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article imageUS Military: Forget cold war — Here comes cyber war

By Dan Steiner     Jul 24, 2013 in Technology
This year, the US government formally acknowledged that state-sponsored hacking (aka cyber ware or information warfare) is of greater national concern than “conventional terrorism.”
The US formerly acknowledges that a cyber attack is an act of war, and could even initiate nuclear war. Although that’s a nightmarish worst-case scenario, it’s shocking to think that plugging a flash drive into a USB port could start World War III…
History of Cyber War in the US
Strangely enough, the single most successful cyber attack in history is usually attributed to the United States. During the war in Kosovo, when US military aircraft had to bomb targets in the capital, US military hackers infiltrated Serbian Air Defense, making the approaching US aircraft virtually disappear. It quickly became one of the most successful bombings during the war.
The most significant cyber terrorist attack against the US came in 2008. Known as Operation Aurora, this attack crippled several organization sites around the world, including Adobe, Yahoo, Morgan Stanley and Dow Chemical, although the primary target was Google itself. The sophisticated hacker attack caught companies unawares and was primarily a security breach. According to Google, the attack revealed the Gmail accounts of China expatriates, but that’s only a theory.
This attack notoriety stems from two factors: one, it was a day-zero attack, meaning it exploited weaknesses on software that were previously undiscovered, so companies could not prepare or patch them. Two, and by far the most disturbing, is that experts believe it was state-sponsored.
Modes of Cyber Warfare
Typically, cyber war isn’t aimed at military targets, since talented hackers can do much more damage against less-protected civil infrastructure. Financial institutes are an obvious target, although the easiest method of crippling them isn’t by stealing funds. That’s saved for action movies.
Denial-of-Service (DoS) hacking or malware cripples a nation just as well as thievery, but requires far less effort. Instead of dealing with complicated encryption in host databases, DoS only needs to cut host-to-client communication.
Another weakness open to intrusive malware and hacking is the US power grid, most of which remains unchanged since the 1960s and 70s. Although the control systems are computerized, security measures are decidedly insufficient. A determined hacker could easily wreck havoc (That’s not a dare!), as was the case in 2009, when inactive but destructive malware was discovered and traced back to Russia and China.
Kill Switch Bill: Portentous Presidential Powers
The measures the US has taken are significant, but nowhere near as comprehensive as they need be. Like traditional terrorism, it may take a national event to rally support and funding for a real fight against cyber terrorism. One method is the controversial “Kill Switch Bill” which gives the president powers to shut down portions (or all) of the Internet. Anyone that remembers the Window Genuine Advantage Tool, which killed unlicensed copies of the Windows OS, knows how effective this is. It’s hard to imagine that one man shutting down the Internet is possible, but by legislative order, it is. Since the majority of the largest DNS servers are in the US, shutting down our portion of the Internet could effectively shut down all of it. You can almost picture a big red switch that says “In case of Cyber Apocalypse, Press.”
More about cyber war, Us military, Cybercrime, Hacking
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