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The Terrifying Potential of Information Warfare

Sandra Prior
Jun 5, 2008
Technology can be used for good, or it can be used for evil. Nuclear power promised an endless supply of energy, but it also led to nuclear waste and the very real fear of Armageddon. It's the same with the technology we take for granted today.

In an increasingly connected world, we're more dependent on technology than we've ever been - and that means we're exposed to serious dangers. The same technology that brings us funny web sites can also be used to spy on companies, bring down entire networks and even threaten lives.

War of the Wired World

Technology is already being used for military purposes. Missiles are packed with electronics, stealth bombers can evade radar, and defense companies are working on remote-controlled bombers and other high-tech weapons. At the same time, military commanders are investigating the use of infowar technology.

During the Gulf war, electromagnetic missiles were used to knock out Iraqi air defenses and command centers; as the Bosnian conflict escalated, Western experts considered hacking into Slobodan Milosovic's bank account to make him bankrupt. The techniques most closely associated with information warfare are those of computer network attack. These include viruses and knowledge-robot bombs that target specific computer components. They can be placed in computers in advance as Trojans, or as trapdoors, which provide unauthorized access and exploitation.

Enemy communication signals and computer functions can be jammed, interfered with, or spoofed. Electromagnetic pulse (EMP) attacks can burn out critical enemy equipment. The brute-force method of generating EMP is to detonate high in the atmosphere a nuclear device optimized to deliver most of its energy as electromagnetic pulse; however, the collateral effects may not be acceptable, and the standing general objections to using nuclear weapons apply.

A device known as a high-energy radio frequency gun would achieve the same effect, with the added benefit that it could target specific facilities or even individual computers. At the most exotic extreme, genetically engineered microbes that destroy computers might be developed. These would function in the same way as the bacteria bred to clean up petroleum spills.

Information warfare tools might not be used on the battlefield. Instead, countries could be paralyzed by attacks on their telecommunications systems, on their power plants, or on their oil refineries - creating chaos without firing a single bullet.

Knowledge is Power

In World War II, Nazi U-boats wreaked havoc on Allied ships, striking as if from nowhere. Then British cryptographers cracked the Enigma code and were able to decipher the U-boats' plans. Hitler's U-boats were no longer the hunters - they were the hunted. In war, knowledge is power.

If you can find out in advance what your enemy is going to do, then you gain the upper hand. That's why most countries have organizations dedicated to spying. Technology makes the process easier. Network sniffers can intercept data, hackers can break into systems and access sensitive information, and detector vans can intercept the radiation from computer monitors to see what people are doing on their computers.

Winn Schwartau is one of the world's leading experts on information warfare and has written a number of books on electronic war. In 1989 he predicted the macro virus and told the US government that government and commercial computer systems are so poorly protected they can essentially be considered defenseless. Many people accused him of scaremongering.

Many of the predictions in his 1994 book Information Warfare: Chaos on the Electronic Super Highway have come true, from high-energy radiation guns to DDOS attacks, chipping and the risk of cyber-terrorism. Schwartau's message is simple; we're rushing into a super-connected world without stopping to think of the risks.

If the bank computers are down, you don't get cash. If the hotel computers are down, you can't book a room. We have no plans or capabilities for paper and pencil moments. We forget about the cascade effect from one system to another...we have no way to go back.
About the Author
Sandra Prior runs her own websites at http://usacomputers.rr.nu and http://sacomputers.rr.nu.
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