(en) Crypt Newsletter: U.S. Dept. of Defense's insane "info war" stra

Shawn Ewald (shawn@wilshire.net)
Mon, 22 Sep 1997 02:00:06 -0700

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This comes from the Crypt Newsletter site: http://sun.soci.niu.edu/~crypt/ ------------------------------------------------------- SCIENCE APPLICATIONS HONCHO YEARNS TO LAUNCH SYSTEM SMASHING VIRUSES

Some newspapers exploded with stories in January dealing with the release of a new Dept. of Defense treatise, "Report of the Defense Science Board Task Force on Information Warfare Defense." Forgotten it already? Don't worry, here's the summary:

On January 6, the Wall Street Journal excerpted fragments of the DSB report including the oft-repeated statement that the Pentagon and the entire rest of the country are vulnerable to an "electronic Pearl Harbor" if acts aren't polished in the arena of Internet security.

Journal reporter Tom Ricks termed the report unusually "strident." It was an accurate description. The Defense Science Board report on IWAR-D, as it is called, reads like a Cold War policy document written by Paul Nitze.

It is nothing less than a call to arms for the military to start a crash effort in the field.

Ricks apparently interviewed Duane Andrews, one of the report's authors, and elicited the comment that Andrews -- a former undersecretary for defense during the Bush administration -- would like to see legislation enacted that would free the Pentagon to attack hackers with polymorphic computer viruses.

Andrews would, he said, like to see a capability that seeded hacker or attacker computers with "a polymorphic virus that wipes out the system, takes it down for weeks."

There was no obvious comment on how this capability might be approached, aside from wishful thinking. For those unfamiliar with the ins-and-outs of computer virus technology, Andrews request was a side-splitter, akin to asking scientists to work seriously on a method in which sand might be converted into gasoline. [One computer virus expert, unnecessary to name here, once suggested that actively pursuing a strategy of trying to foster virus infections on the computers of alleged national enemies would be about as sensible as "dumping bags of pepper into the jetstream."]

Interestingly, the virus quote by Andrews does not appear in the original of the Defense Science Board report. However, the study does address it in elliptical terms. Repeated reference is made to using "active" measures in "Information Warfare -- Defense." What the authors are saying is that they're recommending the Dept. of Defense be able to conduct counterattacks against hackers or nation states discovered to be launching information warfare assaults against the U.S. The report asks that legislation be enacted or rewritten to allow for this. A Freedom of Information Act request to the Defense Science Board returned no further information on the topic.

Andrews is currently executive vice president of corporate development at Science Applications, a bona fide Beltway Bandit and secretive mega-contractor to the intelligence community. The company boasts extensive facilities in Tyson's Corner and Ft. Meade. The Defense Science Board report recommends a $580 million dollar investment in research and development to the private sector for hardware and software to implement computer security. Science Applications, of course, stands to benefit greatly from any large spurt of growth in DoD expenditures due to the collision of Cold War-style paranoia and the subject of information warfare.

Curiosities in the DSB report: (1) It elevates the DEFCON series of hacker get-togethers to that of strategic menace conducted on US soil; (2) The supersecret MILSTAR satellite system -- a system that responsible elements in the country have been trying to have killed for years -- is invoked as a possible key asset in the coming time of information war.

In addition, the report recommends an escalating series of conditions be set by DoD to describe information warfare, similar to the DEFCON grades. However, no concrete information is developed on how, exactly, the government would determine if the U.S. is undergoing an information war attack. And this remains one of the stickiest of problems for information warriors: How in Sam Hill can one distinguish an information warfare attack from the work of 100 Jolt-cola crazed college students fiddling around on a few networks, hoaxes, stupid practical jokes or the usual problems that beset computing networks? It's a double-edged sword, however. There is no reassurance or guarantee that any foreign country willing to waste time developing info-warriors to hack the nation for military aims would even be able to rise above the noise of everyday network mishaps. Perhaps it is even a valid strategy to try to encourage potential adversaries to invest in information warfare if the effort is likely to be unnoticeable. Better that than trying to steal weapons-grade plutonium. Crypt News challenges its readers to ask their favorite info-warriors these questions and not settle for jargon-caked bull or vague policy statements in reply.

It is also of note that the authors of the DSB report are primarily drawn from aerospace, not computer security. John Pike of the Federation of American Scientists succinctly characterized them as "heavy metal" and, indeed, the names are: For example, in addition to Andrews -- author Edward Aldridge is a former director of the spy-satellite flying National Reconnaissance Office, Donald Latham is VP at LORAL, Bernard Randolph is NSA and TRW Space & Electronics Group.

Duane Andrews: Info-warrior. The IWAR-D report! Warning: Rather long. Back to Crypt Newsletter

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