Carlo Kopp has produced another fine work. Take a look. -Winn Schwartau
© 2000 Carlo Kopp, © 2000 Auscom Publishing, Pty Ltd.
First published as a two part series in the February and March 2000 issues of
Systems - Enterprise Computing Monthly, Auscom Publishing, Sydney, Australia
The turn of the millennium is a good time for reflection, and this is very much true for the issue of Information Warfare. Created as a paradigm during the early nineties, Infowar is today a fact of life, as much as many may still scoff at the idea.
Being tasked with producing a two part series on Infowar presented some interesting questions ? Would another dry technical analysis of offensive and defensive measures be appropriate ? Upon reflection I realised that the dry technical issues have mostly remained unchanged since Systems covered the subject two years ago.
A much bigger issue has arisen in recent years. It is rejection of the Infowar paradigm itself. Infowar sceptics/opponents/detractors seem to find endless reasons to deride and reject this ostensibly nineties phenomenon. I have seen assertions to the effect that "there is no such thing as Infowar", "Infowar is a transient fad", "Infowar lacks intellectual rigour", "Infowar is really Electronic Warfare", indeed this list of nonsensical assertions could be extended considerably.
Since I have little patience with fools, I hereby present a basic and fundamental paradigm of Information Warfare:
A Fundamental Paradigm of Information Warfare
To most of the public, Information Warfare (IW), and broader Information Operations (IO), conjure up the image of Middle Eastern terrorist types paying vast amounts of cash to unkempt Eastern European crackers, who dig into the depths of the vast US DoD computer network, extracting vital secrets and compromising vital operations. Indeed, this Gibsonian image has captured the imagination of the media and Hollywood alike, and has become another one of the urban myths which are blindly accepted as a fundamental truth outside the inner circle of the professional IW theorists. Alas, Gibsonian cyberwar is but one facet of a much more complex reality.
In the most general sense, IW/IO are all operations which are conducted to exploit information to gain an advantage over an opponent, and to deny the opponent information which could be used to an advantage. To be pedantic, I would have preferred to see "information" replaced with "knowledge", insofar as in a more practical context "information = knowledge + garbage", if we look at much of what passes as "information" these days. A really vociferous defender of the established nomenclature can rightfully argue that Shannon's definition of "information" makes the established IW/IO nomenclature the proper one. The truth is that few people in my experience understand Shannon's theorems, let alone could place them into the context of IW/IO ! Muddled enough with issues of nomenclature ?
I am sure many IW/IO purists will no doubt lambast my frivolous treatment of nomenclature, however I think some frivolity doesn't hurt since it underscores the fact that too many formalisms can frequently obscure the deeper truths !
Exploring the taxonomy of IW/IO, we have Cyberwar, essentially involving the organised cracking of other people's systems, to spy, to deceive and alter, or to deny services. We also have the historically well established discipline of Propaganda, Psychological Operations or "Perception Management", essentially the use of information to confuse, deceive, mislead, destabilise and disrupt an opponent's population and armed forces. Then we have the Second Oldest Profession, the well proven art of intelligence/espionage and its sibling, the theory of deception, aimed at divining secrets from an opponent, inserting falsehoods into their perception of reality, and preventing the opponent from doing the same.
This however is only part of a much bigger picture. The well established discipline of Electronic Combat/Warfare (EC/EW), or Radio-Elektronnaya Borba (REB) in the nomenclature of the thankfully now departed Soviet Empire, deals with the jamming and destruction via hard kill of an opponent's radars and communications, and the prevention of an opponent from doing the same. Indeed there is much confusion in many parts of the EC/EW community, to this very day, with many using the terms EW and IW interchangeably. This is unfortunately a misleading simplification. Many of the fundamental paradigms in EC/EW are common to IW/IO, but this is because they are a subset of IW/IO.
The breadth of IW/IO as a discipline, its sheer complexity, and the overlapping of many if its constituent components has created many unfortunate side effects. One is that it has produced numerous opportunities for fringe players in all related disciplines to assert their paradigm as being central, thereby creating much fodder for IW/IO sceptics. Indeed, in many organisations the paradigm has produced distinct internal turf wars, as various players try to expand their respective internal fiefdoms to absorb as much of the paradigm as possible, and thus available budget. There is plenty of anecdotal evidence of this, much of which is best left unprinted.
Is there a fundamental underlying truth which we can distill from this babel of terminology, doctrine, strategy and technique ?
