 2008). After 2 years, it seems that very little has been accomplish. We still have no idea of the structure, the size and not even the mission of the unit. Although Colorado Springs[8] is apparently the preferred location, still no official location have been designated.

Will it work?

To be successful any cyber unit must first emphasize on constant research of new vulnerabilities in order to take the lead. It’s not just about looking at logs and waiting for an attack to occur. Any

U.S Navy Network Warfare Logo

U.S Navy Network Warfare Logo

serious cyber warfare unit must cooperate with every actor of the computer security field, not only corporations or universities, but also with hobbyist groups, hackers and phreakers in order to always have the initiative. As information is always distributed at blazing speed through out the net, and that nothing stays secret for long, constant research is needed to discover new vulnerabilities and detailed analysis. Yet, all those actors have been, as far as I know, ignored or forgotten.

Also, offensive is the best defense. Why should a military organization concentrate only on defensive operations?  It even goes against American principles of war, as it ignores the “Offensive” principle, letting the initiative to the enemy. This is clearly not a sound decision. It ignores the basic concepts or warfare. I believe this is mostly due to a certain mentality in the military leadership, which still regards technology as  support for troops instead of a fully fledge battlefield. This reasoning needs to change if we are to develop real cyber warfare operations. This is certainly something the Chinese understood.

I believe it will, if this unit becomes reality, become an administration bloated unit that will miss the point. Quantity is never a remedy to the lack of quality. A small but highly trained and skilled unit of hackers can do a lot more than a legion of technicians. The important part of cyber warfare is always to stay ahead, since that as soon as a hole or exploit is found, the enemy will patch it thus making it obsolete. and therefore, the need to find the next security vulnerability. Therefore, we don’t need a bigger bureaucracy, but more research, more cooperation with existing similar units and agencies and to develop a strong offensive capacity as the Chinese government seemed to have developed. The 67th Network Warfare unit and the Naval Network Warfare Command would be able to implement those capacities with the appropriate funding and support.

This command, which seemed like an important toward cyber warfare, now seems to have become a botched concept that will unlikely be of any use, except for other to look upon and learn from their mistakes. As the U.S Navy also has plans for a Naval Cyber Command[9], they have been a lot quieter about their project, maybe so they won’t suffer the same humiliation as their colleagues.

Conclusion

As governments are realizing the potential threats from a cyber war, agencies are organizing themselves to protect and defend their cyberspace. The U.S Air Force was based on this premise and would have been a good idea…if anyone had any idea of what they were talking about. Instead, it became or will become an administrative burden that failed and that will give no ror little results. In the end, the “Cyber Command” or what’s left of it, will be another organization which goals will be the same as the other agencies already in place, with no new value or innovative ideas…While western nations are struggling to grasp the concept of cyber warfare, others are developing a very well organized and effective effort to disrupt our systems. Cyber war is won by being a step ahead…and we’re not…


[1] Lt. Col. Paul Berg, “AFCYBER: What it will do and why we need it”, March 26, 2008, http://www.afcyber.af.mil/news/commentaries/story.asp?id=123091666 (accessed on October 24, 2008)

[2] The National Strategy to Secure Cyberspace, February 2003, U.S. Department of Homeland Security, p.13

[3] Staff Sgt. C. Todd Lopez, “8th Air Force to become new cyber command”, November 3, 2006, http://www.af.mil/news/story.asp?id=123030505 (accessed on October 24, 2008)

[4] “Air Force Cyber Command General Answers Slashdot Questions”, March 12, 2008,  http://interviews.slashdot.org/article.pl?sid=08/03/12/1427252 (accessed on October 26, 2008)

[5] Karen Petitt, “One year later: Provisional team lays groundwork for Air Force cyber mission assurance”, October 1, 2008, http://www.afcyber.af.mil/news/story.asp?id=123117666 (accessed on October 24, 2008)

[6] Bob Brewin, “Air Force suspends Cyber Command program”, August 12, 2008, http://www.nextgov.com/nextgov/ng_20080812_7995.php (accessed on October 24, 2008)

[7] Noah Shachtman, “Air Force Suspends Controversial Cyber Command”, August 13, 2008, http://blog.wired.com/defense/2008/08/air-force-suspe.html (accessed on October 24, 2008)

[8] Tom Roeder, “ Air Force regroups command’s duties”, October 7, 2008, http://www.gazette.com/articles/command_41568___article.html/air_force.html (accessed on October 26, 2008)

[9] Lewis Page, “US Navy also planning Cyberwar Command”, October 14, 2008, http://www.theregister.co.uk/2008/10/14/us_navy_cyber_too/ (accessed on October 24, 2008)

U.S Air Force Cyber Command is Working on a new Roadmap

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A new roadmap will be written for the reorganization of what was once the U.S Cyber Command. The project was downgraded from a major command to a numbered unit on October 8 by Staff Gen. Norton A. Schwartz. The cyberspace mission of the Air Force will be part of the Air Force Space Command. Both organizations are now working at ways of working together to fulfill the Air Force commitment to protect the cyberspace.

“This is not an additional duty for us,” General Kehler said. “We are in this 100 percent, and we will dedicate the manpower and resources needed to make this transition work. This is not just building a cyber numbered Air Force. This is establishing a robust cyberspace capability for our Air Force, and there won’t be a huge difference in what was being presented originally — cyber being its own command — with what will be done under Air Force Space Command’s umbrella.[1]

There more I read about the Air Force Cyber Command, the more I believe it’s going to end up as it started. In the end, this is about the 67th Network Warfare unit transferring under the Air Force Space Command from the 8th Air Force. This is a wasted opportunity from the Air Force.


[1] “Air Force leaders work to develop cyberspace roadmap”, October 24, 2008, http://www.af.mil/news/story.asp?id=123121153 (accessed on October 25, 2008)