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A new cyber arms race

Alexandra Goman

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Not long time ago cyber threats were not even on agenda in security, let along national security landscape. Now, the situation is different. Now, everyone recognizes the risks of hyper-connected world: from an individual in front of the computer to a high-level officer, operating a nuclear facility. As new tools are being developed, cyber-security occupies an important niche in decision-making and planning.   As more and more people are securing their laptops, tablets, phones; the military started doing that too.

Just six years ago the US Defence Secretary warned[1] about a possible Cyber Pearl Harbour. Cyber Pearl Harbour is a strategic surprise attack which could potentially incapacitate computational and communication capabilities, leading to a devastating impact on the country (Goldman and Arquilla, 2014, p. 13). This notion is usually fuelled by ongoing media reports that countries are in active pursuit of offensive cyber capabilities which could jeopardize any sector, penetrate any system and cause major disruptions. Regardless of the accuracy of these reports, every country understands that these cyber insecurities can be and, probably, will be exploited by an enemy. That is why many states are now allocating enormous amount of resources to develop defensive cyber means along with the offensive capabilities.

The number of cyberattacks is increasing. One can argue about its future potential targets, but it is clear that we should assume that cyberattacks will become only more sophisticated and, possibly, more deadly in the future. That is why vulnerabilities should be addressed, and the nations should be prepared to the cyber challenge.

Along the most well-known cyberattacks happened in Estonia (2007), Syria (impacted air defence systems 2007), Georgia (2008), Iran (Stuxnet 2009-10), The Saudi Arabia (Aramco 2012), Ukraine (2014), U.S. (electoral campaign 2016). Additionally, the world was quite agitated about WannaCry and Petya attacks in 2017. All in all, most of the recent attacks targeted commercial sectors, showing that there might be a constraining norm in regards to military sector and critical infrastructures.

 This consequently might indicate that states might be pursuing more sophisticated technologies in order to target more sophisticated systems. It might as well suggest a possibility of on-going cyber arms races between the countries. However, there are clear limitations of cyber warfare, as no physical damage occurred and no people were killed. Even the damage inflicted on critical infrastructures was limited and failed to cause major consequences. However, financial losses as a result of cyberattacks can be rather substantial and might have a great impact on economically weaker states.

Based on the scale of current attacks, we can only assume that the technology will spread and get more sophisticated with the time. As Mazanec has outlined, cyber warfare capabilities will play a role in future military conflicts, as they are being integrated into military and state doctrines (2015, pp. 80-83). However, despite cyber challenges to national security, it does not necessarily reflect that deterrence methods and tactics will be applicable to cyberspace.

This technology is quite cheap, requires less resources and personnel, and therefore allows less economically advanced countries developing cyber. As a result, there is a clear asymmetry with weaker states competing with the world powers. Consequently, the threat is multiplied internationally.   So the states are now in an unprecedented situation, because of the high level of uncertainty that cyberspace poses. This compels the states to adapt to the fast changing environment in international relations.

According to the report of McAfee[2], a global security technology company, 57% believe that cyber arms race is taking place now. The top officials in the West are convinced too.  For example, NATO secretary general Stoltenberg said[3] that cyber would become integral to any military conflict. Following this, NATO Defence Ministers have agreed[4] that cyber will be a part of military planning and operations. It is clear that the West is fully aware of cyber developments and eager to use it in its actions.

Similarly, the Chinese Military Strategy of 2015 has also admitted that cyberspace will take a place in strategic competition among all parties. The Indian Army is also not falling behind and strengthening its cyber arsenal. General Rawat has recently said[5] that India is now more concerned about developing these cyber capabilities than fighting on the border.  The chain-reaction follows as in the case of the Cold War in pursuing the technologies and keeping up-to-date with the others states.

In this situation a leader faces similar challenges as in proliferation of any other military technology. There are four possible scenarios that make it difficult to calculate probabilities (According to Goldman and Arquilla, 2014):

1)    We develop a cyber capability[6] – They develop a cyber capability;

This is a frequent scenario and occurs when both countries have technological capability to develop cyber means.

2)    We develop a cyber capability – They don’t develop a cyber capability;

There are certain problems in verifying if a country really lacks a capability to pursue cyber weapons. However, this case gives obvious advantage and leverage to a state that develops cyber capability.

3)    We don’t develop a cyber capability – They develop a cyber capability;

From a political and strategic point of view, it puts a state into a disadvantageous position, therefore, making it undesired.

