For the last few years I have found only two news programs worth watching: John Stewart’s Daily Show and 60 Minutes. Monday nights in Iraq is when AFN airs the latter and yesterday’s episode featured one of the most important segments I’ve seen in a long time, a twenty minute investigation into vulnerabilities internet connectivity poses to America’s infrastructure, that will likely result someday in a tactic being used that can be best explained via the concept of systempunkt.
It’s nothing new to say hackers employed by foreign governments or working on their own can access networks and disrupt critical infrastructure by manipulating key system components to create equipment meltdowns or service disruptions. What is surprising is the degree to which they have been doing this already . . .
"Several prominent intelligence sources confirmed that there were a series of cyber attacks in Brazil: one north of Rio de Janeiro in January 2005 that affected three cities and tens of thousands of people, and another, much larger event beginning on Sept. 26, 2007. That one in the state of Espirito Santo affected more than three million people in dozens of cities over a two-day period, causing major disruptions. In Vitoria, the world's largest iron ore producer had seven plants knocked offline, costing the company $7 million. It is not clear who did it or what the motive was."
For the first time, 60 Minutes also revealed the penetration of key USG systems:
"In 2007 we probably had our electronic Pearl Harbor. It was an espionage Pearl Harbor . . . Some unknown foreign power, and honestly, we don't know who it is, broke into the Department of Defense, to the Department of State, the Department of Commerce, probably the Department of Energy, probably NASA. They broke into all of the high tech agencies, all of the military agencies, and downloaded terabytes of information.”
How much is a terabyte?
"The Library of Congress, which has millions of volumes, is about 12 terabytes. So, we probably lost the equivalent of a Library of Congress worth of government information in 2007."
“Last November someone was able to get past the firewalls and encryption devices of one of the most sensitive U.S. military computer systems and stay inside for several days.
This was the CENTCOM network . . . The command that's fighting our two wars. And some foreign power was able to get into their networks. And sit there and see everything they did. That was a major problem. And that's really had a big effect on D.O.D."
What does it mean to “sit there?”
"They could see what the traffic was. They could read documents. They could interfere with things. It was like they were part of the American military command."
The logical next step here, which wasn't mentioned, was that "they" can BECOME the American military command, at least until the attack is defeated or the network is shut down. And with that power comes the ability to hijack of the controls of a weapons delivery system or communications platform to reroute ordnance or units.
Attacks of this sort aren’t meant to simply disrupt your power service or steal information. They’re strategic and meant to cause a cascade of failures involving other interconnected networks and impact the psychology of the citizenry, whether civilians on the homefront or soldiers in the field.
Imagine for a minute if hackers or a foreign government at war with the U.S. broke in and shut down power plants so that during the winter there are month-long electrical/natural gas disruptions in the municipality you live in . . . if this happens, how do you survive? City-wide, are there enough back-up generators to provide sufficient power/heat for the people, or does some segment of the population freeze? What happens to the economy when industry is paralyzed and residents can’t get to work or use ATMs to access their bank accounts? How do you protect yourself from criminals/looters/gangs that fill the power vacuum when the security structure collapses? Perhaps the solution is to become an internally displaced person in your own country and move in with out-of-state relatives for awhile.
About three years ago while completing CAQC at the JFK SWC an instructor told me about a book called “Unrestricted Warfare,” written by two Chinese colonels who argued, in a very Eastern and Sun Tzu fashion, that China could go to war with the U.S. and win without firing a shot (you can access a free PDF copy of the book here). The secret was that by attacking networks, waging economic war, and mobilizing/manipulating international opinion, the Chinese could exceed the cost/tolerance ratio of the American people, thereby causing capitulation. Military action (or force) isn’t the only way to win a fight. Just ask Bruce Lee.