Entries Tagged "cyberwar"

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The Limits of Cyber Operations in Wartime

Interesting paper by Lennart Maschmeyer: “The Subversive Trilemma: Why Cyber Operations Fall Short of Expectations“:

Abstract: Although cyber conflict has existed for thirty years, the strategic utility of cyber operations remains unclear. Many expect cyber operations to provide independent utility in both warfare and low-intensity competition. Underlying these expectations are broadly shared assumptions that information technology increases operational effectiveness. But a growing body of research shows how cyber operations tend to fall short of their promise. The reason for this shortfall is their subversive mechanism of action. In theory, subversion provides a way to exert influence at lower risks than force because it is secret and indirect, exploiting systems to use them against adversaries. The mismatch between promise and practice is the consequence of the subversive trilemma of cyber operations, whereby speed, intensity, and control are negatively correlated. These constraints pose a trilemma for actors because a gain in one variable tends to produce losses across the other two variables. A case study of the Russo-Ukrainian conflict provides empirical support for the argument. Qualitative analysis leverages original data from field interviews, leaked documents, forensic evidence, and local media. Findings show that the subversive trilemma limited the strategic utility of all five major disruptive cyber operations in this conflict.

Posted on May 31, 2022 at 6:06 AMView Comments

Microsoft Issues Report of Russian Cyberattacks against Ukraine

Microsoft has a comprehensive report on the dozens of cyberattacks—and even more espionage operations—Russia has conducted against Ukraine as part of this war:

At least six Russian Advanced Persistent Threat (APT) actors and other unattributed threats, have conducted destructive attacks, espionage operations, or both, while Russian military forces attack the country by land, air, and sea. It is unclear whether computer network operators and physical forces are just independently pursuing a common set of priorities or actively coordinating. However, collectively, the cyber and kinetic actions work to disrupt or degrade Ukrainian government and military functions and undermine the public’s trust in those same institutions.

[…]

Threat groups with known or suspected ties to the GRU have continuously developed and used destructive wiper malware or similarly destructive tools on targeted Ukrainian networks at a pace of two to three incidents a week since the eve of invasion. From February 23 to April 8, we saw evidence of nearly 40 discrete destructive attacks that permanently destroyed files in hundreds of systems across dozens of organizations in Ukraine.

Posted on April 28, 2022 at 9:15 AMView Comments

Russian Cyberattack against Ukrainian Power Grid Prevented

A Russian cyberweapon, similar to the one used in 2016, was detected and removed before it could be used.

Key points:

  • ESET researchers collaborated with CERT-UA to analyze the attack against the Ukrainian energy company
  • The destructive actions were scheduled for 2022-04-08 but artifacts suggest that the attack had been planned for at least two weeks
  • The attack used ICS-capable malware and regular disk wipers for Windows, Linux and Solaris operating systems
  • We assess with high confidence that the attackers used a new version of the Industroyer malware, which was used in 2016 to cut power in Ukraine
  • We assess with high confidence that the APT group Sandworm is responsible for this new attack

News article.

EDITED TO ADD: Better news coverage from Wired.

Posted on April 13, 2022 at 6:32 AMView Comments

White House Warns of Possible Russian Cyberattacks

News:

The White House has issued its starkest warning that Russia may be planning cyberattacks against critical-sector U.S. companies amid the Ukraine invasion.

[…]

Context: The alert comes after Russia has lobbed a series of digital attacks at the Ukrainian government and critical industry sectors. But there’s been no sign so far of major disruptive hacks against U.S. targets even as the government has imposed increasingly harsh sanctions that have battered the Russian economy.

  • The public alert followed classified briefings government officials conducted last week for more than 100 companies in sectors at the highest risk of Russian hacks, Neuberger said. The briefing was prompted by “preparatory activity” by Russian hackers, she said.
  • U.S. analysts have detected scanning of some critical sectors’ computers by Russian government actors and other preparatory work, one U.S. official told my colleague Ellen Nakashima on the condition of anonymity because of the matter’s sensitivity. But whether that is a signal that there will be a cyberattack on a critical system is not clear, Neuberger said.
  • Neuberger declined to name specific industry sectors under threat but said they’re part of critical infrastructure ­—a government designation that includes industries deemed vital to the economy and national security, including energy, finance, transportation and pipelines.

President Biden’s statement. White House fact sheet. And here’s a video of the extended Q&A with deputy national security adviser Anne Neuberger.

EDITED TO ADD (3/23): Long—three hour—conference call with CISA.

Posted on March 22, 2022 at 9:57 AMView Comments

Where’s the Russia-Ukraine Cyberwar?

It has been interesting to notice how unimportant and ineffective cyber operations have been in the Russia-Ukraine war. Russia launched a wiper against Ukraine at the beginning, but it was found and neutered. Near as I can tell, the only thing that worked was the disabling of regional KA-SAT SATCOM terminals.

It’s probably too early to reach any conclusions, but people are starting to write about this, with varying theories.

I want to write about this, too, but I’m waiting for things to progress more.

EDITED TO ADD (3/12): Two additional takes.

