What a cyberwar with China might look like

Former U.S. diplomat describes hypothetical scenario

By , Computerworld |  Security, cybersecurity, cyberwar

"I did not try to make the case that it would be some sort of an apocalyptic event. I did not make the case that it would occur in isolation," he said. Instead, a cyberwar will most likely always be part of a broader war, or broader campaign as they were in Georgia and Estonia, he said.

In such a war, cyber attacks will be designed to degrade and disrupt communications and will be terribly hard to purge, Bronk said. The goal will be not so much to completely disable an opponent's networks but to own as much of it as possible in order to control it during a conflict, he said.

The effort will be "to get inside the other guy's decision process rather than shutting it off entirely," Bronk said. "You don't want your adversaries to abandon their information technology."

In Bronk's hypothetical scenario, for instance, China's cyber offensive is noisy and highly visible but also extremely disruptive. The attacks are not targeted just at America's highly-secure and classified networks.

Instead, China's cyber army has deeply penetrated many of the unclassified networks used by the government and the military for relatively low-level internal communications and for tasks such as routing supply information.

"Although unclassified, when aggregated, the information passing across these networks provided highly useful intelligence to the Chinese on U.S. dispositions and strategy," Bronk writes in his report. The information gleaned from such networks can provide adversaries with detailed information on troop movements, cargo operations, demand for fuel and other basic supplies.

Long before the conflict, China's cyber warriors have already penetrated the networks of U.S. corporations based in China, and now they are using information from these networks to add to the chaos.

False information is being deliberately injected into these systems. Companies such as Fedex and UPS are forced to halt operations because their systems are routing packages everywhere except to the correct destinations.

"For defense planners at the Pentagon, it was hard enough to know what U.S. forces were doing, let alone the enemy," he writes. "Ships at sea in the Pacific encountered all manner of navigation and datalink issues."

Bronk says his scenario is just one way a cyberwar is likely to play out. But one thing he is relatively sure of is that such a war, if it happens, will not necessarily involve power grids being knocked offline and planes falling from the sky.

To counter the attacks, the U.S. will have to muster all available resources from the NSA, DHS, DISA, CIA, State Department, the Department of Justice and other agencies. Also roped would be top theoretical staff, engineers and even linguists from academia, as well as from the private sector.


Originally published on Computerworld |  Click here to read the original story.
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