4)    We don’t develop a cyber capability – They don’t develop a cyber capability;

It is more desirable; however, no direct experience exists. Usually if there is a possibility that a technology can be developed, it will be developed at least by some state.

Interestingly enough, there is not much concrete information available in regards to these developments, whether it is amount of arsenal, types of cyber capability, or just simple information on the notions. Information which is accessible is usually written by the Western authors (it is particularly covered by US officials/military and academia) or can be found in government’s documents. NATO common strategy, perhaps, contributes towards it. On a broader scale, cyber is treated as a state secret and specific information is classified. There is much information which is not available (for example, development of cyber weapons, its employment, reasons for its employment, legality of the use of cyber weapons etc.). In some countries, there is nothing to find at all.

The good example is cyber capabilities of Russia. There is no available information: no official statements, no official policy, no academic articles published, it goes to the extent that even media is not engaged in these issues. Alexei Arbatov (2018), an internationally recognized scholar on global security, has recently confirmed that even academic debate in Russia does not officially exist, only at the university level or informal. Notwithstanding, the Military Doctrine of the Russian Federation recognizes[7] the fact that military threats and dangers are now shifting towards cyberspace (“informatsionnoe prostranstvo”).

Similarly to Russia, China also maintains secrecy concerning its developments in the military. According to the report of the Institute for Security Technology Studies (2004), available sources insist that Beijing is pursuing cyber warfare programs, but classified nature of specifics aggravates assessments.

 This secrecy around cyber resembles the secrecy surrounding nuclear developments. All of this information was classified too, yet the principles of nuclear governance have managed to emerge even in the tight environment of the Cold War. Similar situation arose in regards to the use of drones. All the initial strikes of drones were classified, and only with time the debate started to evolve. At the moment it is quite vigorous.

As for cyber, it will certainly take time to talk freely about cyber capabilities and warfare. It will be different in different countries, but in the end the debate will open up as well as new technologies will come and cyber would have become a history.

References

Arbatov, A. (2018). Stability in a state of flux. Opinion presented at the 31st ISODARCO Winter Course – The Evolving Nuclear Order: New Technology and Nuclear Risk, 7-14 January 2018, Andalo.

Billo, Ch. and Chang, W. (2004). Cyber Warfare, an Analysis of the Means and Motivations of selected Nation States. Institute for Security Technology Studies, [online] Available at http://www.ists.dartmouth.edu/docs/cyberwarfare.pdf [Accessed on 27.12.2017].

Goldman, E. and Arquilla, J., ed. (2014). Cyber Analogies. Monterey: Progressive Management.

Mazanek, B. (2015). Why International Order is not Inevitable. Strategic Studies Quarterly, 9 (2), pp. 78-98. [online] Available at: http://www.airuniversity.af.mil/Portals/10/SSQ/documents/Volume-09_Issue-2/mazanec.pdf [Accessed on 28.01.2018].

[1] U.S. Department of Defense (2012). Remarks by Secretary Panetta on Cybersecurity to the Business Executives for National Security, New York City, [online] Available at: http://archive.defense.gov/transcripts/transcript.aspx?transcriptid=5136 [Accessed on 22.01.2018].

[2] McAfee (2012). Cyber Defense Report. [online] Available at: https://www.mcafee.com/uk/about/news/2012/q1/20120130-02.aspx [Accessed on 22.01.2018].

[3] Hawser, A. (2017). NATO to Use Cyber Effects in Defensive Operations. Defense Procurement International, [online] Available at: https://www.defenceprocurementinternational.com/features/air/nato-and-cyber-weapons [Accessed on 22.01.2018].

[4] NATO (2017). NATO Defense Ministers agree to adopt command structure, boost Afghanistan troops levels. [online] Available at: https://www.nato.int/cps/ic/natohq/news_148722.htm?selectedLocale=en [Accessed on 22.01.2018].

[5] Gurung, Sh. (2018). Army stepping up cyber security. The Economic Times, [online] Available at: https://economictimes.indiatimes.com/news/defence/army-stepping-up-cyber-security/articleshow/62482582.cms [Accessed on 23.01.2018].

[6] Here it means both offensive and defensive capabilities (Author’s note).

[7] The Military Doctrine of the Russian Federation (edited in 2014). Moscow: p. 4. [online] Available at: http://www.mid.ru/documents/10180/822714/41d527556bec8deb3530.pdf/d899528d-4f07-4145-b565-1f9ac290906c [Accessed on 23.01.2018].

