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Hacking could become weapon in U.S. arsenal

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Archive for Monday, September 08, 2008

Hacking could become weapon in U.S. arsenal

The current emphasis is on intelligence gathering and defending U.S. electronic security, but some officials think the military should know how to attack other nations’ computer systems.

By Julian E. Barnes

September 08, 2008 in print edition A-1

Igniting a provocative new debate, senior military officials are pushing the Pentagon to go on the offensive in cyberspace by developing the ability to attack other nations’ computer systems, rather than concentrating on defending America’s electronic security.

Under the most sweeping proposals, military experts would acquire the know-how to commandeer the unmanned aerial drones of adversaries, disable enemy warplanes in mid-flight and cut off electricity at precise moments to strategic locations, such as military installations, while sparing humanitarian facilities, such as hospitals.

An expansion of offensive capabilities in cyberspace would represent an important change for the military. For years, U.S. officials have been reluctant to militarize what is widely seen as a medium for commerce and communication – much like space.

But a new National Military Strategy for Cyberspace Operations, declassified earlier this year, fueled the Pentagon debate and gave the military a green light to push for expanded capabilities.

The monthslong debate took on added urgency after the electronic attacks that coincided with the Russian military’s early August push into Georgia and reflects a newfound uncertainty over the state of global cyber-warfare capabilities.

Military officials have not concluded whether the electronic network attacks in Georgia were coordinated by Moscow or were the work of freelance hackers or paramilitary groups. Still, the use of cyberspace by Russia and other countries is drawing intense scrutiny by the Pentagon.

“As we go forward in time, cyber is going to be a very important part of our war-fighting tactics, techniques and procedures,” said Michael W. Wynne, a former Air Force secretary.

Under Wynne, the Air Force established a provisional Cyber Command in 2007 and made operating in the cyber domain part of its mission statement, on par with air operations. Wynne clashed with superiors over the Air Force approach to cyberspace and other issues and was fired in June after breakdowns in U.S. nuclear weapons security procedures. New Air Force leaders now are reassessing plans for a permanent Cyber Command, which under Wynne’s leadership would have included some offensive capabilities.

Most other U.S. efforts focus on defending military and government networks and mining international systems for intelligence. Both the Army and Navy have long-standing operations but primarily focus on intelligence gathering. The Army, in particular, has used a variety of electronic networks to gather intelligence on insurgents in Iraq and Afghanistan.

The most advanced expertise on operating in cyberspace is held by the National Security Agency, the Defense Department intelligence arm that monitors foreign phone calls, e-mails and other communication. A senior defense official said the NSA “is where the mother lode of expertise is. Those are the folks that have been looking at the capability for the longest period of time.”

Overseeing all of these various military efforts in cyberspace is the Defense Department’s Strategic Command, which is primarily responsible for the nation’s nuclear arsenal.

Several senior Pentagon officials would discuss the Defense Department’s cyberspace work only if their names were withheld because of sensitive intelligence issues. But officials involved in the cyberspace debate are sparring over not only what to do but who within the military should do it.

Because of the difficulty of training cyber-warriors and the need to closely monitor their work long term, many top Pentagon officials believe that the most advanced cyber-experts should remain at the NSA.

A senior Pentagon official said that “exploiting” computer networks to gather intelligence is currently the most important use of cyber-power. “Clearly, the exploitation activities have been preeminent,” the official said.

But citing Russia’s use of cyberspace, some current and former officials believe that the U.S. military services, if allowed, could move beyond intelligence gathering and develop a broad array of offensive capabilities that would fit well with conventional combat.

“Let’s not mistake intelligence collection with military operations,” said Lani Kass, a senior Air Force official and former director of the service’s Cyberspace Task Force. “The mission of the NSA is to collect signals intelligence, and it is very good at it. But the NSA is not a war-fighting organization.”

If the military is allowed to develop more advanced cyber-warfare methods, the United States would be able to routinely launch an airstrike at a target and simultaneously use an electronic attack to disable defenses or spread disinformation, said Wynne, the former Air Force secretary.

“It isn’t just about protecting your networks,” Wynne said. “It is about having a soldier with an invasive tool he can fire at an antenna, and put some information into it, and from there do some damage.”

While declining to specify every cyberspace activity they might want to develop, military officials emphasized that all such efforts would be governed by the laws of war and international treaties.

Other senior officials are skeptical of what they see as “Buck Rogers” scenarios and argue that defending U.S. computer systems is more urgent. The Pentagon is probed every day by hackers and would-be cyber-intruders, making protection of military networks the top priority, said the senior defense official.

More importantly, potential U.S. adversaries are unlikely to depend on electronic networks as much as the Pentagon does, the official said. That means defending U.S. capabilities is more vital than disrupting enemy capabilities.

“The United States, more than any other military, is a Net-centric operation,” the senior official said. “Any adversary we would tend to go after – anyone we can currently foresee – wouldn’t use it to the same extent. Therefore, defending that capability and making sure it is not denied to you – that has to be critical.”

To some, the tension over cyberspace echoes military debates through the centuries. Maj. Gen. William T. Lord, head of the Air Force cyber-effort, said that such discussions were akin to an old military puzzle known as “intelligence gain-loss.”

