The binary war

Military operations around the world are rapidly expanding into the digital realm, changing forever the evolution of our conflicts. The harsh reality: in combat , We all stand in the line of fire

Like so many stories in the digital security world, this story started with simple human negligence. At 2006, a senior official from the Syrian government who was visiting London brought him his personal computer. One day he left the hotel and left the laptop behind. While he was outside the hotel, agents of the Mossad, the Israeli intelligence agency, stole into his room and installed a Trojan horse on the computer, which enabled them to monitor all his engagements.

For the Syrians, that alone could have been bad enough, but when the Israelis began to examine the files in the clerk's computer, a picture caught their attention. The picture showed an Asian in a blue running suit standing next to an Arab in the middle of the desert. It could have been a random meeting between friends, or even a photo taken on vacation. But the Mossad identified the two men as Chun Chibu, one of the heads of North Korea's nuclear program, and Ibrahim Uthman, director of the Atomic Energy Commission of Syria. The Israelis came up with a troubling conclusion: The Syrians secretly built a plutonium processing facility in al-Kibar, a vital stage in the construction of an atomic bomb. An investigation by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) later confirmed their concerns.

Confused by the discovery of the enemy state, the Israelis went out to Operation Bustan. In September 6, shortly after midnight, seven F-2007I fighter planes crossed the border into Syrian airspace. They flew hundreds of kilometers inside enemy territory, dropped a number of bombs and destroyed the complex in Kibar. The Syrian air defense system did not fire a single shot.

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The security failure did not occur because all the Syrian radar officers became traitors that night. Their technology, on the other hand, was in the West Bank. If the planting of the Trojan Horse on the laptop of the Syrian government official was an online espionage operation - the purpose of which is to expose confidential information via digital means - Operation Bustan was his armed cousin. Before the bombing, the Israelis entered the computer network of the Syrian army in a way that enabled them to monitor the actions of their opponents. Moreover, Israelis could plant information within Air Defense. Once they penetrated it, the Israelis presented a false picture on the radar screens, causing the Syrian radar operators to think that everything was going well and not to see the enemy planes flying deep into their airspace. In doing so, she turned off That night, Syria's entire air defense system was given a chilling look at the future of cyber warfare.

A new type of warfare

The mainstream media uses the term "network warfare" to describe everything from large-scale network-based crimes to recent online maneuvers in places like Ukraine, but sources Few explained how this was reflected in real military operations. When countries develop the ability to deploy their armed forces in a digital battlefield, they carry the potential to re-engineer the battlefield in a similar way in which the planes and rockets a hundred years ago changed the battlefield when they joined the airspace.

Today, more than 100 armies of the world have units dedicated to combat . The Fort Myrtle complex in Maryland, home to the US National Security Agency (NSA) and the United States Cyber ​​Command, has a larger Pentagon staff. Datong Street in Shanghai is, according to reports, the home of the 61398 unit, a Chinese network associated with burglaries and attacks on everything from the media of United States to the internal email network of The New York Times. The size, scale, training programs and budgets of these organizations vary, but they share the same goals: "To destroy, to deny, to damage, to disrupt and to mislead," as the US Air Force says. At the same time, they aim to refine the enemy's use of cyberspace for the same purposes.

Unlike decoding in World War II, network attacks allow not only to read the information in the enemy's network, but also to control it. Photo: Dan Salinger
Unlike cryptographic deciphering in World War II, attacks Allow not only to read the information in the enemy's network, but also to control it. Photo: Dan Salinger

The interest in network warfare is skyrocketing. In the US defense budget for 2012, for example, the word "cyber" appeared 12 times. This year, she appeared in 147 times. New funding included everything from work on secret infiltrations to the Israeli Bustan operation to broader efforts such as Plan X, a $ 1 million 110 program that, according to one report, would help combat planners put online attacks into action quickly and make attacks A more routine part of the US military operations. Government officials are also taking part in broader discussions on how to organize such units. One of the suggestions is to place them under services Completely new, similar to the way the War Department of the United States, a hundred years ago, attached air units to the Signal Corps (and later to other units of the military) before the establishment of the independent air force.

No matter how these discussions end, what is called the new battlefield, there is actually a lot in common with traditional warfare operations. The computer is just another weapon in the arsenal. As is the case with the spear or plane, designed to help achieve each's goals Given.