EDITED TO ADD (3/22): Thomas Rid comments

Posted on March 10, 2022 at 6:06 AMView Comments

AI-Piloted Fighter Jets

News from Georgetown’s Center for Security and Emerging Technology:

China Claims Its AI Can Beat Human Pilots in Battle: Chinese state media reported that an AI system had successfully defeated human pilots during simulated dogfights. According to the Global Times report, the system had shot down several PLA pilots during a handful of virtual exercises in recent years. Observers outside China noted that while reports coming out of state-controlled media outlets should be taken with a grain of salt, the capabilities described in the report are not outside the realm of possibility. Last year, for example, an AI agent defeated a U.S. Air Force F-16 pilot five times out of five as part of DARPA’s AlphaDogfight Trial (which we covered at the time). While the Global Times report indicated plans to incorporate AI into future fighter planes, it is not clear how far away the system is from real-world testing. At the moment, the system appears to be used only for training human pilots. DARPA, for its part, is aiming to test dogfights with AI-piloted subscale jets later this year and with full-scale jets in 2023 and 2024.

Posted on June 25, 2021 at 8:53 AMView Comments

Vulnerabilities in Weapons Systems

“If you think any of these systems are going to work as expected in wartime, you’re fooling yourself.”

That was Bruce’s response at a conference hosted by US Transportation Command in 2017, after learning that their computerized logistical systems were mostly unclassified and on the Internet. That may be necessary to keep in touch with civilian companies like FedEx in peacetime or when fighting terrorists or insurgents. But in a new era facing off with China or Russia, it is dangerously complacent.

Any twenty-first century war will include cyber operations. Weapons and support systems will be successfully attacked. Rifles and pistols won’t work properly. Drones will be hijacked midair. Boats won’t sail, or will be misdirected. Hospitals won’t function. Equipment and supplies will arrive late or not at all.

Our military systems are vulnerable. We need to face that reality by halting the purchase of insecure weapons and support systems and by incorporating the realities of offensive cyberattacks into our military planning.

Over the past decade, militaries have established cyber commands and developed cyberwar doctrine. However, much of the current discussion is about offense. Increasing our offensive capabilities without being able to secure them is like having all the best guns in the world, and then storing them in an unlocked, unguarded armory. They just won’t be stolen; they’ll be subverted.

During that same period, we’ve seen increasingly brazen cyberattacks by everyone from criminals to governments. Everything is now a computer, and those computers are vulnerable. Cars, medical devices, power plants, and fuel pipelines have all been targets. Military computers, whether they’re embedded inside weapons systems or on desktops managing the logistics of those weapons systems, are similarly vulnerable. We could see effects as stodgy as making a tank impossible to start up, or sophisticated as retargeting a missile midair.

Military software is unlikely to be any more secure than commercial software. Although sensitive military systems rely on domestically manufactured chips as part of the Trusted Foundry program, many military systems contain the same foreign chips and code that commercial systems do: just like everyone around the world uses the same mobile phones, networking equipment, and computer operating systems. For example, there has been serious concern over Chinese-made 5G networking equipment that might be used by China to install “backdoors” that would allow the equipment to be controlled. This is just one of many risks to our normal civilian computer supply chains. And since military software is vulnerable to the same cyberattacks as commercial software, military supply chains have many of the same risks.

This is not speculative. A 2018 GAO report expressed concern regarding the lack of secure and patchable US weapons systems. The report observed that “in operational testing, the [Department of Defense] routinely found mission-critical cyber vulnerabilities in systems that were under development, yet program officials GAO met with believed their systems were secure and discounted some test results as unrealistic.” It’s a similar attitude to corporate executives who believe that they can’t be hacked—and equally naive.

An updated GAO report from earlier this year found some improvements, but the basic problem remained: “DOD is still learning how to contract for cybersecurity in weapon systems, and selected programs we reviewed have struggled to incorporate systems’ cybersecurity requirements into contracts.” While DOD now appears aware of the issue of lack of cybersecurity requirements, they’re still not sure yet how to fix it, and in three of the five cases GAO reviewed, DOD simply chose to not include the requirements at all.

Militaries around the world are now exploiting these vulnerabilities in weapons systems to carry out operations. When Israel in 2007 bombed a Syrian nuclear reactor, the raid was preceded by what is believed to have been a cyber attack on Syrian air defenses that resulted in radar screens showing no threat as bombers zoomed overhead. In 2018, a 29-country NATO exercise, Trident Juncture, that included cyberweapons was disrupted by Russian GPS jamming. NATO does try to test cyberweapons outside such exercises, but has limited scope in doing so. In May, Jens Stoltenberg, the NATO secretary-general, said that “NATO computer systems are facing almost daily cyberattacks.”

The war of the future will not only be about explosions, but will also be about disabling the systems that make armies run. It’s not (solely) that bases will get blown up; it’s that some bases will lose power, data, and communications. It’s not that self-driving trucks will suddenly go mad and begin rolling over friendly soldiers; it’s that they’ll casually roll off roads or into water where they sit, rusting, and in need of repair. It’s not that targeting systems on guns will be retargeted to 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue; it’s that many of them could simply turn off and not turn back on again.