“Do you not destroy a target because you can exploit it? Or do you destroy the target – and lose the ability to exploit – because troops are in harm’s way?” Lord said. “That is not a debate. It is a discussion that goes on in war fighting.”

Wynne agrees that there will always be such arguments. But unless the military services are given the resources to develop strong offensive capabilities, top officials will not have the option of using them, he said.

“This is all about preparedness and making sure the U.S. military is awake and alert,” Wynne said. “And I say: Make sure we can do it to them before they can do it to us.”

LINK

As if our government doesn't already have the capability and are not already using it. I read from another article a while ago, LINK, about US central command being hit with a virus. According to the article Russia is to blame, which led to the Pentagon disallowing the use of USB drives.

I would think that military systems would not be running windows and be vulnerable by things such as USB Switchblade, but Im probably wrong. If our government openly states that they are in fact hacking other countries, then what laws would apply towards the government and their liability? Any one in the military want to provide some insight on this topic, specificially the air force and their cyber-force unit. This ALMOST seems compelling enough to enlist in the services, but the luck of the straw is I would most likely become another body in Iraq than become a member of a cyber force squad.

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This ALMOST seems compelling enough to enlist in the services, but the luck of the straw is I would most likely become another body in Iraq than become a member of a cyber force squad.

You don't have to enlist in the services. Some of this stuff is going to be outsourced to private sector contractors. :fight:

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Hacking for the government sounds like a nice deal. 1, a nice government paycheck and 2, no worrying about getting in trouble, because who's gonna get you in trouble when you work for the US military?

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This is old news.

Gov using hackers to do "cyber warfare" has been happen for a long time.

Look up the bug farm

The US does have some cool programs for this, with some crazy incentives, if you get in.

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But just think it would great an excellent mark on your track record if ever needed to be hired. And it would be a great learning experience! That would be a pretty sweet gig. :voteyes:

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Aside from the military, gov agencies like the FBI and SS have been employing hackers for awhile now. In fact, some of their most leet hackers were plucked after they got busted for illegal activities. I've seen guys with a laundry list of cyber felonies still out walking the streets because they are working for the man. Of course, these situations are very similar to a crook who turns CI, gets his crimes put on the shelf, and then serves his new masters until they feel they got what they want out of him. I've also seen guys in prison, who negotiated to get their sentences reduced by agreeing to use their skills to one end or another. I wouldn't recommend working for the gov in any capacity, whether its voluntary or to get out of trouble, your best bet is the private sector. No invisible ties, no chance of bein a fallguy. Thats just my opinion, but I can see how working for a military cyber squad would be appealing to many.

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Why not work for the government? Also where did you see guys negotiating their time down... like is it a t.v. station...or what -_-.

I always thought it would be cool to pen test gov't systems for NSA, or something like that. Although, I wouldn't want a government job for my entire life. I would want to be able to create instead of just do what I'm told by my boss. Thats what i would LIKE anyways...

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File this one under DUH!

Right now, we are in the new digital privateer era.

Wanna know what the future is?

Everyone is going to be a hacker.

Some better than others, but eventually to survive in the digital network, you are going to need to know some of the basic stuff to get by.

Then the word will finally loses it's meaning and rank in society, much like guns had in the military when everyone started to use them in all ranks, no need for special classification anymore.

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The NSA and the CIA already use hacking as a weapon. I know this very well.

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Why not work for the government? Also where did you see guys negotiating their time down... like is it a t.v. station...or what -_-.

In federal prison, when I was there. Some people have managed to negotiate a sentence reduction in exchange for 'working for the govt.' in some capacity. Not a TV station. People at TV stations aren't incarcerated or have any need to negotiate a sentence, obviously. ?

Edited by theGoldfinger
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In fact, some of their most leet hackers were plucked after they got busted for illegal activities.

That used to be true in the early (and less, but late) 90's. The feds now look for good, upstanding citizens they can trust to follow their every order.

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In fact, some of their most leet hackers were plucked after they got busted for illegal activities.

That used to be true in the early (and less, but late) 90's. The feds now look for good, upstanding citizens they can trust to follow their every order.

I was just in the feds in 2007. Its not just hackers, its anyone with a specialized skill that is of some use to them. They may be looking for upstanding citizens to HIRE, but they will recruit anyone who's got the skills to accomplish their objectives, whatever that may be . In most cases, if were talkin about trying to get out, its as simple as telling them you can get them someone bigger than you (alot bigger). Unfortunately, thats snitch culture. I've seen dealers, gunmen, hackers, counterfeiters,, etc. all use the same tactics. Some guys are more creative; One prolific counterfeiter told the SS that if they didn't reduce his sentence, he would teach everyone he meets in prison how to counterfeit, using his techniques, which were top notch. The SS and his pros opted to reduce his sentence. That is extremely uncommon, and you better have the goods to even try to demand something like that, cuz if your not really like that, they'll laugh you out of your visit and then the BOP will make your life miserable. Incarcerated felons don't have to be paid, they just want to get out and are willing to do almost anything to get out. I know of one hacker with 14 smokin hot felonies still walking the streets...why? Because when they call him to do something, he does it, thus ensuring his freedom. Its a bad situation any way you look at it.

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