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[] Iraq's Crash Course in Cyberwar,

Iraq's Crash Course in Cyberwar  

By Brian McWilliams 

Story location:,2100,58901,00.html

02:00 AM May. 22, 2003 PT

While the United States deployed its troops to the Persian Gulf in
March, some Iraqis prepared for war by surfing the Web. 

Internet traffic records kept by the operator of reveal that
Iraqis developed an avid interest in psychological tactics and military
links just prior to the
combat action against them. The private Web portal provides links to
sites that detail how information is used in warfare. logged hundreds of visits from Internet addresses assigned to
Iraq's government-controlled Warkaa and Uruklink Internet services
between November
2002 and March 2003. 

Experts said the site data confirms their belief that, despite
technological obstacles, Iraq's government relied on the Internet for
its intelligence operations. 

"Iraq is one of the least-wired countries, but all this is expected,"
said Dorothy Denning, a professor in the defense analysis department at
the Naval Postgraduate
School. "It's not surprising that they would be using it for
intelligence gathering. Everyone else is doing it." takes its name from the military acronym for "command and
control, communications, computers and intelligence." The site hosts a
variety of documents
and links about the use of "information warfare," which the Pentagon
defines (PDF) as "actions taken to influence, affect or defend
information, information
systems and decision-making." 

Information warfare also includes a range of activities, from physical
or virtual attacks on enemy information systems to "psychological
operations" aimed at
influencing the emotions and behavior of adversaries. 

Excerpts from's server log files indicate that Iraqi Web surfers
had a particular interest in documents about psychological operations,
including an
unclassified manual (PDF) on the subject published by the U.S. Marine
Corps in 2001. 

So-called "referrer" entries in the log files show that much of's Iraq traffic originated from Yahoo and Google searches. Search
terms that led Iraqis to the
C4I site include "computer warfare," "NASA computer network," "Echelon"
and "airborne computer."'s operator William Knowles said the traffic from Iraq caught his
eye last December, when visits from an IP address assigned to Warkaa

According to Knowles, the traffic surge may have been driven by numerous
media reports at the time about the Pentagon's plans to include
psychological warfare
in its battle plan. 

"I think the Iraqis only had a very basic knowledge of the subject, and
they were probably cramming for the final exam," said Knowles, a
computer security
consultant who runs in his spare time.

James Lewis, a senior fellow at the Center for Strategic & International
Studies, said's logs illustrate that the Internet is a
double-edged sword for U.S.
military strategists. 

"The Internet changes the nature of intelligence activity," said Lewis.
"Because we're an open society, the Internet makes it easier for our
enemies to collect
intelligence. But it's also a lot easier for us to manipulate or put out
information intended to frighten the enemy." 

To intimidate or confuse Saddam Hussein's military, U.S. military
sources may have planted prewar stories about electromagnetic pulse
bombs, GPS jammers and
other high-tech gadgetry, Lewis said. 

Before they were knocked offline in late March, Iraq's Uruklink and
Warkaa ISPs connected both government and civilian users to the Internet
backbone over
satellite links. 

Because Iraq's Internet traffic emanated from a handful of IP addresses,
it's impossible to pinpoint who in the country was accessing
Site visitors could
have been citizens surfing out of curiosity, or Iraq's Mukhabarat
intelligence officers or other members of the Baghdad regime on a

It's also possible that some of the visitors were journalists from the
United States or other countries. The Al Rasheed and Palestine hotels in
Baghdad, where many
journalists stayed, reportedly had Internet connections through

But referrer records show many of's visitors from Iraq used, an English-to-Arabic translation service, to access the
site, suggesting they
were native Arabic speakers. 

U.S. officials publicly acknowledged a January mass e-mailing to
persuade Iraqis to surrender and eschew the use of chemical weapons.
However, no reports
were confirmed of cyberattacks against Iraq by the U.S. government.
Bombs, not government hackers, finally took Baghdad's Internet services
offline in late

Contrary to some predictions, the U.S. invasion of Iraq did not generate
a wave of retaliatory hacking of U.S. targets. For example, a Malaysian
virus writer and
Al Qaeda sympathizer didn't deliver on his threat to release a
"megavirus" once the United States invaded. 

According to Lewis, Iraq's Internet infrastructure was "antique" -- too
undersized and unreliable to engage in information warfare. Even if
Iraq's military officials
had contracted with sympathizers in a high-tech nation to research or
initiate cyberwar actions, he said, they probably concluded it wouldn't
contribute much to their

"If you know U.S. planes are going to be dropping things on your head,
what cybertool is going to stop that?" he asked. "There isn't one. Why
waste your time
thinking about it?" 

Knowles, however, said he believes that the United States' enemies may
increasingly turn to cyberattacks to blunt the awesome power of the U.S.

"Desperate people do desperate things," said Knowles. "If you're
thinking like Saddam Hussein, you'll probably look at anything that
helps you. Not as a singular
event, but alongside a physical attack." 

In the weeks before the bombs rained down on their country, some Iraqis
surfed the Web for much more mundane information. 

Google searches on some of the common IPs used by Iraqis showed records
of their visits to stamp-collecting, dating and robotics sites. A couple
of Iraqis posted
messages in guest books at a site offering help for students studying
authors such as Hemingway and Shakespeare. 

More ominous was a March visit from an Iraq address to a NASA site that
houses information about global positioning systems. In February,
someone using a
computer in Iraq posted a greeting at a website dedicated to computer
virus programming. 

The last record of Iraqi visitors to came just days before the
war began. On March 17, several hits were logged from Iraq to the site's
page about
cryptography, which contained a banner ad for a betting site. The ad
invited viewers to place a wager on the question, "Will Saddam Hussein
be the leader of Iraq
on June 30?"

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