U.S. admit cyber attacks.Who will decide in future conflict,humans or machines?

Pierluigi Paganini August 28, 2012

The U.S. are one of the most advanced country under cyber warfare perspective, we have read a lot on its capabilities and its offensive power, to remark some sample we can remind the plan-X project and the development of the cyber weapon Stuxnet. We all imagine that the U.S. are still really active in the cyber space, working on cyber espionage front and also conducting powerful offensives. We know that the country, as many others is facing with a global economic crisis that has impacted also on military sector, the budgets have been sensibly reduced but the high alert level on possibility of a cyber attack make fundamental investments in cyber warfare.

News of these days is that the U.S. military has been launching cyber attacks against its opponents in Afghanistan according the declaration of the senior officer Marine Lt. Gen. Richard P. Mills. The official has explained during a conference in Baltimore that the U.S. consider highly strategic oversight of the cyber space, giving great importance to the study and implementation of new cyber weapons, that is the new way to fight and it fundamental to be prepared to a cyber warfare scenario. Mills declare:

“I can tell you that as a commander in Afghanistan in the year 2010, I was able to use my cyber operations against my adversary with great impact,”

“I was able to get inside his nets, infect his command-and-control, and in fact defend myself against his almost constant incursions to get inside my wire, to affect my operations.”

The statements are exhaustive, the US  forces are carrying out cyber attacks on their opponents in Afghanistan, the cyber weapons are critical elements of U.S. cyber arsenal.

It’s the first time that a high official admits these type of offensive operations in Afghanistan despite it is imaginable the involvement of cyber units.

The Pentagon spokesman Lt. Col. Damien Pickart refused to give more information on on Mills’s statements for reasons of security.

“we do not provide specific information regarding our intentions, plans, capabilities or operations.”

The response is lecit and acceptable, but then why the officer made these revelations publicly?

Many experts are convinced that the U.S. are opening up about the fact that its military operations are active also in cyberspace and have the same efficiency of conventional attacks, the main advantage is that these kind of attacks are really difficult to anticipate and could be conducted silently for years.

Differently of a conventional attack a cyber attacks has no boudaries, it could be moved in the cyber space to offend any kind of targets and the statements confirm that this what ordinary happen.

The cyber expert Herbert Lin declared :

“The U.S. military is starting to talk more and more in terms of what it’s doing and how it’s doing it,”

“A couple of years ago it was hard to get them to acknowledge that they were doing offense at all — even as a matter of policy, let alone in specific theaters or specific operations.”

The reply of Pentagon is that US cyber operations were properly authorized and that they took place within the bounds of international law and the “confines of existing policy.”

We must consider that today there is an ongoing debate on the usage of cyber weapons and the recourse to cyber attacks as military option, let’s consider also that international regulation are still inadequate in the matter, that’s why the cyber operations  represents the optimum choice.

Today there isn’t a legal and official definition for cyber weapon under the law perspective and every government is hardly working to develop its own arsenal eluding any kind of penalties conducing cyber operations.

U.S. have demonstrated to have a sophisticated program to increase cyber capabilities and to design and spread cyber weapons, let’s consider also that the recent months have been characterized by the discoveries of several agents more or less aggressive such as Stuxnet and Flame utilized to cyber attacks or cyber espionage, anyway for a military operation.

Mills’s words are just the last act of an openness on U.S. cyber operations, military action that have been started long ago, there are evidences of the famous project “Olympic Games” started under Bush’s Government and continued under Obama administration. The Pentagon is sustaining project of development of new cyber technology to employ during the cyber attacks, the funding experiment called “Plan X,” demonstrates it.

“The objective of the Plan X program is to create revolutionary technologies for understanding, planning, and managing cyber warfare in real-time, large-scale, and dynamic network environments,”

The hard work is assigned to its agency Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency  (DARPA) that have to design new tools for launching attacks against enemies in the cyberspace, these tool include malware and other instruments for cyber espionage.

Officially the DARPA mission is to develop technology to support the infrastructure for offensive strategies, one of the main targets is to design tool to analyze data flow in every network to provide essential information to military strategists.

Another ambitious project is the development of an architecture to monitors damage in “dynamic, contested, and hostile network environments” that is equipped with adaptive capacities to mitigate the incoming attacks, these type of systems represents the future, the essential components to deploy in cyber space in case of a conflict.

I desire to conclude with a thought … every government is working to develop new tool for defensive and offensive purposes, many of these agents are able to work without human control …

Are we confident that these tools are able to make their job safely? What would happen if we lost control of these systems? Could “the machine” that must defend ourselves become our main enemy?

Pierluigi Paganini

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