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abuayisha
 
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Quote abuayisha Replybullet Topic: Obama's virus wars
    Posted: 09 June 2012 at 7:03am

Obama's virus wars: mutually assured cyber-destruction

By officially sanctioned leaks, the US brags of its cyber warfare alliance with Israel against Iran. Is this wise or safe policy?

 

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Recent revelations about Flame, the most sophisticated cyber-worm ever created, and David Sanger's White House-authorized leak of classified information confirming US-Israeli collaboration in creating the Stuxnet and Duqu viruses, raise the question of how committed the US is to a negotiated resolution of the nuclear impasse with Iran.

A former senior Israeli government minister has told us that, just as Sanger confirmed Stuxnet was created in partnership with the IDF's Unit 8200 cyber warfare unit, Flame was created by similar figures in Israel. Stuxnet's main purpose was to sabotage Iran's uranium enrichment program. A Flame variant appears to have wiped out the hard drives of specific Iranian officials and damaged the National Iranian Oil Company's computer network last month, forcing some oil terminals to go offline.

Flame has even broader goals and capabilities. It targets specific computers and surveils the entire system, takes screenshots of instant messaging (IM) activity, and can turn on a microphone to monitor audio activity as well. Computers in a number of Arab countries deemed hostile to Israel (mostly Iran, but also Egypt, Jordan, Palestine and Russia) have been infected.

Our source also confirms that Flame is the first cyber weapon used by Israeli intelligence to target its own citizens also. For example, Haaretz reports (Hebrew) on the gargantuan power struggle between the former IDF chief of staff Gaby Ashkenazi and Defense Minister Ehud Barak, which involved charges of spying, counter-spying and forged memos investigated by the security services. Our Israeli source tells us that the Shin Bet installed Flame on the computer of Barak's chief of staff after Ashkenazi complained the former was spying on him.

Sanger, meanwhile, writes that the Obama administration saw cyber warfare as an inexpensive, non-lethal method of covert war against Iran that would keep Israel on a leash, preventing it from attacking Iran militarily. The US president judged a military strike as being a worse evil than computer sabotage.

But there are major problems with cyber warfare as a tool of national policy. First, if the US really does want to reduce Iran's perceived nuclear threat through negotiations, covert acts of sabotage only hinder such diplomatic efforts. The fiercely nationalist Iranians will not take kindly to such acts, particularly in light of cyber warfare being part of a broader and sometimes lethal campaign widely attributed to the Mossad of Israel and Iranian dissident forces, which has also included the assassination of key Iranian nuclear scientists. Given that oil is vital to Iran's economy, might not that nation consider the type of strategic sabotage described above as an act of war?

Can we imagine how the US would react if a competing power engaged in such acts of terror against us? In fact, we don't need to: the Wall Street Journal reported a year ago that the Pentagon determined that computer sabotage may constitute an "act of war" against the United States, to which we might respond militarily. So, in effect, we are doing to Iran precisely what we've said we might attack another country for doing to us.

Second, if negotiations fail, as they had until their recent revival, then the US would be left with a bunch of sanctions and computer worms as a substitute for an articulate strategy toward Iran. If war is to be avoided, how do sanctions and cyber-attacks represent a substantive policy? As the Iraq experience taught us, failed sanctions may be merely a prelude to military operations.

There is a great danger of counterterror tactics and strategy, which includes cyber warfare, becoming a policy in and of itself. We've seen the use of drones to attack Islamist militants in Pakistan, Yemen and elsewhere become so common that there appears to be no other current strategy to engage these countries. Our relations with them are becoming embroiled in the controversy over drone attacks and their invasion of territorial sovereignty, crowding out any other, more constructive form of engagement.

Obama faces the same problem regarding his counterterror strategy and relations with the Arab world as outlined in Scott Shane's New York Times investigative piece, which exposed the terror kill list personally vetted and approved by the president. Instead of having a genuine policy toward the Arab world, Obama seems to have an effective drone counterterror tactic that efficiently kills reputed Islamist terrorists in numerous Arab countries (along with several hundred innocent bystanders).

There's yet another troubling element of the Stuxnet story reported by Sanger. As Gawker pointed out, the White House has not denied that it authorized the leak of classified materials that the New York Times reporter used for his story. This means the Obama administration wants Americans and Israelis to hear about its cyber warfare successes. Barack Obama clearly wants to burnish his national security credentials and Stuxnet allows him to do that.

The most critical long-term danger posed by cyber warfare, however, is "as ye sow so shall ye reap". In other words, now we've done it to the Iranians. But they are quick learners and shrewd. After containing the sophisticated computer worms, they will modify them for use in their own cyber warfare. What will stop Iran from doing it to us? Our cyber security experts have told us that no matter how "hard" a target we are, this country is so dependent on computer technology that there will be millions of weaknesses to exploit. A determined enemy will find a way to exploit them. If the enemy is skilled enough, the damage could be catastrophic.

What defense can we then mount as we face such a tragedy, when it is we who, in effect, have unleashed this weapon upon the world? If a building, bridge, power plant or airliner fails through such sabotage, can we truly say we are innocent victims?

Sanger's Mutually Assured Cyberdestruction makes it quite clear that the Obama administration has not plumbed the profound moral and strategic implications of the US embrace of cyber warfare against Iran and other enemies:

"'They approached the Iran issue very, very pragmatically,' one official involved in the discussions over Olympic Games [US cyber warfare program] told me. No one, he said, 'wanted to engage, at least not yet, in the much deeper, broader debate about the criteria for when we use these kinds of weapons and what message it sends to the rest of the world'."

When will we be ready to pursue this debate? After hundreds have been killed by a US nuclear plant explosion, or after one of our viruses runs rampant and poisons the water supply of a major Iranian city (to use but two of many possible examples)?

Again, once we've used this weapon on our enemies, we've opened a Pandora's Box which others will seek to exploit also. Are we so certain that our use of the cyber weapons has been and will continue to be just, pure and morally defensible, compared to those who follow us who may or may not have our compunctions?

We should ask another question: how much benefit has the use of cyber sabotage brought us? A thousand centrifuges in Natanz (20% of Iran's inventory) destroyed. A nuclear program delayed by a few months, possibly a year. Is the potential short and long-term impact on the world worth such limited gains? Personally, we believe the national security considerations that approved the use of these cyber weapons were exceedingly short-term. We planted seeds and could reap the whirlwind.

 



Edited by abuayisha - 09 June 2012 at 7:03am
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Caringheart
 
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Quote Caringheart Replybullet Posted: 30 July 2012 at 4:48pm
Citation?  Where was this report derived from?
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abuayisha
 
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Quote abuayisha Replybullet Posted: 30 July 2012 at 5:37pm
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abuayisha
 
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Quote abuayisha Replybullet Posted: 30 July 2012 at 8:35pm
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Matt Browne
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Quote Matt Browne Replybullet Posted: 31 July 2012 at 10:12am
It's true. I've read numerous reports about cyberattacks against Iran. The world will be a safer place without Iran having nuclear bombs. It's not only a threat against the West but also a threat against Sunni Islam. The mullahs are a bunch of crazy folks, no doubt.
A religion that's intolerant of other religions can't be the world's best religion --Abdel Samad
Great minds discuss ideas. Average minds discuss events. Small minds discuss people--Eleanor Roosevelt
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