Perhaps the simplest way of defining what IW/IO is all about, is to say that any organised use or manipulation of information/knowledge which produces an advantage in a contest with an opponent, constitutes an aspect of IW/IO. Whether the use or manipulation is applied against the wetware in an opponent's head, or the software and hardware in an opponent's technological base, is a matter of instantiation.
My fellow IW/IO theorists will no doubt be yawning by now: "where's the punchline, Carlo ?".
The punchline is a very simple one:
The fundamental paradigm of IW/IO appears to be a basic evolutionary adaptation resulting from competition in the survival game. Whether it is the game of chemical deception played by a micro-organism against an immune system, or the use of camouflage and deception by prey and predator alike in every tier of the natural world, or whether it is some part of the complex structures we use to describe the modern IW/IO paradigm, the fundamental paradigm is essentially one and the same.
Therefore quibbling over definitions and demarkation boundaries, which characterises a large part of the public and not so public debate on the subject, is simply complicating a very simple and fundamental idea.
If we are to apply a classification scheme to the most basic strategies in IW/IO, they can be divided into four simple categories:
A) denial of information (DoI), ie concealment and camouflage, or stealth.
B) deception and mimicry (D&M), ie the insertion of intentionally misleading information.
C) disruption & destruction (D&D), ie the insertion of information which produces a dysfunction inside the opponent's system; alternately the outright destruction of the system.
D) subversion (SUB), ie insertion of information which triggers a self destructive process in the opponent's target system.
The latter D in D&D is not the same as DoI, insofar as the opponent is not denied knowledge of one's presence, but is denied the means of precise identification and engagement. A case of knowing the other player is there, but being blinded to his movements. SUB frequently requires the use of DoI, D&M or D&D to initiate the self destructive process, and is thus arguably a "two tier" strategy.
It takes little effort to isolate examples of each of these strategies in almost any domain where the IW/IO paradigm can be applied. I will instantiate this model with three domains - the insect world, electronic combat, and cyberwar:
In the insect world, these examples will do:
A) DoI - stick insects, variously camouflaged beetles, moths and other bugs, who do their best to blend into the background.
B) D&M - harmless insects which mimic the appearance of dangerous predators such as wasps, stinging ants or arachnids.
C) D&D - beetles, bugs and roaches which spray noxious fluids on predators, thereby blinding and numbing the predator's visual and olfactory senses, temporarily or permanently.
D) SUB - predatory insects which emit analogues of the mating pheromones of other species, or mimic the appearance of food, to lure prey. D&M is used to trigger a programmed response which leads to self destructive behaviour.
Moving a few tiers up the chain, to electronic combat in air warfare:
A) DoI - the stealth fighter which uses shape and absorbers to disappear from radar, and a cooled jet exhaust to hide from infra-red equipment.
B) D&M - the defensive jamming equipment on a fighter which emits signals similar to radar returns from a hostile radar, but including an erroneous position measurement.
C) D&D - the high power noise jamming equipment which blinds an opposing radar so it cannot see an approaching bomber, and/or disrupts the radio communications linking radars and weapons, or the HPM or EMP weapon which toasts the radar and supporting computers and communications.
D) SUB - the use of deceptive signals which trigger the premature initiation of weapon fuses, such as proximity fuses on guided missiles.
Finally we look at cyberwar:
A) DoI - the use of encryption and concealment to prevent unwanted parties from reading or finding what they ought not to.
B) D&M - the use of various techniques for masking the identity of a penetrating party into a network or a system.
C) D&D - any denial of service attack, from "ping of death" to an EMP bomb.
D) SUB - logic bombs, viruses and other destructive programs which use system resources to damage the system itself.
We could continue instantiating this paradigm exhaustively, chewing through encyclopedias, catalogues of micro-organisms, stacks of biology texts, mountains of military history, or archives of information security bulletins.
It is interesting to note that these strategies are neither mutually exclusive, nor confined to either side of the predator/prey or offensive/defensive game. Some may be favoured more by particular predators or prey, but in principle either player can use any or all.
The generality of this model for a number of known and extant domains can be easily shown, and in the context of modern IW/IO, cyberwar and EC/EW are more than good enough to satisfy this.
Can we extend this model indefinitely and declare it to be a truly universal theorem ? In the sense of a rigourous mathematical proof, this is tricky, since it essentially requires that we prove that no other strategies can exist to achieve the same effects, across all possible domains. This is arguably an impossible task.
