America's Cyber War Against Pakistan?
The New York Times quotes unnamed US officials as acknowledging that the US "military planners suggested a far narrower computer-network attack to prevent Pakistani radars from spotting helicopters carrying Navy Seal commandos on the raid that killed Osama bin Laden on May 2." It says the idea of cyber attack on Pakistani air defense system was dropped, and radar-evading Black Hawk helicopters and stealthy RQ-170 Sentinel surveillance drone were instead used to for the raid in the Pakistani town of Abbottabad. The CIA spied on Osama bin Laden’s compound in Pakistan by video transmitted from a new bat-winged stealth drone, the RQ-170 Sentinel, which hovered high above Abbottabad for weeks before the raid. There are speculations that the US might be doing such aerial surveillance in other parts of Pakistan, particularly on Pakistan's nuclear installations.
Recently, officials at Creech Air Force Base in Nevada acknowledged a virus infecting the drone “cockpits” there, according to Wired magazine. The source of the virus has not been identified. Back in 2009, the Wall Street Journal reported that militants in Iraq used $26 off-the-shelf software to intercept live video feeds from U.S. Predator drones, potentially providing them with information they needed to evade or monitor U.S. military operations.
At the 2009 World Economic Forum, the U.S.-based security software firm McAfee's CEO Dave Walt reportedly told some attendees that China, the United States, Russia, Israel and France are among 20 countries locked in a cyberspace arms race and gearing up for possible Internet hostilities. He further said that the traditional defensive stance of government computer infrastructures has shifted in recent years to a more offensive posture aimed at espionage, and deliberate disruption of critical networks in both government and private sectors. Such attacks could disrupt not only command and control for modern weapon systems such as ballistic missiles, but also critical civilian systems including banking, electrical grid, telecommunications, transportation, etc, and bring life to a screeching halt.
In a Sept 2010 report, the Wall Street Journal quoted cyber security specialists saying that "many countries including the U.S., Russia, China, Israel, the U.K., Pakistan, India and North and South Korea have developed sophisticated cyber weapons that can repeatedly penetrate and have the ability to destroy computer networks".
Last year, Chinese hackers apparently succeeded in downloading source code and bugs databases from Google, Adobe and dozens of other high-profile companies using unprecedented tactics that combined encryption, stealth programming and an unknown hole in Internet Explorer, according to new details released by the anti-virus firm McAfee and reported by Wired magazine. These hack attacks were disguised by the use of sophisticated encryption, and targeted at least 34 companies in the technology, financial and defense sectors, exploiting a vulnerability in Adobe’s Reader and Acrobat applications.
While the Chinese cyber attacks on US and India often get wide and deep coverage in the western media, a lower profile, small-scale cyber warfare is also raging in the shadows between India and Pakistan, according to some reports. These reports indicate that around 40-50 Indian sites are being attacked by Pakistani hackers on a daily basis whereas around 10 Pakistani sites are being hit by their Indian counterparts.
Here is how Robert X. Cringeley described the potential effects of full-scale India-Pakistan cyber war in a June 2009 blog post captioned "Collateral Damage":
"Forget for the moment about data incursions within the DC beltway, what happens when Pakistan takes down the Internet in India? Here we have technologically sophisticated regional rivals who have gone to war periodically for six decades. There will be more wars between these two. And to think that Pakistan or India are incapable or unlikely to take such action against the Internet is simply naive. The next time these two nations fight YOU KNOW there will be a cyber component to that war.
And with what effect on the U.S.? It will go far beyond nuking customer support for nearly every bank and PC company, though that’s sure to happen. A strategic component of any such attack would be to hobble tech services in both economies by destroying source code repositories. And an interesting aspect of destroying such repositories — in Third World countries OR in the U.S. — is that the logical bet is to destroy them all without regard to what they contain, which for the most part negates any effort to obscure those contents."
Coming back to the US, it is no secret that the Pentagon and the CIA have increasingly been using America's significant technology edge for war fighting in many parts of the world in recent years. One example is the growing fleet of the remotely controlled stealthy drones being deployed in Afghanistan, Pakistan, Iraq, Yemen and elsewhere for espionage and attacks. Among other new developments, the modern drone is just one of the ways to fight wars covertly in remote places at low cost to America in terms of dollars and casualties, often without so munch as declaring such wars.
The Pentagon now has some 7,000 UAVs, compared with fewer 50 just 10 years ago. The US Air Force is now anticipating a decrease in manned aircraft but expects its number of “multirole” aerial drones like the Reaper — the ones that spy as well as strike — to nearly quadruple, to 536, according to NY Times. Already the Air Force is training more remote pilots, 350 this year alone, than all of the fighter and bomber pilots combined.
The covert nature of drone warfare is particularly true outside Afghanistan and Iraq which are declared wars. In Pakistan, for instance, the secret war is being fought by the CIA, an intelligence agency, not the American military. This war is not even publicly acknowledged by the US administration, and it's a clear violation of international laws and all conventions of war.
The US politicians, spies and generals seem to be calculating that the American people would be more willing to support such wars if they don't bust the US budget and result in as few American body bags as possible. However, this calculation ignores the basic fact that most international conflicts, including terrorism, are essentially political in nature, and must be solved by political rather than the military means.
Cyber Attacks in India, Pakistan and China
Nature of Future India-Pakistan Warfare
ITU Internet Access Data by Countries
Foreign Origin of India's Agni Missiles
Pakistan's Space Capabilities
Seeing Bin Laden's Death in Wider Perspective
Pakistan's Multi-Billion Dollar IT Industry
John Arquilla: Go on the Cyberoffensive
Pakistan Defense Industry Going High Tech
India-Pakistan Military Balance
21st Century High Tech Warfare