Cyberwar. Or Not.

by wjw on August 15, 2008

Russia’s ground invasion of Georgia shows a ponderous but effective use of Soviet-era military planning— the whole move had been planned weeks if not months ahead of time, was executed with a vastly superior force, and resulted in the Georgian army being swiftly destroyed and its navy sunk at its moorings.

What the media seems not to have noticed was that the invasion was preceded by a state-of-the-art cyber attack on Georgian information systems, intended to paralyze any possible reaction. The Georgian defense net was thoroughly penetrated and rendered ineffective. There was also a huge cybernetic disinformation campaign in which prepackaged, pre-invented Georgian “atrocities” were detailed, along with Russia’s justification for invasion.

(Over on the Global Guerillas blog, John Robb makes the claim that Russia and its foreign policy has been captured by its energy industry. While I’m more inclined to think the reverse is true, it’s interesting that all Russia’s recent thuggish actions were in reaction to a perceived threat to their energy monopoly.)

In the meantime, the Air Force’s effort at establishing a cyberwar net, poor old Cyber Command, has been ordered to stand down— yet another body-blow to a service reeling from the fallout over bungled contracts, missing thermonuclear weapons, the sacking of generals and of the Secretary of the Air Force, fights over UAVs and the F-22.

Cyber Command was a hard sell to begin with. No one could quite define its mission, there were questions as to whether their efforts were duplicated elsewhere, and the effectiveness of top-down military command structures in fighting flexible Russian and Chinese cyber mafias and their botnets was certainly in question.

This action doesn’t mean that Cyber Command is dead, just that its mission and existence is being re-evaluated. This clearly needed doing, but in the meantime we’d better hope that Western information systems can be protected by existing systems— or, better yet, by brilliant patriotic American hackers and cybercriminals.

[Meanwhile, over on Slate, Evgeny Morozov tells us how he became a volunteer in the Russian cyber army.]

halojones-fan August 17, 2008 at 3:29 am

Part of the reason that we don’t necessarily need a USAF Systems Cyber Operational Command Force Unit Battalion Cyber Info Tactics Inter Network Battalion Tactics Unit is that any attack is going to come in over public lines–which makes every sysop a militiaman. They’ll see a big DOS come through, and they’ll just turn the filters up to “high” and go back to burying things on Digg.

dubjay August 18, 2008 at 4:45 am

HJF, why couldn’t the Georgian sysops do that?

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