We can however exploit Shannon's information theory, and assuming a channel with a finite and bounded bandwidth, show that the first three strategies derive from very fundamental and simple models:
A) DoI amounts to making the signal sufficiently noise-like, that a receiver cannot discern its presence from that of the noise in the channel.
B) D&M amounts to mimicking a known signal so well, that a receiver cannot distinguish the phony signal from the real signal.
C) D&D amounts to injecting so much noise into the channel, that the receiver cannot demodulate the signal.
This is as basic a representation of these three models as is possible. Showing the fundamental nature of the fourth model, subversion (SUB), is a little trickier since it relates to system internal behaviour. The manipulation of a channel carrying information is a means to an end.
D) SUB at the simplest level amounts to the diversion of the thread of execution within a Turing machine, which maps on to the functional behaviour of the victim system. It amounts to surreptitiously flipping one or more specific bits on the tape, to alter the behaviour of the machine.
In the bounded context of IW/IO as defined above, we can quite comfortably accept the "four strategy" model as being the most basic structural paradigm which exists for the phenomenon. The abundance of examples in the biological world merely underscores the fundamental nature of IW/IO.
IW/IO sceptics/opponents/detractors should carefully consider their fundamental premise at this point in the argument - can you disprove the existence of IW/IO strategies as survival tools in a competitive universe, driven by the survival of the best adapted ?
A single counterexample would suffice to disprove their premise.
Why Information Warfare at the turn of the Millennium ?
The next interesting question we can ask is why IW/IO now, if it has been such a great part of our established reality for so long ? Indeed this could be said to be the crux of many doubters' basic rejection of the paradigm.
The simplest answer is to point out that until recent times, the basic strategies of IW/IO were embedded, implicitly, within a great number of very diverse disciplines many of which had few obvious connections. All of this changed as we began the transition from smokestack industrial age economies to "digitised" information age, knowledge based economies.
For centuries, the knowledge required for the basic economic processes of wealth creation, and the art and science of war, were locked away in the heads of members of occupations, vocations, professions and guilds. If you wanted a sword you went to an armourer, if you wanted a loaf of bread, a baker. Knowledge of processes was passed down, generation by generation, largely by word of mouth. Every once in a while some bright individual produced a new idea, which proliferated, and those who used it gained an economic or military advantage against other players.
The value of knowledge is that it ultimately provides for a recipe to perform a specific task or set of tasks, or to perform them more successfully. If these tasks pertain to wealth creation or warfare, both competitive and survival centred social activities, that knowledge carries within itself an inherent survival value. The more effective the knowledge is when applied to such competitive activities, the greater its value.
Gutenberg's printing press produced the technological foundation for the industrial age, since it allowed the dissemination of exact copies of pieces of knowledge to a wide audience. Ultimately, by purchasing a decent pile of engineering or process textbooks and digesting their contents, anybody could go out and manufacture whatever they chose to make. The industrial age postal system combined the time proven courier with the printed message to produce a robust means of accurately transmitting knowledge.
It is worth noting that one of the first large scale uses of the printing press was to wage the propaganda war between the reformation clerics and the Catholic church.
Economically and militarily valuable knowledge has always been a jealously guarded secret, and this justifiable paranoia about it not falling into the wrong hands became a major issue during both of the industrial age world wars. The complexity of some of the espionage and deception strategy plays during this period is quite remarkable. The industrial age boom in the West would have been impossible without printed textbooks, papers and replicated drawings. It is also significant that the Soviet revolutionaries used the press to great effect, as did Hitler and Mussolini who also exploited cinema and radio, the precursors of the modern electronic media.
The postwar development of genuine electronic media, followed by the development of the digital computer and its mass production, set the stage for the transition to the modern information age we live in. Combining the digital computer technology base with the well established technologies of analogue communications provided the basis for the modern digital communications network, and ultimately the Internet.
The fundamental change which arose with the proliferation of computing and digital technology is the speed with which knowledge (and garbage information as well) can be transmitted and processed. This is a pervasive paradigm shift. Whether we are replacing cheques and letters of credit with EFT protocols, FTP-ing production data between sites, emailing correspondence or research data, or datalinking target coordinates between bomber and guided weapon, the digital technology base allows almost instantaneous and almost error free transmission of knowledge.