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Specialist in global security and nuclear disarmament. Excited about international relations, curious about cognitive, psycho- & neuro-linguistics. A complete traveller.

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Concerns and Limitation of Cyber Warfare

Alexandra Goman

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cyberwarfare stuxnet

The discovery of Stuxnet, a malware that targeted a nuclear facility, was somewhat revolutionary and groundbreaking. It targeted ICS which monitor and run industrial facilities. Before that, most of malicious programs were developed to steal information or break-in into financial sector to extort money. Stuxnet went beyond went and targeted high-level facilities. It is not hard to imagine what damage it could have inflicted if the worm were not detected. What is more worrisome, the technology is out. It might not be perfect, but it is definitely a start. Regardless of the intentions behind Stuxnet, a cyber bomb has exploded and everyone knows that cyber capabilities indeed can be developed and mastered.

Therefore, if they can be developed, they will probably be. The final goal of Stuxnet was to affect the physical equipment which was run by specific ICS. It was done in order to manipulate computer programs and make it act as an attacker intended it to act. Such a cyberattack had a particular motivation; sabotage of industrial equipment and destruction could have been one of the goals. So, if they were indeed the goals, it might have been an offensive act, conducted by an interested party, presumably, a state for its political objective. Yet, there are certain limitations when it comes to so-called “cyber weapons” (malware that might be employed for military use or intelligence gathering). 

One of the main concerns of cyber offence is that code may spread uncontrollably to other systems. In terms of another physical weapon, it is like a ballistic missile that anytime can go off-course and inflict damage on unintended targets and/or kill civilians. Cyber offensive technology lacks precision, which is so valued in military. For example, in ICS and SCADA systems one may never know what can backfire because of the complexity of the system.  The lack of precision consequently affects military decisions. When launching a weapon, officers should know its precise capabilities; otherwise, it is too risky and is not worth it. 

In case of Stuxnet, the program started replicating itself and infected computers of many countries. For this moment we do not know if it were planned in that way.  However, provided that that target was Natanz facility, it is unlikely. Symantec Corporation started analyzing the case only with external help; it did not come from Natanz. This exacerbates the case if a country decides to launch an offensive cyberattack.

If the military planning cannot prevent cyber technology to go awry or to go out in the public, it brings more disadvantages than advantages.  Moreover, given a possibility of the code being discovered and broke down to pieces to understand what it does, it may potentially benefit an opposing party (and any other interested party along the way). This is unacceptable in military affairs.

Similarly, when the code is launched and it reaches the target, it can be discovered by an opponent. In comparison to nuclear, when a bomb explodes, it brings damage and destruction, but its technology remains in secret. In case of cyber, it may not be the case, as when a malware/virus is discovered, it can be reverse engineered to patch vulnerability. By studying the code, an enemy would find out the technology/tactics used that could be unfavourable in the long-run for the attacker.

Additionally, it should be said that not every malware is meant to spread by itself. In order to control the spread, vulnerability can be patched, meaning updating the software which had that vulnerability. An anti-malware can also be introduced; this will make the computer system immune to that particular vulnerability. Nonetheless, if the malware spreads uncontrollably, there is nothing much that an attacker can do. It is not possible to seize the attack. In this scenario, an attack may only release information about this certain vulnerability so that someone else can fix it. However, a state is highly unlikely to do so, especially if the damage is extensive. It would not only cost the state diplomatic consequences, but also it might severely impact its reputation.

An AI-enabled cyberattack could perhaps fulfill its potential. That means involvement of artificial intelligence. AI systems could make digital programs more precise, controlling the spread. In contrast, it could also lead to a greater collateral damage, if a system decides to target other facilities that may result in human death. Similar concerns are raised in the area of autonomous weapon systems in regard to the need of leaving decision-making to humans and not to technology. AI technology has a potential to make existing cyberattacks more effective and more efficient (Schaerf, 2018).

Aforementioned concern leads to another and affects the end result. When a certain weapon is employed, it is believed to achieve a certain goal, e.g. to destroy a building. With cyber capabilities, there is no such certainty. In the case of Stuxnet, the malware clearly failed to achieve its end goal, which is to disrupt the activities of the industrial facility.

Alternatively, the true costs of cyberattacks may be uncertain and hard to calculate. If that is so, an attacker faces high level of uncertainty, which may also prevent them from a malicious act (particularly, if nation states are involved). However, the costs and the benefits may always be miscalculated, and an attacker hoping for a better gain may lose much more in the end (e.g. consider Pearl Harbour).

