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Unrestricted Warfare: the next war will be cyber

February 16, 2010

Claude Arpi
Dominican Today
February 13, 2010

A 14-page ‘restricted’ report prepared by the
British intelligence agency MI5’s Centre for the
Protection of National Infrastructure has
recently come to light. The report describes how
China has attacked UK defence, energy,
communications and manufacturing companies in a
concerted hacking crusade. It also details how
undercover intelligence officers from the
People’s Liberation Army (PLA) and the Ministry
of Public Security approached UK businessmen at
trade fairs and exhibitions, offering them
‘lavish hospitality and presenting nice ‘gifts’.
Unfortunately for the recipients of the famed
Chinese hospitality, the gifted cameras and
memory sticks, tokens of Chinese friendship
contained electronic Trojan bugs which could
enable hackers to remotely access business men’s
computers. According to the MI5 report, the
Chinese government "represents one of the most
significant espionage threats to the UK."

China was also accused of ‘bugging and burgling’
UK business executives and setting up ‘honeytraps to later blackmail them.'

One thought that techniques like the one used
against John Profumo, a British Defence Minister
during the Cold War had been relegated to the
dustbin of history and just good for third rate
Hollywood script, but the MI5 report says that
"Chinese intelligence services have also been
known to exploit vulnerabilities such as sexual
relationships and illegal activities to
pressurize individuals to co-operate with them."

Today more widespread than these ‘honeytraps’ are
the cyber attacks by Chinese hackers. The public
became aware of this new type of warfare after
Google announced that it would reconsider working
in China: the US search engine giant had been the
victim of wild attacks originating from China.
The attacks involved did not only Google, but
more than 30 companies whose servers were
intruded by hackers; this included several human
rights groups and some prominent Chinese
dissidents. What provoked Google to react in such
a sudden manner was the high sophistication of
the attack. The attackers seemed to have employed
some techniques never seen before.

Ron Deibert and Rafal Rohozinski who worked on
Tracking Ghostnet (a 10-month assessment of
alleged Chinese cyberspying of diplomatic
missions, ministries of foreign affairs, and
international organizations) explained in the
Christian Science Monitor: "As principal
investigators in the Information Warfare Monitor,
a project formed in 2002 to investigate and
analyze the exercise of power in cyberspace, we
have seen many of these types of attacks first
hand in our research, and have followed closely
those examined by other researchers."

They believe that the Google attacks were unusual
not only in ‘scope or sophistication,’ but also
‘in terms of the high-profile nature of the
victims’. According to these cyber watchers,
"targeted cyber attacks such as these will grow
in frequency as cyberspace becomes more heavily
contested. "solutions won’t be easy." This is the
general opinion amongst experts.

They cite for example criminal organizations
"thriving in the hidden ecosystems of cyberspace,
profiting from cyberattacks, cybercrime, and cyberfraud."

What about India?
Before leaving for his new assignment in West
Bengal, former National Security Advisor M.K.
Narayanan declared that China had ‘unleashed
cyber aggression against India.’ In an interview,
Narayanan admitted that Chinese hackers had tried
to penetrate the PMO. The former NSA said that
his office and other government departments were
targeted on December 15 (the same day as Google
and other US companies). The attack came through
e-mail attachments containing a ‘Trojan’ virus
which usually allows the hacker to penetrate the
server and help himself to sensitive files.
Officials had to be asked not to log into the
server until the threat could be eliminated.
Narayanan told the journalist: "This was not the
first instance of an attempt to hack into our
computers.” He disclosed that Chinese hackers
were suspected to be behind the attack: "People
seem to be fairly sure it was the Chinese. It is
difficult to find the exact source but this is
the main suspicion. It seems well founded."

Hardly a month later, The Tribune reported that
"computer networks at sensitive establishments
have experienced a second wave of cyber attacks
from foreign-based hackers. Sources in the
intelligence reveal that fresh attacks began on
January 28 and about 25 computers were targeted.”
The attacked computers belonged to the National
Security Council (NSC) Secretariat and the
National Security Advisory Board (NSAB). The
source of information was an official at the
National Technical Research Organisation (NTRO)
which is supposed to deal with cyber attacks.

