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[infowar.de] NATO-Review über Cyberwar
Die deutsche Ausgabe - der NATO-Brief - ist noch nicht online, sie wird
aber unter http://www.nato.int/docu/other/de/deutsch.htm erhältlich
NATO Review, Winter 2001/2002, Seite 16-18
Countering cyber war
Timothy Shimeall, Phil Williams and Casey Dunlevy argue that defence
has to incorporate the virtual world to limit physical damage in the
Timothy Shimeall is a senior analyst with the CERT Analysis Center of
Carnegie Mellon University, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, with specific
interests in cyber war and cyber terrorism. Phil Williams, a former NATO
fellow, is a professor at the University of Pittsburgh and a visiting
scientist at the CERT Analysis Center. Casey Dunlevy is a former
intelligence analyst, and leads the CERT Analysis Center.
For many, the term cyber war conjures up images of deadly, malicious
programmes causing computer systems to freeze, weapon systems to fail,
thwarting vaunted technological prowess for a bloodless conquest. This
picture, in which cyber war is isolated from broader conflict, operates
in an altogether different realm from traditional warfare and offers a
bloodless alternative to the dangers and costs of modern warfare, is
attractive but unrealistic. Such a scenario is not beyond the realm of
possibility, but it is unlikely. Cyber warfare will almost certainly
have very real physical consequences.
As computer technology has become increasingly inte-grated into modern
military organisations, military planners have come to see it as both a
target and a weapon, exactly like other components and forces. Like
other elements of the modern military, cyber forces are most likely to
be integrated into an overall battle strategy as part of a combined arms
campaign. Computer technology differs
from other military assets, however, in that it is an integral component
of all other assets in modern armies. From this perspective, it is the
one critical component upon which many modern militaries depend, a
dependence that is not
lost on potential enemies.
Countries around the world are developing and implementing cyber
strategies designed to impact an enemy?s command and control structure,
early warning and other critical, military functions. In addition,
nations are increasingly aware that the use of cyber strategies can be a
major force multiplier and equaliser. Smaller countries that could never
compete in a conventional military sense with their larger neighbours
can develop a capability that gives them a strategic advantage, if
properly utilised. As a RAND Corporation study pointed out in the
mid-1990s, the entry costs for conducting cyber war are extremely
modest. Not surprisingly,
therefore, countries that are not as dependent on high technology within
their military establishment consider such dependence a potential
?Achilles heel? for their enemies.
Advanced, post-industrial societies and economies are critically
dependent on linked computer information and communication systems.
Sophistication has itself become a form of vulnerability for enemies to
exploit. Disruption of civilian infrastructures is an attractive option
for countries and non-state actors that want to engage in asymmetric
warfare and lack the capacity to compete on the traditional battlefield.
Indeed, so important are information infrastructures that more and more
nations consider an attack against them the equivalent of a strategic
Traditional lines between war and peace are becoming blurred. This
development was presaged by the Cold War, but is even more obvious in
the war against terrorism in the wake of the 11 September attacks on the
World Trade Center and the Pentagon. It suggests that the computerised
information systems of NATO member states are likely to be the
continuing target of attacks by a non-traditional enemy, whose main goal
is physical destruction and disruption and who is likely to exploit
vulnerabilities wherever they are to be found.
In this connection, it is worth emphasising that cyber war is not the
defacement of web sites owned by a rival nation, organisation or
political movement. Even when they accompany other tensions or
hostilities ? as they did during NATO?s Kosovo air campaign in 1999 ?
such attacks on web sites are best understood as a form of harassment or
graffiti and not as cyber war per se. There are, nevertheless, several
levels of cyber war, of which three stand out: cyber war as an adjunct
to military operations; limited cyber war; and unrestricted cyber war.
When modern military establishments are involved in military
hostilities, a key objective is to achieve information superiority or
information dominance in the battle space. This requires suppressing
enemy air defences, blocking and/or destroying radar, and the like. The
aim, in Clausewitzian terms, is to increase the ?fog of war? for the
enemy and to reduce it for one?s own forces. This can be achieved
through direct military strikes designed to degrade the enemy?s
information-processing and communications systems or by attacking the
systems internally to achieve, not denial of service, but a denial of
capability. In effect, this form of cyber warfare focuses almost
exclusively on military cyber targets.
In a limited cyber war, the information infrastructure is the medium,
target and weapon of attack, with little or no real-world action
accompanying the attack. As the medium of attack, the information
infrastructure forms the vector by which the attack is delivered to the
target ? often through interconnections between the enemy and its
allies, using links for sharing resources or data, or through wide-area
network connections. Alternatively, an inside agent might place
malicious software directly on the enemy?s networks.
As the target of attack, the infrastructure forms a means by which the
effectiveness of the enemy is reduced. Networks facilitate
organisational missions. Degrading network capacity inhibits or prevents
operations that depend on the network. Degrading the level of service on
the network could force the enemy to resort to backup means for some
operations, which might expose additional vulnerabilities. Degrading the
quality of the data on a network might even force the enemy to question
the quality of the information available to make decisions. As the
of attack, the infrastructure could be perverted to attack itself ?
either via the implantation of multiple pieces of malicious software, or
via deliberate actions that exploit weaknesses. Limited cyber war of
this kind could be designed to slow an adversary?s preparations for
military intervention, as part of an economic warfare campaign, or as
part of the manoeuvring that typically accompanies a crisis or
confrontation between states.
