View from the fray

Waging war with a click of the mouse

“The U.S. Department of Defense says it will take a new approach to preparing for war in cyberspace by dividing oversight of computer network defense and cyber attacks, a move some see as a sign the U.S. is preparing a cyber attack of its own.”

—News item in the European press

Batten down the hard drives, geeks, and prepare to duct-tape your monitors.

Uncle Hacker Sam’s working on a new kind of war. The feds are ’fessing up to creating plans for cyber attacks.

And why the heck not? Why shouldn’t the government leave the power to rape, pillage and plunder someone’s computer network to savage hackers alone? Power is power, after all, even if it is digitally dispersed.

The concept is one facet in a mission “to transform our nation’s military to face the dangers of the 21st century,” Gen. Richard Myers, USAF chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, told the House Armed Services Committee on Feb. 3. Myers was low-key about the network wars. But he didn’t miss a chance to brag about United States Strategic Command (STRATCOM).

“With its global strike responsibilities, the command will provide a core cadre to plan and execute nuclear, conventional and information operations anywhere in the world,” Myers said.

Information operations sounds so 21st century. It’s kind of fun to think of the feds wheedling their way into al Qaida’s computer network and zapping them with a heinous virus. Send Osama a fresh digital demon like W32/Bugbear-A, a network-aware worm. Bugbear-A, like others of its ilk, spreads by e-mails with attached files. It locates shared network resources to which it copies itself. Bugbear-A also spreads to network printers—and, though a printer can’t be “infected,” Bugbear enjoys printing out the raw binary data of its executable code. “This usually results in many wasted pages,” warns a Sophos anti-virus Web site.

Heh, heh, heh. Wasted pages. That’ll fix ’em.

Some experts fear the government’s, well, ineptitude when it comes to cyber issues on the whole. John Pescatore, an information technology consulting firm vice president, told European reporters that cyber attacks seem odd given that the United States hasn’t fixed longstanding network security issues at several federal agencies.

And these agencies now want the power “to coordinate and, when directed, conduct computer network attack in support of combatant commanders and national objectives”?

That last quote is from the Joint Task Force-Computer Network Operations (JTF-CNO). It describes the mission of the Computer Network Operations (CNO), which supports the STRATCOM Commander in the integration of Computer Network Defense (CND) and Computer Network Attack (CNA) capabilities into the operations of U.S. military forces (USMF).

If you throw a BUG into the JTF-CNO, the USMF’s CNA, not to mention the DoD itself, might leave our networked PCs DOA.

Bzzt. A blue screen of death signifying that something has gone terribly wrong. Then failure to boot. Forever. The terrorists win—by default.