According to the same source, even the Cabinet
Secretary has been a victim: "Initial
investigations revealed that 30 computers,
including eight from the PMO, were compromised.
This also involved two persons not on the regular
posted strength of the PMO, prompting
intelligence agencies to believe that the cyber
attacks were backed by a high level of human
intelligence, providing the whereabouts of key
individuals and their portfolios and e-mail
addresses. Others who came under attack from
cyber space included the chairman of the Joint
Intelligence Committee, chief of the Naval Staff,
deputy chief of Naval Staff, PM’s special envoy,
the three military intelligence services and
establishments of the BSF and CRPF in Jammu and Kashmir."

Again the Chinese ‘signature’ was suspected. The
NTRO has apparently formed a rapid reaction team
to deal with such attacks. They claim that their
reaction time is about an hour-and-a-half.
Experts consulted, however, dismiss this as pure
wishful thinking, as attacks are now very sophisticated and not easy to notice.

But let us go back some years. In February 1999,
the PLA Literature and Arts Publishing House in
Beijing released a fascinating book written by
Qiao Liang and Wang Xiangsui, two Senior Colonels
of the People’s Liberation Army. The title of the
book was Unrestricted Warfare.

The two Chinese officers prophesized the
‘destruction of rules’ in future warfare. They
wrote: "The direct result of the destruction of
rules is that the domains delineated by visible
or invisible boundaries which are acknowledged by
the international community lose effectiveness.
This is because all principals without national
power who employ non-military warfare actions to
declare war against the international community
all use means that go beyond nations, regions and measures."

Interestingly they gave some examples: "Whether
it is the intrusions of hackers, a major
explosion at the World Trade Center, or a bombing
attack by bin Laden, all of these greatly exceed
the frequency bandwidths understood by the
American military, "they [the US] have never
taken into consideration and have even refused to
consider means that are contrary to tradition and
to select measures of operation other than military means."

One of the reasons behind this thinking has been
the arm-dealers lobby striving to sell military ‘hardware.’

But the Art of War is changing fast, very fast.

As the Defexpo India 2010 is opening at the Delhi
Pragati Maidan, many believe that the exhibitors
are only ‘Showcasing Land and Naval Systems’ of
yesterday. The War of Tomorrow is being prepared
behind some computer monitors in Sichuan or Hainan.

In an eye-opening article Cyber Warriors
published in The Atlantic, James Fallows wrote
that it was "rare to hear U.S. military or
diplomatic officials talk about war with China as
a plausible threat" in the conventional sense of
the term. Fallows says: "Yes, circumstances could
change, and someday there could be a consensus to
‘take on the U.S.’ But the more you hear about
the details, the harder it is to worry seriously
about that now." However, it is different with a
cyber war: "After conducting this round of
interviews, I now lose sleep over something I’d
generally ignored: the possibility of a
‘cyberwar’ that could involve attacks from China
-- but, alarmingly, could also be launched by any
number of other states and organizations."

The recent shutting down of the Black Hawk Safety
Net, the largest hacker training center in Hubei
Province is only an eye-wash, smaller centers
working in close collaboration with the People's
Liberation Army will remain opened and hacking will continue as before.

A few months ago, in a report prepared for the US
China Economic and Security Review Commission,
Northrop Grumman presented a list of electronic
intrusions and disruptions originating from China
since 1999. The conclusion was that in most cases
it was difficult to say whether the activity was
amateur or government-planned, but: "The depth of
resources necessary to sustain the scope of
computer network exploitation targeting the US
and many countries around the world coupled with
the extremely focused targeting of defense
engineering data, US military operational
information, and China-related policy information
is beyond the capabilities or profile of
virtually all organized cybercriminal enterprises
and is difficult at best without some type of state-sponsorship."

The Chinese State is clearly identified in these attacks.

Another conclusion of the Report is: "The breadth of targe

ts and range of potential ‘customers’ of this
data suggests the existence of a collection
management infrastructure or other oversight to
effectively control the range of activities
underway, sometimes nearly simultaneously."

It will probably take 10 years for the NTRO to
prepare such a report and 10 more to make it
public. Here, as in infrastructure development,
India is far, far behind China. While it will
take several more years to complete a deal for
126 Multi Role Combat Aircrafts (for some 11
billion dollars), for a much smaller budget, the
Chinese will have found ways to neutralize the electronics of these planes.

But there is worse. In a forthcoming novel,
Directive 51, John Barne envisages the collapse
of the world ‘financial life’ (most of our
‘assets’ being kept inside some banks’ computer
systems), the halt of most manufacturing systems,
the evaporation of the technical knowledge and
legions of other consequences. Frightening!

Let us hope that the Indian Government will wake
up to the threat and NRTO will truly be able to respond in one hour.
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