So, how do we prepare for this next war? First, militaries need to introduce a little anarchy into their planning. Let’s have wargames where essential systems malfunction or are subverted­not all of the time, but randomly. To help combat siloed military thinking, include some civilians as well. Allow their ideas into the room when predicting potential enemy action. And militaries need to have well-developed backup plans, for when systems are subverted. In Joe Haldeman’s 1975 science-fiction novel The Forever War, he postulated a “stasis field” that forced his space marines to rely on nothing more than Roman military technologies, like javelins. We should be thinking in the same direction.

NATO isn’t yet allowing civilians not employed by NATO or associated military contractors access to their training cyber ranges where vulnerabilities could be discovered and remediated before battlefield deployment. Last year, one of us (Tarah) was listening to a NATO briefing after the end of the 2020 Cyber Coalition exercises, and asked how she and other information security researchers could volunteer to test cyber ranges used to train its cyber incident response force. She was told that including civilians would be a “welcome thought experiment in the tabletop exercises,” but including them in reality wasn’t considered. There is a rich opportunity for improvement here, providing transparency into where improvements could be made.

Second, it’s time to take cybersecurity seriously in military procurement, from weapons systems to logistics and communications contracts. In the three year span from the original 2018 GAO report to this year’s report, cybersecurity audit compliance went from 0% to 40% (those 2 of 5 programs mentioned earlier). We need to get much better. DOD requires that its contractors and suppliers follow the Cybersecurity Maturity Model Certification process; it should abide by the same standards. Making those standards both more rigorous and mandatory would be an obvious second step.

Gone are the days when we can pretend that our technologies will work in the face of a military cyberattack. Securing our systems will make everything we buy more expensive—maybe a lot more expensive. But the alternative is no longer viable.

The future of war is cyberwar. If your weapons and systems aren’t secure, don’t even bother bringing them onto the battlefield.

This essay was written with Tarah Wheeler, and previously appeared in Brookings TechStream.

Posted on June 8, 2021 at 5:32 AMView Comments

Including Hackers in NATO Wargames

This essay makes the point that actual computer hackers would be a useful addition to NATO wargames:

The international information security community is filled with smart people who are not in a military structure, many of whom would be excited to pose as independent actors in any upcoming wargames. Including them would increase the reality of the game and the skills of the soldiers building and training on these networks. Hackers and cyberwar experts would demonstrate how industrial control systems such as power supply for refrigeration and temperature monitoring in vaccine production facilities are critical infrastructure; they’re easy targets and should be among NATO’s priorities at the moment.

Diversity of thought leads to better solutions. We in the information security community strongly support the involvement of acknowledged nonmilitary experts in the development and testing of future cyberwar scenarios. We are confident that independent experts, many of whom see sharing their skills as public service, would view participation in these cybergames as a challenge and an honor.

Posted on January 29, 2021 at 12:03 PMView Comments

Ranking National Cyber Power

Harvard Kennedy School’s Belfer Center published the “National Cyber Power Index 2020: Methodology and Analytical Considerations.” The rankings: 1. US, 2. China, 3. UK, 4. Russia, 5. Netherlands, 6. France, 7. Germany, 8. Canada, 9. Japan, 10. Australia, 11. Israel. More countries are in the document.

We could—and should—argue about the criteria and the methodology, but it’s good that someone is starting this conversation.

Executive Summary: The Belfer National Cyber Power Index (NCPI) measures 30 countries’ cyber capabilities in the context of seven national objectives, using 32 intent indicators and 27 capability indicators with evidence collected from publicly available data.

In contrast to existing cyber related indices, we believe there is no single measure of cyber power. Cyber Power is made up of multiple components and should be considered in the context of a country’s national objectives. We take an all-of-country approach to measuring cyber power. By considering “all-of-country” we include all aspects under the control of a government where possible. Within the NCPI we measure government strategies, capabilities for defense and offense, resource allocation, the private sector, workforce, and innovation. Our assessment is both a measurement of proven power and potential, where the final score assumes that the government of that country can wield these capabilities effectively.

The NCPI has identified seven national objectives that countries pursue using cyber means. The seven objectives are:

  1. Surveilling and Monitoring Domestic Groups;
  2. Strengthening and Enhancing National Cyber Defenses;
  3. Controlling and Manipulating the Information Environment;
  4. Foreign Intelligence Collection for National Security;
  5. Commercial Gain or Enhancing Domestic Industry Growth;
  6. Destroying or Disabling an Adversary’s Infrastructure and Capabilities; and,
  7. Defining International Cyber Norms and Technical Standards.

In contrast to the broadly held view that cyber power means destroying or disabling an adversary’s infrastructure (commonly referred to as offensive cyber operations), offense is only one of these seven objectives countries pursue using cyber means.

Posted on September 11, 2020 at 6:15 AMView Comments

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Sidebar photo of Bruce Schneier by Joe MacInnis.