Every battle, Or war begins with gathering intelligence about the enemy. In World War II, the ability of the Allies to decipher the Axis radios proved itself crucial to victory. As the Israelis showed in Operation Bustan, interception of digital communications is still the first step in modern warfare, because penetration into networks and gathering information is a basic means of preparation for offensive activity. The military used these tactics in the Pacific when the tension has intensified in recent years. Chinese targets the networks of the US armed forces in every area, from deployment schedules to the logistics status of American bases in the Pacific. And as the NSA documents leaked by Edward Snowden showed, US online units work just as hard to gather information about their potential rivals in China.

What makes digital warfare different from intelligence programs in the past is the way intelligence gathering can turn offensive activities into action. Unlike cryptographic deciphering in World War II, attacks Allow not only to read the enemy's radio broadcasts but to control the radio itself.

As the Israelis have shown, if war planners can harm an enemy's network communication, they move from the learning stage to the actions of the enemy, to the stage where they can change them. Hackers can attack enemy command and control, prevent commanders from issuing commands and units to communicate with one another, or they can prevent independent weapons systems from sharing vital information with others. More than 100 American defense systems, ranging from aircraft carriers to individual missiles, rely on landmarks During promotions. In 2010 a software error has been disconnected from the 10,000 receivers Military forces from the network for more than two weeks; This meant that everyone from trucks to prototypes of the X-47 advanced combat UAV could not suddenly determine their position.

Warrior Such a software error would become a deliberate action, causing confusion and lack of communication on a massive scale. Earlier this year, for example, Ukrainian forces found themselves in the Crimea disconnected electronically from their commanders, during the Russian occupation. Isolated, weapon-inferior, and unsure of what to do next, they surrendered without fighting. But neutralizing or disrupting communication Of the opponent is a "noisy" action, if used in terms . In other words, the impact of an attack is obvious, so the victim knows that his system has been disrupted. A more sophisticated attacker might instead attempt to disrupt the information within his or her target communication system to produce false reports that appear to come from within the organization. The military traditionally uses the term "information warfare" to describe Which are intended to influence the decision-making of an enemy.

The goals may be very strategic, such as planting false orders that appear to come from senior commanders, or more tactical ones, such as the case in which the Israelis took over Syrian Air Defense.

Such attacks on the information itself, rather than just its flow, may have immediate implications on the battlefield - but they can have a greater impact in the long term. Military communication is based on trust. By damaging this trust, the hacker disrupts not only you Computers but also the trust of those who rely on them. Only a relatively small percentage of attacks should succeed to sow doubt about all electronic information. In this case users will begin to doubt everything and check the veracity of the information all the time, thus greatly slowing the decision making process. In the most extreme scenario, a trust problem can cause forces To abandon networked computers with regard to vital information, and to restore their capabilities decades back to the pre-electronic era.

Such technological avoidance sounds improbable, especially when computers have proven to be so useful in modern warfare. Imagine that you have information you must give to your boss, or that you risk losing your job. Would you send it by e-mail if 50 had a chance that it would get lost or that its contents would change on the way? Or would you just hand it over to him? What if the risk was 10 percent? What if even one percent? Now, consider the same risks in a situation where your workplace is not at risk but your life. Would your behavior change?

Digital battles of persuasion

In the 2012, a surveillance drone takes off from a stadium in Austin, Texas, following a guided route In what looked like Routine. Without warning, the UAV deviated from its predetermined course and headed sharply east of its destination, and shortly afterwards the drone re-updated another erroneous route and flew south before eventually changing its flight direction to a crash course on the ground.

Fortunately, this flight was an exercise, not a real catastrophe. The Department of Homeland Security recruited a team of engineers from the University of Texas to see if they could break into a UAV flight in the air, and the group proved it could meet the challenge.

UAVs have become one of the most important technologies in the war, providing surveillance and tracking and delivering supplies, and they can launch missiles toward targets that are discovered, such as the Predator and the famous Reaper, and now more than 8,000. Other countries have military robotics programs, but the removal of people from the aircraft has created new and unexpected vulnerabilities, and every robotic system connects to a computer system that provides performance instructions, His. her Which enables UAVs to hit targets thousands of kilometers away, also opens channels for disruption or even joint control, and as a result we are entering an era of what can be called digital battles of control.