Another concern refers to the code becoming available to the public. If it happens, it can be copied, re-used and/or improved. Similar concerns in regards to proliferation and further collateral damage emerged when Stuxnet code became available online.  An attacker may launch a cyberattack, and if it is discovered, another hacker can reverse engineer the code and use it against another object. Moreover, the code can be copied, improved and specialized to meet the needs of another party. Technology is becoming more complex, and by discovering a malware developed by others, it also takes less time to produce a similar program and/or develop something stronger. (For instance, after Stuxnet, more advanced malwares were discovered – Duqu and Flame).

Furthermore, there are other difficulties with the employment of cyber offensive technology. In order to maximize its result, it should be supported by intelligence. In case of Stuxnet, an offender needed to pinpoint the location of the facility and the potential equipment involved. It has to find zero-days vulnerabilities that are extremely rare and hard to find[1]. Cyber vulnerability is all about data integrity. It should be reliable and accurate. Its security is essential in order to run an industrial infrastructure.

After pinpointing vulnerability, security specialists need to write a specific code, which is capable of bridging through an air-gapped system. In case of Stuxnet, all of abovementioned operations required a certain level of intelligence support and financial capability. These complex tasks involved into development were exactly the reason why Stuxnet was thought to be sponsored and/or initiated by a nation state. If intelligence is lacking, it may not bring a desirable effect. Moreover, if cyber offense is thought to be used in retaliation, malicious programs should be ready to use (as on “high-alert”) in the event of necessity.

Regardless of some advantages of cyber offence (like low costs, anonymity etc), this technology appears to be unlikely for a separate use by military. There is a high level of uncertainty and this stops the army of using technology in offence. Truth is when you have other highly precise weapons, it does not make sense to settle for some unreliable technology that may or may not bring you a wanted result. Yet, other types of cyberattacks like DDoS attacks can give some clear advantages during military operations and give an attacker some good cards in case of a conflict. When such attacks used together with military ground operations, they are much more likely to bring a desired result.


[1] For better understanding, out of twelve million pieces of malware that computer security companies find each year, less than a dozen uses a zero-day exploit.

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Be carefull! It is possible to read someone else’s WhatsApp conversations without getting caught

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Social media came into our lives a few years ago and they are here to stay: Facebook, Instagram or WhatsApp are essential applications for many of us nowadays, and we don’t imagine our smartphones lacking any of them. They are useful to communicate in our daily life with our family or coworkers, and they help us to easily catch up on what is happening in our long-distance friends’ lives by simply scrolling down their timelines. And while it is true that social media can be very useful in many cases, it is also true that there are situations where we’d like we could go a little further and use them to investigate. Let’s be honest: at some point, we all have wished we could spy whatsapp to find out what a certain person does –in order to corroborate if what they are telling us is real, or to know what they say about us when they talk to their friends.

Since everyone uses Whatsapp, Instagram or Facebook to have private conversations, it is easy to imagine the different reasons that could lead a person to want to read someone else’s private conversations. In the case of couples, if you think that your partner may be cheating on you, it is probably not enough for you to ask them questions to find out what you want to know, which will make very important for you to figure out what they might be hiding in their phone. Another frequent case are parents who fear for the safety of their adolescent children and want to know who they relate to through social media and what type of content they send and receive to make sure they stay safe from drugs, sexual predators, or bullies .

But the recurring question asked by most of the crowd who are trying to spy on someone else’s social media is: Is it actually possible to hack an smartphone to be able to read their conversations and see their pictures without getting caught? Fortunately for the “spys” –and unfortunately for their target’s privacy, there’s no system that can not be hacked by an experienced hacker. And even if you are not one, hacking WhatsApp without getting caught is now easier than ever with this guide on how to spy on WhatsApp Android.

There some free ways that you can use to spy on someone else’s WhatsApp: from the oldest software capable of intercepting conversations through WiFi, to more rudimentary methods such as scanning the WhatsApp’s QR code from the person whom you want to spy on and opening their session on another device. But the problem with all these methods is that you run the chance of being caught because they always leave a trail. Therefore, it is more advisable to use untraceable methods such as SpySocial, which is 100% undetectable.

