The Future of War   by: Michael Shapiro

"The skillful leader subdues the enemy's troops without any fighting; he captures their cities without laying siege to them; he overthrows their kingdom without lengthy operations in the field."

                          --Sun Tzu, The Art of War, 6th century B.C.

JANUARY 17, 1998

  • A private plane collides with a 767 on approach to LAX. All 143 people on the 767 die, including movie star Jack Nicholson. Stunned air traffic controllers watch in horror--their radar screens show the planes approaching different runways, hundreds of feet apart. Hours later, a passenger train from Philadelphia bound for Washington, D.C. suddenly switches tracks and slams head-on into a northbound freight train. Thirty-three people are killed and 86 are injured, including Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, who suffers a broken collarbone.

  • That night, seven oil refineries in Texas and Oklahoma burst into flames after computerized flow-control mechanisms malfunction. The scene is reminiscent of the oil refinery fires that burned out of control during the Gulf War.

  • Later that night, an electrical surge abruptly overloads switching systems throughout New York City, plunging the city into darkness during the winter's first sub-zero cold front. Key phone switching centers are overloaded by millions of computer-generated calls, knocking out phone service for the city. In the predawn hours, widespread looting plagues New York's posh shopping districts.

  • Meanwhile, thousands of Bank of America customers throughout Northern California are unable to withdraw funds from their ATM accounts. Tellers who check their accounts find no funds remaining. Within hours, customers are making a run on the banks demanding their money, but the banks refuse and shut down their computer systems to prevent further losses.

  • Later that day, a French journalist walks into CNN's Paris bureau with "the story of the century." Using a hidden video camera, the journalist has captured scenes of Saddam Hussein overseeing technicians in Baghdad's computer- cluttered "war room." An editor at CNN Paris briefly reviews the tape and then beams it to hundreds of outlets throughout the world. The reporter leads the story by noting that, ironically, this "virtual invasion" began seven years to the day after the United States opened fire on Iraq.

  • The U.S. response is fast and furious. An air raid levels Baghdad's key military and economic installations, while other air strikes target oil pipelines and refineries. More than 12,000 civilians are killed in the shelling, but Hussein survives. Saddam protests that he did not order this "remote terrorism" (a new term coined by the U.S. press) but the international community dismisses his statements. Thousands of Iraqi citizens, enraged by their leader's reckless actions, storm Saddam's palace. When Hussein's guards open fire and kill dozens of their countrymen, Saddam's core of support erodes further and he is evacuated by helicopter, seeking refuge in Syria.

  • While some celebrate Saddam's downfall, the United States and its wired allies remain palpably shaken, their confidence badly diminished. A genuine celebration, however, is under way in this conflict's true war room--in Teheran. Senior Iranian leaders and a cadre of 14 computer science Ph.D.s (11 of whom were educated at top U.S. universities) have just executed a war against Iran's two most-hated enemies: the United States and Iraq. Without firing a shot, Iran has overthrown Saddam Hussein and wrought havoc in a country thousands of miles away, a country of seemingly far superior military might... The United States has fallen victim to an electronic Pearl Harbor and responded against the wrong adversary.

       Does the above scenario seem far-fetched? Perhaps, but talk to military strategists studying the emerging field of information warfare, and they'll tell you the frightening truth: Everything in this story so far is well within the realm of technical possibility.

"All warfare is based on deception."

                         --Sun Tzu

The Top 10 Reasons We Shouldn't Worry About CyberWar

Martin Libicki is a senior fellow at the National Defense University, a strategy and training center for military officers in Washington, D.C. Libicki helped fuel a national dialogue on Information Warfare when he penned a paper in August 1995 reporting on the touchy subject matter. Having defined it, Libicki seems less worried about its actual occurrence than other experts, like Schwartau (see other sidebar). In fact, he has 10 good reasons why he doesn't lose sleep over the prospect of infowar.

10. "It hasn't happened yet."