More serious, and perhaps more likely, than limited cyber war is what
can be termed unrestricted cyber war, a form of warfare that has three
major characteristics. First, it is comprehensive in scope and target
coverage with no distinctions between military and civilian targets or
between the home front and the fighting front. Second, unrestricted
cyber war has physical consequences and casualties, some of which would
result from attacks deliberately intended to create mayhem and
destruction, and some of which would result from the erosion of what
might be termed civilian command and control capabilities in areas such
as air-traffic control, emergency-service management, water-resource
management and power generation. Third, the economic and social impact ?
in addition to the loss of life ? could be profound.
An unrestricted cyber campaign would almost certainly be directed
primarily against the target country?s critical national infrastructure:
energy, transportation, finance, water, communications, emergency
services and the information infrastructure itself. It would likely
cross boundaries between government and private sectors, and, if
sophisticated and coordinated, would have both immediate
impact and delayed consequences. Ultimately, an unrestricted cyber
attack would likely result in significant loss of life, as well as
economic and social degradation.
Denial-of-service attacks would take on new meaning where the services
do not simply provide access to the internet but are systems supporting
critical, national infra-structures; systems that are not designed for
prolonged outages. A chronic loss of power generation and transmission
capabilities, for example, would have a major impact on medical and
other emergency services, communications capabilities and the capacity
to manage. A failure of emergency services in major cities would not
only result in the
deaths of those requiring such services but also in a loss of confidence
in the government?s ability to provide basic services and protection. As
it became apparent that the attack was impacting other infrastructure
such as communications, transportation and water, the levels of fear and
loss of confidence would begin to impact the basic social fabric.
Attacks against the financial infrastructure would
erode the capacity of business to function normally and raise questions
among the public about the security of their personal finances,
including retirement accounts, investments and personal savings.
Military networks, all of which utilise commercial communications
pathways, would also be hampered, undermining command and control,
logistics and both preparedness and operations. In unrestricted cyber
warfare, virtual attacks can have consequences that are real, profound
The irony is that those nations, like the United States and its NATO
Allies, that have the capacity to excel in cyber war as an adjunct to
military operations ? and can achieve information dominance over the
battlefield ? are also those most vulnerable to unrestricted cyber war.
There are, however, measures that can be taken to reduce these
Cyber warfare is not fundamentally different from conventional, physical
warfare. When conducted by a nation state, it is integrated into a
defined strategy and doctrine, becomes part of military planning and is
implemented within specific parameters. Consequently, it is subject to
analysis and warning in much the same way as other military operations.
Indeed, there are several ways of reducing vulnerability to cyber war.
These include anticipation and assessment, preventive or deterrent
measures, defensive measures and measures for damage mitigation and
The Clausewitzian notion that war is an extension of politics by other
means provides the basis for the development and implementation of a
reliable warning system for cyber threat. Prior to an attack, whether
cyber or conventional, there is usually an element of political
confrontation. Awareness of an escalating political conflict,
recognition and analysis of developing cyber-warfare capabilities, and
detection and assessment of attack precursors all provide warnings of
impending cyber attacks. While still being developed, methodologies to
provide warning can be combined with coordinated and sophisticated
survivability strategies to increase the likelihood of recognition,
response and recovery from a concerted cyber attack.
Warning methodologies are all the more important because of the
difficulties inherent in identifying and assessing a sophisticated cyber
attack. Differentiating a network attack from accidental factors (such
as a surge in demand for certain information on the network) or
implementation mistakes (such as errors in the portion of a server?s
operating system that processes network traffic) is neither
quick nor easy. Moreover, even when it is clear that an attack is
underway, the defender must correlate multiple pieces of information
(each of doubtful quality) to gain a better understanding of the actions
involved in the attack, before deciding how best to respond. The
degradation of network service, data quality or capacity makes this
difficult, especially if the data on the network cannot be trusted.
Preventive or deterrent measures are difficult in the cyber world,
partly because of the ability of attackers to remain anonymous. An
unrestricted cyber-war offensive,
however, would almost certainly provide some clues as to their identity.
One of the issues for decision-makers in NATO countries for the future
will therefore be whether such attacks lead simply to cyber retaliation
or to retaliatory actions in the physical world, or both. Notions of
linkage, escalation and deterrence that were familiar during the Cold
War have to be re-examined in relation to new kinds of contingencies.
Indeed, it might be that strategies of deterrence could have an impact
in cyber space ? at least against unrestricted offensives.
Defences can also be developed with some expectation of success. In the
near term, modern network attack almost always favours the aggressor. In
the long term, this advantage may shift to the defenders, as they
identify the means of attack and block them by patching vulnerabilities
and insulating network connections. Moreover, information networks can
be made more robust. Essential network services
can be isolated in order to maintain mission capability. Physical
security and personnel training can minimise the threat of malicious
insider activity. And firewalls and intrusion detection systems can be
configured in such a way as to provide warning and response systems for
both public and private infrastructures.
Finally, it is necessary to develop a capacity for damage mitigation and
reconstitution. Network design should integrate notions of robustness
and survivability (based in part on the availability of other means to
perform critical missions), while contingency plans for the continued
imple-mentation of critical roles and missions with far less cyber
connectivity are essential. Insulated intranets that can operate
efficiently and safely without wider connections offer considerable
promise in this respect.
All this is, of course, easier said than done. The obstacles to enhanced
network survivability are many and varied. Security is often an
afterthought rather than an integral part of network design. Government
and business have different approaches to security and its provision.
Dependence on computer networks often goes unquestioned. And the lines
of responsibility in government are often blurred and confused by
overlapping and competing jurisdictions. Yet all these difficulties can
be overcome with a mixture of political will, organisational commitment,
careful planning and systematic implementation. Defence planning needs
to incorporate the virtual world, if there is to be any chance of
limiting physical damage in the real world.
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