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Submarine Command System

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A press release from BAE Systems announced the installation of the Submarine Command System Next Generation (SMCS NG) on twelve nuclear submarines of the Royal Navy, effectively ending the conversion of the seven Trafalgar-class submarines, four Vanguard-class submarines and one Swiftsure class[1].

The new command system is based on COTS hardware and software products. It uses mainstream PCs and Windows as supporting components. All computers are connected with on a LAN by an Ethernet network using fiber-optic cable. According to The Register, the system will mostly be based on Windows XP[2] although in was initially decided it would be based on Windows 2000.

The role of this system is to store and compile data from various sensors in order to present tactical information for the leadership. It also controls the weaponry:

SMCS NG is designed to handle the growing volume of information available in modern nuclear submarines and to control the sophisticated underwater weapons carried now and in the future. Its core capability is the assimilation of sensor data and the compilation and display of a real time tactical picture to the Submarine Command Team[3].

The SMCS NG system is the descendant of the previous SMCS system that was proposed back in 1983, when the U.K decided to build a new command system for the then-new Trident class. Before, all electronics were custom built by Ferranti. The SMCS would use COTS material to minimize the costs and become fewer dependants on one company. The architecture of the command system was modular and was written in Ada 83. The core of the system contains an Input/Output computer node, a computer that process data from the sensors and weapons systems. There is also the central node, which is used for processing all the data. Each of the central nodes are duplicated to provide of fault-tolerance, with each being dual modular tolerant, which means that hardware components are working in parallel in case one becomes defective. The dual central nodes are connected to each other and they are also connected to Multi Function Consoles, a Main Tactical Display and two Remote Terminals, which provide the Human Computer Interface. The first phase of the project was to install the SMCS on the Vanguard class submarines.

In 1990, it was decided to extend the SMCS to other submarine classes and that the new command system would use UNIX as its base operating system. Because of the Ada architecture, problems arose when the technicians tried to map the SMCS to run-time processes of UNIX. Solaris and SPARC machines were finally selected for Multi Function Consoles. The central nodes kept their original architecture in Ada.

SMCS Multi Function Monitor in a Vanguard Class Submarine

SMCS Multi Function Monitor in a Vanguard Class Submarine

In 2000, the project was completely own by BAE Systems and the move from SPARC computers to PCs. The switch for the operating system was more difficult, as management preferred Windows while the engineers promoted the use of variants of UNIX such as BSD, Linux or Solaris. The main argument for the engineers was that with UNIX, it would be possible to remove all the extra code unneeded for the submarines operations, thus making it more secure. However, the management point of view prevailed and thus was created the “Windows for Warships” label.

Windows was chosen even after the USS Yorktown accident in 1997, in the US. The ship was crippled after the sysadmin entered invalid data into the database thought the Remote Database Manager.[4]

Insert any jokes about Windows controlling nuclear subs into the comments. Thank you.

Clippy Launch Warning Blue Screen of Death

See also:

SMCS“, AllExperts, http://en.allexperts.com/e/s/sm/smcs.htm (accessed on December 17, 2008)

Submarine Command System (SMCS)“, Ultra Electronics, http://www.ultra-ccs.com/systems/smcs/ (accessed on December 17, 2008)

Operating Systems Contracts, Trusted Software?“, Richard Smedly, Linux Format, March 2005, http://www.linuxformat.co.uk/pdfs/LXF64.pro_war.pdf (accessed on December 17, 2008)

Development Drivers in Modern Multi-function Consoles and Cabinets“, Armed Forces International, http://www.armedforces-int.com/categories/military-consoles-and-cabinets/development-drivers-in-modern-multifunction-consoles-and-cabinets.asp (accessed on December 17, 2008)


[1] “Royal Navy’s Submarine Command System Installation Programme Completes Ahead of Time”, BAE Systems, December 15, 2008, http://www.baesystems.com/Newsroom/NewsReleases/autoGen_108111514515.html (accessed on December 17, 2008)

[2] “Royal Navy completes Windows for SubmarinesTM rollout”, Lewis Page, The Register, December 16, 2008, http://www.theregister.co.uk/2008/12/16/windows_for_submarines_rollout/ (accessed on December 17, 2008)

[3] Ibid.

[4] “Operating Systems Contracts, Trusted Software? “, Richard Smedly, Linux Format, March 2005, p.72

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Written by Jonathan Racicot

December 17, 2008 at 8:00 pm

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)

NSA’s new data center in San Antonio

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San Antonio will be hosting the new data center of the National Security Agency reports the San Antonio Current[1]. An old Sony factory on the West Military Drive, near San Antonio’s Loop 410 freeway, will be transformed to accommodate enormous size of data, which will mainly be electronic communications such as phone conversations and emails according to author James Bamford:

“No longer able to store all the intercepted phone calls and e-mail in its secret city, the agency has now built a new data warehouse in San Antonio, Texas.”

This city have been chosen for it’s cheap electricity, provided on an independent power grid since Texas as its own, unconnected to the other states’ grid, making it more reliable.

NSA's Datacenter in San Antonio

NSA's Datacenter in San Antonio

Another factor that played was the location of a similar size Microsoft datacenter a few miles away. This center will be the third largest data center of San Antonio.

As for the Sony plant, it’s made out of two connected buildings, offering offices and research areas and totals around 470 000 square feet[2]. It is expected that 1500 employees will work there initially and may employ up to 4000 personnel.


[1] “The panopticon economy”, Greg M. Schwartz, San Antonio Current, December 3, 2008, http://www.sacurrent.com/news/story.asp?id=69607 (accessed on December 8, 2008)

[2] “NSA Plans San Antonio Data Center”, Rich Miller, Data Center Knowledge, April 19, 2007,  http://www.datacenterknowledge.com/archives/2007/04/19/nsa-plans-san-antonio-data-center/ (accessed on December 8, 2008)

Written by Jonathan Racicot

December 9, 2008 at 7:16 pm