As Libicki says, "Our security is really crap in this country, and nothing has happened." Since incidents tend to escalate at a somewhat predictable rate, he believes that even a turn for the worse wouldn't be too devastating.

 9. "The law of averages is tough to break."

The law here refers to the fact that it's easier to break into a system with an insider's help. Since the United State's computer systems are distributed widely rather than centralized, a cyberwarrior hoping to cause severe damage would have to enlist a lot of insiders. If he does, he's more likely to get caught; if he doesn't, he's less likely to succeed.

 8. "Non-fatal viruses are a booster."

We learn from each amateur attempt to hack into large systems, especially successful ones.

 7. "Someday, firewalls may work."

We may eventually learn how to lock out intruders, rather than leaving our back doors open, since, as Libicki points out, "There's no such thing as a forced entry in cyberspace."

 6. "Local PCs can have viruses, as long as you keep the servers clean."

And it's possible to build semantic barriers around our servers, so that they accept only the type of data you program them to accept.

 5. "Digital signatures are better than passwords."

The Department of Defense cannot single-handedly fend off the specter of information warfare, "and it ought not to." Libicki believes security needs to happen from the grass roots up, and the integration of digital signatures in mail programs will be a big step.

 4. "CD-ROMs are unerasable."

We have other options for storing and passing information besides the fragile magnetic disk.

 3. "Air makes a good insulator."

Libicki recalls a scene from War Games where teen hacker Matthew Broderick phones into a NORAD computer and kicks off a nuclear conflict. "That's probably not the first computer I'd hang a modem on." Or to put it another way, if you don't want hackers to mess with your system, don't put it on the Internet.

 2. "Neither snow, nor wind, nor quake..."

The U.S. lost $25 billion of its GNP in a blizzard last winter. Hurricane Andrew may have cost that much, the Northridge earthquake cost $10 billion, the S&L scandal cost $150 billion and counting. "It takes a hell of a lot to bring the U.S. to its knees."

 1. "If somebody really, really pisses us off, we can always make the rubble bounce."

"Let's say Iran wants to bring the country to its knees. We have other ways to convince them they might not want to do that...I don't have to spell this out, do I?"

                --David Sims


       The potential targets of information warfare today range from telecommunications systems and power production, to automated banking machines and air traffic control. In short, wherever a country links to networked computer systems, it is vulnerable to attack. "The good guys have to protect every single one of the entry points," says Winn Schwartau, author of Information Warfare and Cyberterrorism. "The bad guys only have to find one hole."
       And what about the video in the above scenario? Clearly, it was fabricated, using the same multimedia techniques that allowed Natalie Cole to sing a duet with her long-dead father and that enabled Forrest Gump to interact with JFK and LBJ.
       "Today, the techniques of combining live actors with computer- generated video graphics can easily create a virtual news conference (or) summit meeting," says Prof. George J. Stein of the United States Air Force Air War College. "This moves well beyond traditional military deception, and now, perhaps, pictures will be worth a thousand tanks."
       While the United States has yet to fall victim to an electronic Pearl Harbor, thousands of less dramatic invasions of its life support systems have occurred. Consider:

  • A Russian hacker tapped into the computers of New York's Citibank and stole $10 million by electronically transferring the money to banks around the world. Other hackers have stolen millions of dollars, but banks generally keep these infiltrations quiet to maintain public confidence in financial systems.

  • To test U.S. resistance against a cyberattack, the Defense Information Systems Agency (DISA) in 1994 assembled a team of hackers and, in so many words, said, "Go ahead, make our day." The hackers snatched control of 88 percent of Pentagon computers they attacked, and only 4 percent of the intrusions were noticed by Defense Department computer technicians.

  • And the home pages of the U.S. Department of Justice and the CIA were hacked into in the past couple of months, causing acute embarrassment to both agencies. "The Department of Injustice" page, a protest against the Communications Decency Act, had images of Hitler, a digitally altered topless Jennifer Aniston and George Washington saying, "Move my grave to a free country." On the CIA page, the hackers renamed the agency the "Central Stupidity Agency.' CIA officials tried to downplay the breach by saying no sensitive information was compromised.

