June 2, 2012

U.S. broadening cyberwar strategy

The Pentagon is turning to the private sector, universities and even computer gamers as part of an ambitious effort to develop technologies to improve its cyberwarfare capabilities, launch effective attacks and withstand the likely retaliation.

The previously unreported effort, which its authors have dubbed Plan X, marks a new phase in the nation's fledgling military operations in cyberspace, which have focused more on protecting the Defense Department's own computer systems than on disrupting or destroying those of enemies.

Plan X is a project of the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, a Pentagon agency that focuses on experimental efforts and has a key role in harnessing computing power to help the military wage war more effectively.

"If they can do it, it's a really big deal," said Herbert S. Lin, a cyberexpert with the National Research Council of the National Academy of Sciences. "If they achieve it, they're talking about being able to dominate the digital battlefield just like they do the traditional battlefield."

Cyberwarfare conjures images of smoking servers, downed electrical systems and exploding industrial plants, but military officials say that cyberweapons are unlikely to be used on their own. Instead, they would support conventional attacks, by blinding an enemy to an impending airstrike, for example, or disabling a foe's communications system during battle.

The five-year, $110 million research program will begin seeking proposals this summer. Among the goals will be the creation of an advanced map that details the entirety of cyberspace -- a global domain that includes tens of billions of computers and other devices -- and updates itself continuously. Such a map would help commanders identify targets and disable them using computer code delivered through the Internet or other means.

Another goal is the creation of a new, robust operating system capable of both launching attacks and surviving counterattacks. Officials say this would be the cyberspace equivalent of an armored tank; they compare existing computer operating systems to SUVs -- well-suited to peaceful highways but too vulnerable to work on battlefields.

The architects of Plan X also hope to develop systems that could give commanders the ability to carry out speed-of-light attacks and counterattacks using preplanned scenarios that do not involve human operators manually typing in code -- a process considered much too slow.

Officials compare this to flying an airplane on autopilot along predetermined routes.

It makes sense "to take this on right now," said Richard M. George, a former NSA cyberdefense official. "Other countries are preparing for a cyberwar. If we're not pushing the envelope in cyber, somebody else will."

The shift in focus is significant, said officials from the Pentagon agency, known by its acronym DARPA. Cyberoperations are rooted in the shadowy world of intelligence-gathering and electronic-spying organizations such as the National Security Agency.

Unlike espionage, military cyberattacks would be aimed at achieving a physical effect -- disrupting or shutting down a computer, for example -- and probably would be carried out by U.S. Cyber Command, the organization that was launched in 2010 next to NSA in Fort Meade.

"Because the origins of cyberattack have been in the intelligence community, there's a tendency to believe that simply doing more of what they're doing will get us what we need," said Kaigham J. Gabriel, acting director of DARPA. "That's not the way we see it. There's a different speed, scale and range of capabilities that you need. No matter how much red you buy, it's not orange."

Plan X is part of a larger DARPA effort begun several years ago to create breakthrough offensive and defensive cybercapabilities. With a cyberbudget of $1.54 billion from 2013-17, the agency will focus increasingly on cyberoffense to meet military needs, officials say.

In addition to helping create the Internet, DARPA's work gave rise to stealth-jet technology and portable global-positioning devices.

Iran: 'Flame' Virus hit oil ministry site first

Iranian computer technicians battling to contain a complex virus last month resorted to the ultimate firewall measures -- cutting off Internet links to Iran's Oil Ministry, rigs and the hub for nearly all the country's crude exports. At the time, Iranian officials described it as a data-siphoning blitz on key oil networks.

On Wednesday, they gave it a name: A strike by the powerful "Flame" malware that experts this week have called a new and highly sophisticated program capable of hauling away computer files and even listening in on computer users. Its origins remain a mystery, but international suspicion quickly fell on Israel opening another front in its suspected covert wars with archenemy Tehran.

by Ellen Nakashima - May. 30, 2012 11:51 PM Washington Post



U.S. broadening cyberwar strategy

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