Many contemporary military theorists identify the greatest value of the digital revolution as being "coordination, speed and precision", in the context of destroying an opponent's forces. In the context of a modern economy, the same speed and precision characteristic of a well implemented digital system means that many processes can be greatly accelerated, and hitherto unseen levels of coordination between multiple players achieved. This is true of finance, stock markets, manufacturing, research and development. Therefore those economic players who master the digital environment can potentially acquire a huge competitive advantage over those who do not. This is especially true in commerce. Not surprisingly, extremist special interest groups, ultra-nationalists and proto-fascist parties have taken to the digital revolution with alarming alacrity.
Speed, coordination and precision are decisive advantages in the economic, military and political games, and the military term "force multiplier" describes the effects of well implemented "digitisation" upon an organisation very nicely. Such an organisation can produce results out of all proportion to its size, compared to its industrial age equivalent.
The possession of a digital infrastructure is one of the key determinants of military power and economic strength today. It should not be surprising that the Asian meltdown had little effect in Australia, the most digitised economy in the region.
The digital infrastructure is the enabling technology base for the current globalisation paradigm, and its proliferation is in no small part responsible for much of the economic restructuring in OECD nations.
If current trends continue the world will be divided into two major classes of nation, wealthy developed nations with large digital infrastructures, and poor industrial and agrarian economy nations with non-existent or weak digital infrastructures. In developed nations, wealth will concentrate in the hands of those who master the digital infrastructure, and those who cannot will become increasingly poorer. Mastering the digital revolution is no different from mastering the printed word, centuries ago. The rewards accrue to those who exploit the technology most effectively.
Every major paradigm shift in technology, and its associated changes in the patterns of wealth and military power, has spawned conflict. Indeed much of the Marxist paradigm of class warfare is predicated on this model. In a sense it is curious that the Sovs fell on their own sword, having never mastered the digital revolution.
The digital revolution is no different, with disaffected minorities in developed nations making themselves known. The Seattle WTO riots, the proliferation of extremist websites, and the increasing popularity of ultra-nationalists like the Hansonites in Australia, and similar parties and groups in the EU and the US are all examples.
On an international scale, we see the growing influence of fundamentalist Muslim popular movements in the Islamic nations, and an increasingly hostile and disaffected Russia, China and to a lesser degree India. Of the three, only India has a decent foothold in the digital age, with China critically dependent upon commodity manufacturing for developed consumer markets, and Russia slowly disintegrating. Most South East Asian nations have also fallen foul of the digital revolution, indeed the rapid and massive withdrawal of investment capital during the Asian meltdown could not have been executed without the modern digital infrastructure.
The importance of IW/IO today is a simple consequence of the reality, that the digital infrastructure in the developed world processes, concentrates and carries the flow of knowledge which provides us with our decisive economic and military advantage against other players. The same effect, on a lesser scale, applies within developed nations, dividing those who accumulate wealth from those who cannot accumulate it.
The digital infrastructure is thus a lucrative target, in every sense, since it provides a single point of failure for the developed world's economic and military power base. It is also a capable weapon for penetrating our economic, military and political fabric, exploitable by foreign and domestic players with hostile agendas.
Consider an ostensibly benign medium like the Usenet news group. I have witnessed this medium being used for the propagation and dissemination of malicious conspiracy theories, racist propaganda, ultra-nationalist Russian and Serbian propaganda, neo-Stalinist propaganda and Stalinist re-interpretations of history, anti-Semitic propaganda, and plain military dis-information during the Serbian air war, all on the one newsgroup ! Whether we define the boundaries of warfare to be confined by classical Marxist "class warfare" between mutually opposed domestic groups, or nation states, black propaganda (ie fibbing) is a tool of warfare. The very same newsgroup which provided one of the key platforms used to demolish the mischievous Arnett/CNN Tailwind "nerve gas canard" was at the very same time being used as a propaganda platform by Russian ultra-nationalists and neo-Stalinists !
During this same period a major aerospace vendor was caught on the same newsgroup, when several corporate public affairs personnel using third party ISP addresses to conceal their identities, argued the merits of their products over a competitors' !
The highly effective use of a website and newsgroup advocacy by Australia's Hansonites during the peak of their popularity, two years ago, underscores the value of the digital infrastructure as a political and propaganda tool, and thus an instrument of both intra-national and international warfare.