The success of their system is based on a lot of hard work, and a very simple concept: you can’t get caught if you are not directly connected to the target’s phone.  The “spionage” is done through their servers, so you don’t even need to be close to the phone you want to spy on. Thus, as the entire system works through third-parties, you can spy on their online activities without there ever being a link between you and their phone. Plus, the company doesn’t keep any access logs at all, so they can’t know who you are – meaning the person you are spying on can’t figure it out either. The only thing you need to know and provide is the target’s phone number. With just this, you’ll have access to their WhatsApp chat messages and images, and you’ll also be able to see their location and cameras in real time, and also have their future WhatsApp calls recorded for you.

Besides WhatsApp, with this tool you can also easily spy on Instagram accounts, Facebook. You’ll have access immediately to their messages, pictures and private stories in Instagram, or to all the information that a Facebook profile can provide: personal information, photos and videos, status updates, Friends list and even watch them use Facebook in real-time. If you are not interested that much on the profile but you’d like to see who they speak to most regularly on Facebook Messenger, you will be able to do so, as well as downloading the photos and videos sent via Facebook Messenger and spying on their Facebook Messenger chats as they happen.

Sounds cool, right? The process is easy: you enter the target’s WhatsApp phone number, Instagram username or their Facebook URL, wait for the Spysocial servers to connect to their device, and then they create a connection package for you. After that, just enter your details, download the associated file install the connection tool… And let the spying begin.

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Nanomaterials: the biotechnology of today and tomorrow

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Nano technology

There is a huge amount of interest in the development and use of nanomaterials, across a wide range of sectors. The properties of the micro-sized particles are perfect for application in everything from medical and pharmaceutical to clothing creation and the manufacture of filters, produced using the method of electrospinning.

Electrospinning, sometimes known as EHDP is method for the production of nano and micro-structures, and has huge benefits in industry. It can also be used for a range of materials to suit the intended purpose.

What are the benefits of using nano materials?

There are many benefits to electrospinning processes to produce nanomaterials. For example the surface area to volume ratio of nanofiber, due to the nanodimension of the fibers, is very high. Different materials, such as polymers, metals and ceramics can be spun together to give excellent results.

There is also a huge cost saving benefit. Although at the forefront of modern technology, setting up a lab or a clean room to carry out electrospinning is very cheap when compared with the set up of other industrial processes. Several companies have even scaled up the production of the nanofibrous membrane, to enable mass production at low cost. And setting up an electrospinning company is surprisingly simple, as staff can be upskilled quickly and efficiently to manage the process. Especially as there are machines now with incredibly easy user controls.

How does it work in practice?

If those who are are unfamiliar with the method behind electrospinning of nanomaterials can understand the process relatively simply. It involves using an electrical force to pull charged threads of polymer melts or solutions.

The solution of polymers, solvents and the other components is prepared. At this stage molecular chair entanglement takes place. Next is the electrospinning itself. The solution is fed through the capillaries and a high voltage is applied which creates a jet. The jet is then whipped and stretched into fibers. It is at this point the solvent is evaporated.

Finally the dry fiber is formed into a membrane or material, depending on the intended use. This can be quite wide ranging, and so although the science behind it all remains exactly the same, the electrospinning machines must be correct for the type of usage as defined by the manufacturer.

What are nanomaterials actually used for?

The materials are huge versatile. The limit for future innovations is only as small as the next person’s imagination.  It is currently used across medicine, for example growing artificial tissues that can mold with living tissue for example in place of a skin graft, or to create a barrier around an organ. It is also used in biomedical implants that sit under the skin and release a slow stream of drugs into the body.

They are of course also used in the production of fabric, particularly whether that fabric needs to be lightweight and breathable. In fact the initial development of electrospinning and micro or nano materials was initially developed by the textile industry. Especially where the wearer needs to be protected by toxic substances. It is the perfect way to make seamless non-woven garments.

It is also often used as coatings for other items, for example furniture, or pharmaceutical drugs. The process helps give products protection from the environment around it but also maintain the quality of the interior product within.

This is because of the properties of nanofiber. The previously mentioned high surface to volume ratio, and the fact that due to the electrospinning process at a molecular level the material is virtually defect free.

It is vital that, in order to achieve outstanding results, the chosen manufacturer of machinery is of the highest quality. It is very important. Particularly when trusting the machinery to produce highly technical fibers, with the right polymers, but the right equipment.

Nano materials bring to humanity technological advances that revolutionize industries, such as medicine, that greatly benefit the health of human beings. At the forefront of modern technology and its development and production, the potential for vastly improving human quality of life is huge. Even the current uses are just the tip of the iceberg as to what could be achieved in the future.

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