  • In September, hackers paralyzed a New York ISP called Panix using a strategy that experts believe could disable just about any service provider in the world. On Sept. 6, Panix's computers began receiving streams of packets with phony return addresses, locking up Panix's computers while they tried to verify the addresses.

Also vulnerable to attack are the military's own command and control mechanisms, which are increasingly dependent on computers for basic operations.
       "Nearly everything (the military) does--from designing weapons and guiding missiles to paying, training, equipping and mobilizing soldiers--depends on computer-driven civilian information networks," according to "Information Warfare: A Two-Edged Sword," a 1995 report from RAND, a public policy thinktank based in Santa Monica, Calif. "About 95 percent of military communications travel over the same phone networks used to fax a contract or to talk with a friend in another state. American military bases are powered by the national electric power grid. Pentagon purchases are paid for via the federal banking network. Soldiers are transported under the guidance of civilian rail and air traffic control systems. Each of these information nodes represents a substantial vulnerability for the military in times of crisis," the report states.
       What's most frightening to some defense experts is that the tools needed to wage an infowar are remarkably inexpensive and national boundaries are penetrable to remote intrusions from thousands of miles away. Information warfare has no front line and battlefields can be any of the millions of points that networks allow access.
       "It's the great equalizer," says futurist Alvin Toffler. To wage information warfare "you don't have to be big and rich--that's why poor countries are going for this faster than technically advanced countries." In this new game of war, the most valuable component is the hacker. And some theorists believe hackers will become the new mercenaries, selling their expertise to the highest bidders. During the Gulf War, for example, a group of Dutch hackers offered their services to disrupt U.S. military operations for $1 million, according to Pentagon officials.
       The United States, however, is not merely considering how to defend itself from infowar attacks--it is creating its own infowar arsenal, which may one day (or already) include microbes that eat electronics and insulating material inside computers (similar to micro- organisms that consume spilled oil). Another potential weapon is the "logic bomb" which is insinuated into an enemy's computer or weapons system and gives the perpetrator the ability to later trigger it and erase all data within the target.
       And the United States already appears to be adopting hacker-like techniques into its intelligence operations. On Aug. 4, The Sunday Times of London reported that system operators at the European Parliament and European Union detected infiltrations from the C.I.A. The presumed reason: to gather information to assist U.S. industry in trade negotiations.
       While the capability to wage an infowar is growing throughout the world, the question is how these new forms of warfare will revolutionize conflict. Infowar may allow the United States to accomplish some important national security goals "without the need for forward-deployed military forces in every corner of the planet," Stein says.
       Though an infowar would be waged largely through communications networks, "it is fundamentally not about satellites, wires and computers," Stein says. "It is about influencing human beings and the decisions they make."
       There are military leaders who believe that infowar will spare civilian casualties. "This is America's gift to warfare," says Admiral William Owens, former vice chair of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.
dead        Other military theorists are less sanguine. "I have a hard time visualizing that warfare will be a video game devoid of pain," Lt. General Jay Garner said in a published report last year.
       Yet what about the ethics of waging information warfare? Do ethics even apply to information warfare? Governments could take the more scrupulous route and attempt to disable an adversary's missile guidance system...or more viciously, undermine civilian transportation and foreign financial systems.
       Information attacks can have consequences that are as unpredictable as attacks aimed at physical destruction or killing people, says Air Force Col. Richard Szafranski. Using a "false reality" to "unhinge a non-combatant from reality, especially when those effects cannot be known or controlled, may be no less wrongful than to force another into starvation or cannibalism," he says. Whatever the future of warfare is, there's one underlying reality. Civil War General William Tecumseh Sherman said it a century ago, "War is cruelty--you cannot refine it."

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