Not surprisingly the NATO website was subjected to a range of Serbian denial of service attacks during the Serbian air war, while the USAF were at the same time claimed to be hacking into Serbia's air defence network to insert misleading information. Equally it should come as no surprise that the Indonesian foreign affairs ministry website was hosting, during the peak of the Timor crisis, an almost comical package of nasty and untruthful anti-Australian excerpts from the ultra-nationalist Jakarta press. Comically inept to knowledgeable parties but nevertheless qualifying as black propaganda of the most classical kind.
Gibsonian cyberwar may have indeed captured the public imagination as the most critical aspect of the IW/IO paradigm, but if history teaches us anything, the use of new information distribution media to wage propaganda wars may be the area in which the greatest political and military impact is seen.
Arquilla and Ronfeldt defined the paradigm of "Netwar" to describe the emergence of diffuse, often trans-national, distributed forms of warfare, in which the players are largely hidden to avoid conventional attack, using the general populace to hide within. It is no coincidence that Netwar emerged strongly as an issue during the nineties (even if much of the basic paradigm has been central to terrorist and guerilla movements for most of this century). The digital infrastructure has been an enabler for Netwar, providing global and near instantaneous connectivity. Indeed global digital media such as the Iridium LEO constellation are a tremendous tool for exactly this kind of political or military play.
There can be no doubt that the digital revolution has brought about some very fundamental changes in today's world, the full impact of which we have yet to see.
Part 2 Issues in Current Infowar
In part one of this series we explored some of the fundamentals of Infowar, and the developing political and economic scenario in the 21st century. The essential conclusion is that Infowar in its manifold forms is a reality which we cannot escape, and one which will ever increasingly be a consideration for the computing community.
What remains is to explore contemporary issues in Infowar, and attempt to identify clear trends in the immediate future.
Many happenings anticipated in recent years have materialised. We have seen the first public demonstrations of a HERF gun at a recent InfoWarCon conference, public testimony to a congressional subcommittee by David Schriner describes a TED (Transient Electromagnetic Device) spark gap weapon capable of crippling machines from tens of metres, we have the United States' military ostensibly admitting to hacking the air defence computers of the Serbian national air defence forces, and we have an ever growing penetration problem with crackers getting into high profile websites and playing often embarrassing pranks. Internet newsgroups are frequently inundated with ultra-nationalists and oft weird special interest groups.
None of these developments fall outside of the predictions of five years ago. The technological community has warned of this and it has indeed transpired, as expected.
We could of course reiterate these issues in more detail, but in perspective, this does little to illuminate the future.
I therefore decided to consult a wiser head in these matters. I posed Winn Schwartau, widely acknowledged to be the originator of the Infowar concept as we know it today, the following question - what are the most important issues in Infowar today ?
His response was to articulate the following six points:
1.Dealing with the human factors problem.
2.Dealing with the legal problems.
3.Defining Rules of Engagement.
4.Solving the damage assessment problem.
5.Isolating damage effects to minimise collateral damage.
6.How do we structure forces to execute information warfare.
To these six cardinal points I am tempted to add a seventh:
7.Accommodating the cumulative effects of Moore's Law in computing technology.
A good starting point for developing these issues is to point out, that Infowar is inevitably, as any survival contest is, split between the offensive and the defensive. The popular notion that Infowar can be a purely defensive play is utterly irrational, and flies in the face of five millenia of history. The advantage more than often lies with the attacker, who can choose the time and the place of the engagement.
This point leads us into the issue of the human factors problem.
How should we articulate this problem ? In the simplest of terms it is a result of many people not taking the issue seriously, at every level of our government and industry. At the lowest level it is manifested in ostensibly trivial sins like sloppy password management procedures. Stepping up a level, it is manifested by managers who choose not to spend resources on security, or company directors who decide that the overheads of hiring security consultants or specialists in security oriented system admin are a waste of effort.
The problem extends further, to legislators who are completely illiterate in computing, let alone Infowar, and choose to frame legislation around ridiculous and ultimately futile agendas such as content control on the Internet, while remaining utterly blind to the real problem areas.
We could argue that it is a widespread case of "ignorance is bliss", but this in many respects flies in the face of the huge volumes of public debate and discussion on these issues, and the incessant sensationalised media coverage of the issue.
The problem really runs much deeper, and is clearly related to collective community values.