No one can master the flight path of a bullet, and no one has ever managed to brainwash a bomber's bomber in mid-flight. But if Will succeed in penetrating the systems Robotic, they can "force" them to do the opposite of what their owners intended. The result would be a completely new-use battle, in which the goal is not only to destroy the enemy's tanks but to make them move in circles-or even attack each other. In the best realistic example of such an event, the United States and Israel also committed the Stuxnet virus to sabotage Iranian centrifuges with computerized control. The virus caused the machines to spoil and followed Iran's nuclear weapons program in months.

In a war game at the Pentagon in 2013, the participants examined how they used such weapons to send the enemy fleet to what they called jokingly "pleasure cruise". Instead of launching missiles to destroy the fleet, a Stuxnet attack on the warship engines' control systems would cause the fleet to float on the water without power.

The potential for this type of attack is almost unlimited. In 2009, a worker at the Shoshanskaya dam in Siberia, using some wrong keyboard clicks, used an unused turbine and led to the release of massive water that destroyed the plant and killed people. The disaster was an accident, but an enemy could recreate a similar event on purpose-just as it was when Allied aircraft in World War II and the Korean War dropped bombs on dams and created floods that destroyed miles of enemy targets. The difference in warfare Is that no plane will have to take off from the ground.

Warrior It is civil warfare

As happens in wars, things that sound easy in planning can be difficult to perform. Target systems are complex systems, as are the operations needed to exploit them - especially when each battle has at least two sides. As the great military thinkers, Sun Tzu and Carl von Clausewitz have described: Against every tactic and strategy, a clever opponent develops a counter-reaction.

These challenges motivate rivals to pursue what is known as "soft goals." In theory, war is competition between combatants. In reality, more than 90 of the casualties in the past two decades have been civilian. It was not surprising to see the same dynamics in combat .

The most conventional approach would be any attack And a civilian operator providing support to the army. These may be private contractors, providing a significant portion of the logistics and logistical support of modern armies (about half of the American forces in places like Afghanistan and Iraq were actually salaried) or basic infrastructure such as ports and railways. Just as trade ships have generally been easier targets than warships in past conflicts, civilian computer networks tend to maintain levels Lower than those of Military operations. Making them particularly attractive. In one war game, held in Pentagon-funded 2012, a force burst, playing the enemy power to a contractor's computer network, coordinating and supplying supplies to an American military force. The goal was to change barcodes on shipping containers. If this was a real attack, US field forces would open a shipping box in anticipation of finding ammunition and instead find toilet paper.

In a Pentagon war game at 2013, the players debated how to use a weapon like Stuxnet to send the enemy fleet to what they called "fun cruise" jokes. Photo: Dan Salinger
In a Pentagon war game on 2013, the players debated how to use the tool Of the virus, Stuxnet, to send the enemy fleet to what they called jokingly "pleasure cruise experience." Photo: Dan Salinger

History shows that not only civilians who provide support to armed forces may find themselves in the line of fire. When new technologies like And long-range missiles have expanded the range of military activity beyond the front lines, the planners have gradually expanded their legitimate assault targets. By the end of World War II, all sides had broadened their strategic bombing targets and included the civilian population, arguing that the best way to end the war was to make it clear to citizens of its price. When the network warrior becomes a larger reality, the grim calculation will probably be true here as well.

As long as online weapons are still in their infancy, it is too early to map their full impact. In the early days of aircraft, military planners had some forecasts. Some of them proved to be correct, such as the idea that airplanes would bombard cities, while others proved to be absolutely wrong-for example, the thought that war could be decided by only.

But in spite of all the ways in which it may change the way we deal with military operations, the most widespread concept of warfare Will probably not consist of one action. It is more likely that this will be the way in which network warfare will integrate with other technologies and combat tactics to create something unexpected. The plane, tank, and radio had already appeared during World War I, but only after the Germans had combined them to form a war (Blitzkraig) in World War II, they left their permanent mark.

As we review the development of the situation, it is important to reflect on the tragic irony. The Internet, which may have begun as a project of the US Department of Defense, has become one of the world's greatest forces to generate political, economic and social changes. This dual history is supposed to make the virtual space play a central role in the future of world conflicts without surprising, but it should also make us a little sad. War, even one that exists through zeros and a few, will always leave a terrible waste of resources.

More about innovations in the November issue of Popular Science Israel - For a special introduction to surfers