[ISN] Taking byte from Baghdad

From: InfoSec News (isnat_private)
Date: Tue Feb 11 2003 - 07:09:28 PST

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    Gary Pounder 
    February 9, 2003
    Although President Bush hasn't made a final decision about going to
    war with Iraq, preparations for that potential conflict are almost
    complete. Thousands of American troops have been deployed to the
    Middle East in recent weeks, along with dozens of warships and
    hundreds of combat aircraft.
    These preparations have been highly publicized, with daily pictures of
    departing aircraft, naval vessels and military personnel, all designed
    to convey a final warning to Saddam Hussein. But preparations for war
    also are under way in less-visible areas.
    If Bush gives the order to attack Iraq, U.S. forces will initiate
    information operations (IO) as part of their overall military
    strategy. Aimed at disrupting Iraqi information systems, the expected
    "information war" may represent the ultimate technology weapon in what
    will be a high-tech campaign.
    Details of this war are almost nonexistent. Although the Pentagon has
    spent billions of dollars on IO since the early 1990s, it has said
    little about its capabilities in this area.
    What is known is that this investment has fostered the development of
    highly specialized IO units, doctrine and tactics. Gen. Tommy Franks,
    commander of U.S. forces in the Persian Gulf region, has his own team
    of IO specialists.
    Although IO is sometimes described in terms of computer attack or
    cyber-warfare, it covers a variety of functions related to the use and
    protection of information and information systems. The rationale
    behind IO is simple: deny the enemy use of the information spectrum,
    while protecting our own information assets.
    IO includes several disciplines that are almost as old as warfare
    itself: intelligence collection, deception, psychological operations.  
    It also incorporates newer technologies, exploiting advances from the
    information revolution of the past 20 years.
    Cyber-attack is one of the most intriguing and useful new tools of
    information warfare. Because of the explosion of computer networks and
    the Internet, it is now possible to gain access to information systems
    that support an enemy's economy or military forces. Disrupting these
    systems can wreak havoc with an adversary's war machine, potentially
    shortening the war and reducing the number of allied casualties.
    The United States displayed the benefits of a computer war in the 1991
    Gulf War, when it conducted its first cyber-attack on Iraq's air
    defense system. The highly automated system (nicknamed KARI) linked
    Iraqi surface-to-air missiles and anti-aircraft guns in a computerized
    command-and-control network.
    The KARI system could withstand air attacks reliably and still provide
    critical information to Iraqi air defense commanders. Neutralizing
    KARI was deemed essential to the allied air campaign.
    IO experts decided to attack KARI internally and externally. Allied
    electronic warfare aircraft would jam and bomb KARI components, while
    specially designed computer viruses would infect the system from
    within. Agents inserted the virus in a printer shipped to an Iraqi air
    defense site.
    The virus also was introduced via a fiber optic cable that connected
    air defense nodes. A Special Forces unit infiltrated Iraq, dug up the
    cable and inserted the virus. It remained dormant until the opening
    moments of the air war, when it went active and crippled KARI. The
    Iraqi air defense system never recovered, and allied losses in the air
    campaign were minimal.
    Since the Gulf War, IO tacticians have added to their target lists
    economic and infrastructure systems that support an enemy's ability to
    fight: power grids, water supplies, banking networks. There are
    unconfirmed reports that cyber-attacks helped shut down the Serb power
    grid during the 1999 Balkans War. Information operations also have
    been used in the war on terrorism to ferret out al-Qaida bank
    accounts, trace financial transactions and identify potential
    Officially, the Pentagon won't say what level of IO planning and
    preparation is under way, but there are vague hints about what might
    be in store for Baghdad. Several media outlets reported last month
    that the United States was sending E-mail messages to Iraqi military
    commanders, urging them not to fight if war breaks out.
    In a police state such as Iraq, E-mail directories are classified
    material, off limits to anyone outside the military and security
    establishment. Our ability to send E-mail to Iraqi generals suggest IO
    teams have identified key computer networks, earmarking them for
    potential disruption or destruction.
    There is a good chance the cyber-battle will spread beyond Iraqi
    information systems. If the United States launches military action
    against Baghdad, we can expect a vicious "war" between Middle Eastern
    and western computer hackers.
    Remember the 2001 "spy plane" incident between the United States and
    China? That relatively minor episode prompted a month-long
    confrontation between American and Chinese hackers that resulted in
    the defacement of thousands of Web sites around the world.
    A hacker war emerging from a new conflict with Iraq would be even more
    intense, likely unleashing new computer viruses, denial-of-service
    attacks aimed primarily at Internet providers and Web site
    defacements. The potential cost of such a war could be staggering.
    The United States is not alone in developing information operations as
    a tool of war. Although Iraq's IO capabilities in this area are
    rudimentary, other potential adversaries - notably China - are
    investing heavily in information warfare. More-sophisticated enemies
    would have no qualms about mounting an IO campaign against us.
    As the most "wired" nation on Earth, the United States has the
    greatest vulnerability to information attack. Although our government
    and private companies have invested heavily in computer security, the
    recent virus that disabled thousands of automated teller machines
    illustrates the potential impact of even small-scale cyber-attacks.  
    The forces about to be unleashed on Saddam Hussein may be used against
    us in the future.
    Guest columnist Gary Pounder is a retired U.S. Air Force intelligence
    officer who lives in Oxford, Miss.
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