We should consider the fact that our culture has exceptionally well defined protocols and legislation covering the handling of money. Money is kept in bank vaults, virtually every cent is carefully accounted for in every till, while frequently draconian penalties are applied for theft, usually in proportion to the magnitude of the theft in question. Frequently a person is judged on his monetary worth or earning capacity, first and foremost, all other attributes and qualities falling by the wayside.
This should not be surprising since we are essentially in our values a mercantile culture, in a medieval Christian culture piety would be a measure of one's worth, while in a communist culture the individual's fanatical devotion to the cause would be such. The values of a culture are implicitly tied to whatever mechanism is central in making that culture work.
In the digital age information/knowledge is that central mechanism, and therefore we would expect our culture's value system to reflect exactly that, and accord information/knowledge the very same worth that a classical capitalist culture accords to money. Protect it for what it is worth, and treat it with the respect it deserves. Reward those who can create it and most effectively exploit it.
Herein lies the crux of the "people problem" in Infowar, and the root cause of many of the people related problems we see in the computing game. Our community value system is still firmly rooted in the mercantile viewpoint of the world, and has yet to catch up with the modern economic, military and social reality of the digital age. Granted, we have seen Mr Gates become the richest individual on the planet, but most people have yet to come to grips with the most fundamental reality of the digital age.
Information/knowledge = value, in the same sense as "money = value".
Whether that information/knowledge is static data, as in a database or document, or an executable program, which essentially replicates and automates a recipe for performing a task, that information/knowledge is a package of value, no different in many respects from a bundle of banknotes.
Until community values realign to reflect this new reality, and information/knowledge, and the capacity to generate it, are recognised for what they are worth, the extant problem with people and Infowar will persist. Indeed the public have yet to equate a file server with a bank vault, and a credit card capable website with a till in a supermarket.
How soon will this come about ? If we accept Kuhn's arguments relating to paradigm shifts, this will take at least a generation, the time it takes for people wedded to established values to die out.
The big question is whether we can we afford to wait another generation for this to come about ? The need for community values and our legislative base to reflect the current paradigm is urgent and cannot wait for decades. Judging from the value of the NASDAC, and the profitability of the digital finance "industry", Kuhn's model may yet be proven wrong here, nevertheless things are not happening quickly enough.
The issue of legislation brings us to the second critical item in contemporary Infowar.
The problem is a very simple one, which is that legislation today does not reflect the realities of conflict in the information/knowledge domain. A good example is the problem of dealing with jurisdictional boundaries. The simple instance of attempting to prosecute a cracker overseas, or somebody who harasses another in cyberspace, is literally a legal minefield. This becomes all the more difficult once we must grapple with a hostile government.
Consider the canonical scenario of nation A tasking its military or para-military computing professionals with cracking into an nation B's banking system and stock market, and taking both down to induce an economic collapse. Of course, nation B can be expected to play exactly the same game. In a conventional war, either side might shoot missiles or drop bombs on one another with the understanding that providing agreed protocols on targeting are observed, the best player wins.
Yet today many Western democracies are in the position whereby it is legally easier for them to drop a laser guided bomb through an opponent's window, than crack into his computer system. Indeed legislators, and the public at large, as yet have failed to grasp the fact that another government cracking into a government computer, or putting a hacksaw through a fibre cable, is acting no differently than if they were shooting off a ballistic missile or lobbing a satchel charge into a munitions depo. It is an act of war, in every sense of the word.
A government which sponsors crackers to bust into another country's computing infrastructure is performing at a minimum the equivalent to a special operations commando penetration of its opponent's military basing or government buildings. Yet the latter evokes responses which are as forceful as large scale bombing raids or land force invasions. The former does not.
Contemporary IW theorists have argued this issue extensively, but typically encounter stubborn resistance.
The underlying cause for this clearly irrational posture is related to item 1, without any doubt. The gravity of the act is undervalued, and it is therefore dismissed as being of substantially lower importance than it really is. Until such an attack produces a truly dramatic, Pearl Harbour category disaster, it is unlikely the message will get across.
This issue is further complicated by the boundaries between military and civil operations. Whereas legislation may eventually allow a nation's armed forces to respond in kind, or respond pre-emptively to an information attack, with a like information attack, or conventional counterstrike, civilian agencies and commercial players are unlikely to be afforded such latitude.
Whereas a security guard at a bank may be allowed to open fire at an armed bank robber who walks in the front door, the notion of a bank's systems programmer launching a denial of service attack against a criminal attempting to break into the bank's internal network is at this time legally problematic. More than likely it would result in the criminal's ISP successfully suing the bank in question.
