Wednesday, 9 November 2011

USA Looking For Potent Weapons To Wage Cyber War On China

Pentagon plans to increase its research into offensive cyber warfare to counter the growing threat of Chinese in the cyber battle field. It is a perception growing in some quarters of the US Government that the Chinese have stolen the march over the Americans in the Cyber land and the frequency with which they have hacked into sensitive areas of the defense industry goes on to prove that theory.

The U.S. government needed "more and better options" to safeguard the country from assaults on sensitive computer networks and had to invest in both offensive and defensive tools, said Regina Dugan, director of the Pentagon's research arm, the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA).

"Malicious cyberattacks are not merely an existential threat to our bits and bytes. They are a real threat to our physical systems, including our military systems," Dugan told a conference.

"To this end, in the coming years we will focus an increasing portion of our cyber research on the investigation of offensive capabilities to address military-specific needs," she said.

DARPA has proposed boosting funding in cyber research in the proposed 2012 budget from $120 million to $208 million and the Defense Department leadership has called for $500 million in funding for cybersecurity over the next five years, she said.

With other countries pursuing cyberwarfare capabilities and the danger from digital attacks growing by the day, the United States had to look at developing "offensive" arms to protect national security, said Dugan, without specifying what weapons could be employed.

"Our first goal must be to prevent war. We do so in part by being prepared for it. Failing prevention, however, we must accept our responsibility to be prepared to respond," she said.

To this end the first test of trans-Atlantic responses to cyber incidents, including cyber-attacks, took place in Brussels on the 8th of this month. Experts from the US Government joined counterparts from EU Member States to simulate how cyber security authorities on both sides of the Atlantic would cooperate in response to attacks.

Two hypothetical scenarios were tested: a cyber-attack which attempts to extract and publish online sensitive information from the EU's national cyber security agencies, and an attack on supervisory control and data acquisition (SCADA) systems in EU power generation equipment.

Neelie Kroes, European Commission Vice-President for the Digital Agenda said: "Recent high profile cyber-attacks show that global threats need global action. Today's exercise provides valuable lessons for specialists on both sides of the Atlantic."

Sony Playstation, the EU Emissions Trading Scheme, European Commission and European External Action Service have all been subject to cyber-attacks in recent months.

In practical terms, the EU contribution to Cyber Atlantic 2011 has been enabled by the European Commission, with key support from ENISA, the European Network and Information Security Agency, which has facilitated the exercise with the vital technical contributions provided by EU member states. The Department of Homeland Security has been in the lead for the US. The EU CERT (IP/11/694) also participated as an observer.

The Cyber Atlantic 2011 exercise was based on two hypothetical scenarios.

In the first scenario, various EU National Cyber Security Agencies (NCSAs) were confronted with what is known as an Advanced Persistence Threat (APT). Under this scenario, a hacker group, active for several years, launched a sophisticated and targeted cyber-attack to extract sensitive information from the victims, and publish this data online. Several cyber security agencies had been monitoring the group closely for more than a year. This surveillance led to cooperation between some European countries which succeeded in fighting off the attack. The US followed this incident and cooperated with the affected countries fearing that it may also be targeted.

The second scenario was based on (SCADA) system failure in an EU wind turbine. SCADA systems monitor and control processes in essential systems like water treatment and distribution, oil and gas pipelines, electrical power transmission and distribution, wind farms, civil defence siren systems, and large communications systems. This infrastructure failure, and the fact that US companies provide a significant percentage of SCADA equipment and software to Europe, led the EU to request coordination with American partners.

A recent DARPA analysis of cybersecurity over several months concluded that the U.S. government had to rethink how it defends cyberspace to keep up with a threat evolving at lightning speed.

"Why is it that despite billions of dollars in investment and the concerted efforts of many dedicated individuals, it feels like we are losing ground?" she asked.

The DARPA study found that security software had grown more and more complex over the past two decades - involving up to 10 million lines of code- while various viruses and other digital assaults required an average of 125 lines of code for malware, according to Dugan.

DARPA organized the "cyber colloquium" in the Washington suburb of Arlington to help find better ways to address the digital threat, inviting members of industry, government and academia - including "white hat" hackers, she said.

At the same event, the head of the National Security Agency, the secretive intelligence agency that carries out eavesdropping on foreign communications, and the U.S. military's newly created cyber command, Gen. Keith Alexander, proposed one way to improve the country's cyber defenses - cloud computing.

By shifting to a "cloud architecture," the United States would save money and be better placed to protect vital computer networks, Alexander said.

The current complex web of government and military networks is unwieldy and intelligence agencies cannot easily monitor for intrusions or attacks, he said.