With this week marking 100 years since the start of World War I, the Australian Army’s release of its Future Land Warfare 2014 report (PDF) is a timely consideration of what war means in the 21st century and where we might see it develop. Cyber issues feature heavily, from developing Army’s cyber capabilities, to leveraging omnipresent communications technologies, and appreciating the interconnectedness of the cyber commons with those of sea, land, air, space and electromagnetic spectrum. The report foresees a future where social media, like Facebook and Twitter, will be ‘widespread and accessible to both friend and foe, potentially allowing any individual to influence political outcomes, transform perceptions of events, and create positive or negative responses’.
Still with Army, this quarter’s Australian Army Journal carries an article by Captain Nathan Mark in which he makes the case for cyber forensic investigative capabilities to support indigenous forces. The full piece is available here (PDF).
Futurist cyber considerations were also on the table at the Aspen Security Forum held last week. In a session on ‘The Future of Warfare’, panellists spoke on a range of topics including disruptive technologies, big data, quantum computing and cyber espionage. Dawn Meyerriecks, Deputy Director of Science and Technology at the Central Intelligence Agency (and formerly of AOL), spoke on the ubiquity of cyber, noting that the continuing fusion of the physical and virtual worlds is the central consideration going forward. Meyerriecks also spoke on the impact of the Internet of Things (IoT), where refrigerators and smart LED lights are being hijacked to nefarious ends like distributed denial of service (DDoS) and spam attacks. Check out the full session here.
Stepping back from the future cyber environment to today’s realities, let’s look at the cyber-side of current global instability.
In Iraq, Islamic State is reportedly backing up its sectarian insurgency operations with boots-on-the-ground in cyberspace, employing hackers to gather intelligence with malware distributed through social media, compromised attachments and browser vulnerabilities. With programs such as Njrat, hackers can target Iraqi networks and computers to steal files and monitor local environments by controlling in-built video cameras and microphones. Social media has been a significant part of the IS’ strategy, with the group maintaining a prolific Twitter presence to shape and promote its message. IS even has its own Android app called The Dawn of Glad Tidings, which provides users with access to news and allows the jihadist group to tweet on the user’s behalf—effectively deploying each user profile as a digital megaphone for IS activities. For more, check out this piece in The Atlantic last month.
On Gaza, the Chair of the US House Intelligence Committee, Rep. Mike Rogers, has this week voiced concerns that cyberspace might be the next front in the conflict between Israel and Hamas. While declining to identify the players by name, Rogers said that an ‘unseen war’ was being waged by nation states in the region, which had the potential to escalate tensions and undermine stability. This follow-up piece from CBS points the finger squarely at Iran. Non-state actors have also been active in the conflict, with #OpSaveGaza being waged by Anonymous and #OpIsraeliRetaliate brought forward by hactivist group the Israeli Elite Force.
On Israel still, it was reported this week that hackers linked to the Unit 61398 of the China’s People’s Liberation Army had, between 2011 and 2012, exfiltrated data on the ‘Iron Dome’ missile defence system from three Israeli defence contractors. It’s been claimed that the PLA unit—exposed by Mandiant for hacking against the US last year—was also able to take data related to other projects on Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs), ballistic rockets, and the Arrow III missile interceptor. Head on over to Krebs on Security for a detailed take on the data raid.
Finally, our friends at the Center for New American Security (CNAS) have written on the MH17 tragedy in Ukraine to highlight the challenges posed by proliferation of high-tech weaponry and the disintegration of traditional state-centric hierarchies. On cyber, the authors point to malicious non-state cyber capabilities, the problems of attribution, and the balancing act of pursing policies that achieve certain goals while not upsetting broader stability—the US cyber-espionage indictment against five PLA members versus positive great-power relations being a case in point.
David Lang is an intern in ASPI’s International Cyber Policy Centre. Image courtesy of Flickr user Israel Defense Forces.