The issue of legislation is indeed a thorny one, and one which will take some time to sort out. If conventional, precedent based legal practices are to apply, many of these issues will have to wait for test cases to produce rulings. In the meantime, a good measure of paralysis will exist.
The legal issues are closely related to the issue of Rules of Engagement (RoE), the fundamental constraints and protocols which are applied to any military operations. In conventional wars, such as those fought in the Persian Gulf in 1991, or over Serbia in 1999, Western warriors did battle under some frequently complicated and often very restrictive RoE. Whichever side of the argument of RoE one chooses to take, the reality is that in conventional wars the RoE are very carefully crafted to reflect political and operational constraints. What can and cannot be attacked, and under which conditions it can be attacked, is carefully (or not so carefully in some instances) defined and set down as inviolate constraints to military personnel.
The purpose of RoE is primarily to set boundaries for military operations, either in terms of geography or types of targets to be engaged. A typical RoE package today includes constraints from the Law of Armed Conflict (LOAC), which are mostly aimed at preventing the loss of innocent civilian lives, or the destruction of significant historical or cultural artifacts. While much debate continues to as to the merits of many RoE packages and philosophies, it is a fact of life that few Western democracies would go to war without some kind of RoE.
Defining a meaningful RoE package for Infowar (IO) is a non-trivial task, and one which is yet to be properly resolved.
Consider the scenario in which an opponent's electricity grid and communications network are taken down. Both are target sets which evoke much argument in conventional targeting, since it can be argued that denial of both services can cause indirectly civilian casualties, and impose unreasonable hardship upon the population. Indeed the use of non-lethal carbon-fibre bombs against Serbia in 1999, designed to produce intermittent dropouts, was deemed to be more appropriate than simply putting high explosive 2,000 pounders into every powerplant in the country.
Taking down an opponent's finance infrastructure or stock market could produce similar arguments. If a country is plunged into an economic collapse of the ilk seen in Malaysia or Indonesia recently, does this constitute a violation of established protocols designed to protect civilians from unreasonable hardship ?
These are all very interesting, and also very important questions. Consider that the wrecking of a nation's economy via a systematic information attack on its finance infrastructure could produce wider repercussions, by damaging countries with mutual economic dependencies with the target nation. No differently from physically wrecking its economy by large scale air raids.
While the latter may not incur legal side effects, the former may under the current scheme of things. This indeed complicates the whole issue to no end.
The other side of this coin is dealing with players who choose not to observe any RoE. This has been the source of much argument in the context of conventional wars, since the countries which Western democracies most frequently clash with tend to be tin-pot dictatorships who usually have no respect for international conventions or legislation such as LOAC. Indeed the standard scenario is that Western RoE are played for what it is worth, and parking a surface to air missile launcher in the grounds of hospital, or putting a civilian air raid shelter into the same facility as a military command post, are both good examples of such behaviour. Players who fall into this category are unlikely to restrict their offensive information operations to target sets deemed legitimate under international law.
The issue of RoE is a messy one, which like issues of cultural values and legislation remains to be resolved.
The issue of damage assessment is one which is closely related to targeting, and amounts in the simplest of terms to assessing the effect of an information attack. This is in a sense a broader problem relating to the use of all non-lethal weapons. While assessing the effect of an air or cruise missile attack may be as simple as looking for a smoking hole in the ground where the intended target stood, determining the effects of an information attack is not so simple.
Taking down an electricity grid or a stock market may be easy to assess by observing changes in activity. But taking down an air defence radar network or military intelligence database may be much trickier, since the opponent may choose to "play dead" and then activate the system at a most inconvenient time.
Cracking into an opponent's network and initiating a recursive remove in the root filesystem of a critical host system may only alert the opponent to a penetration, yet it may also cause considerable long term damage. This all depends on the opposing player's level of redundancy and backup policies.
The same applies should we choose to lob a 40 GigaWatt microwave warhead at a critical computing or communications site.
Just as the Argentines in 1982 managed to deceive the British into believing they had done more damage to the Port Stanley runway than they actually achieved, so it is possible for an opponent in the IW game to deceptively simulate greater damage levels than had actually been achieved.
Being too successful at taking down an opponent's networking and communications may indeed blind an attacker to what effect was actually achieved against other specific targets in the network.
An issue which is closely related to damage assessment is that of precisely controlling damage effects, so that only intended targets are taken out. This indeed closely ties into the earlier discussion of legal issues and RoE.
The difficulty lies in the fact that in most nations, much of the information infrastructure is shared between civilian government, military services and commercial organisations. If in the course of disabling the air defence network you also knock out the network supporting the country' hospitals, is this to be considered acceptable or unacceptable collateral damage ?
The difficulty, other than the legislative/RoE aspects, lies in the simple technical problem of identifying which services are mutually dependent. This need not be an easy task, unless the network is apriori penetrated very thoroughly and all services in use exactly mapped out.
The problem can run much deeper, insofar as one may wish to leave some services in operation for other reasons, such as surveillance, intelligence gathering, deception and damage assessment. Knocking out the key router to disable the opponent's surface to air missile datalinks may preclude monitoring the alert status of the air defence network, or even the deceptive manipulation of its state.
Achieving a precisely contained effect may in many instances be impossible, and in some instances unanticipated side effects may arise from mutual dependencies unknown apriori even to the targeted operator of the system.
Some strategies devised for large scale information attack, such as the massed use of electromagnetic bombs, are structured upon the premise that the total disabling of the targeted system is the desired end state. For an escalated large scale conflict this may indeed be very true, from a military perspective. However, recent conflicts such as that fought over Serbia last year would suggest that massed attacks of this ilk are likely to be frustrated at the point of conception by political micro-management of the desired target set.
Unrealistic expectations by political leaders seeking politically "sanitary" campaigns have frequently complicated conventional military operations to the point of unworkability. We can expect repeat scenarios in any future conflicts fought in the information domain, given extant experience since 1950. The potential for a precise effect which can exist in information attack will offer an irresistible temptation for many politicians, despite the fact that the technological constraints border on the unimplementable. We have seen similar foolishness in the Australian public and political debate on Internet content, and this behaviour is very likely to spill over into the much more serious area of Infowar.
The final point articulated by Winn Schwartau is that of structuring forces for the conduct of Infowar. While this problem may superficially be seen to be confined to deciding whether it should be performed by the air force, army, navy, or military / civilian intelligence agencies, it like many other problems in Infowar runs much deeper.
Considering that the issue encompasses civil law enforcement, and also arguably penetrates the interests of commercial organisations, it is a problem of vast complexity.
Should every player field its own Infowar teams, should these teams be split into offensive and defensive groups, or should a single civilian or military agency be formed to cover this whole domain ? We can rest assured that every single one of these strategies will have its vociferous proponents and opponents.
While economies of scale and the demand for high levels of technical specialisation would enhance the case for a single IW agency or body, the unique idiosyncrasies of IW characteristic of military vs law enforcement, and air/land/sea/space military operations, would in turn strengthen the case for individual IW capabilities in all of these extant bodies. There is no simple answer to the problem.
To complicate these evident problems in dealing with the current IW paradigm, we must also deal with the rapid evolution of technology resulting from Moore's Law. With compute performance, memory capacity and storage capability doubling every 18-24 months, we are facing a moving target. Technological capabilities for IW will continue to evolve at a rapid rate for the forseeable future.
This has implications for the defensive play, since cryptographic measures will continue to erode in effectiveness, while it will also increase the potential capabilities of offensive tools.
Information Warfare as a discipline is still very much in its adolescence, and it is clear that many critical issues remain to be resolved.
My view as a competent observer is that the biggest obstacle in coming years will continue to be technological illiteracy in those outside the computing community, and the closely related problem of illiteracy in the social, political and economic implications of the digital revolution. While the former is easy to understand, I find the latter frequently perplexing, since the effects are clearly visible and a postgraduate degree in Comp Sci is not required to understand them. Legislators, who are frequently exceptionally well educated in the humanities, and are well tuned, one would assume, to social and political issues, have little if any excuse in this context. Yet many of them seem to be the least capable of grasping the issues.
We do indeed live in interesting times.
Carlo Kopp, BE(Hons), MSc(Comp.Sci), is a former computer design engineer, embedded programmer, Unix systems programmer and a practising Unix systems consultant, with over 15 years of industry experience. He currently lectures in Computer Architecture at Computer Science & Software Engineering, Monash University, Australia. He may be reached via email@example.com or http://www.csse.monash.edu.au/~carlo .
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