Information Warfare: June 10, 2004

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China is developing a formidable capability to attack American military communications systems. Chinas satellite launching industry has the ability to launch satellite killer payloads that could destroy American military satellites. Although most of the American military satellite communications goes via commercial satellites, there are dozens of American military satellites that, if destroyed or disabled, would eliminate early warning (of missile launch) capabilities, satellite photography, ocean radar coverage and electronic eavesdropping. 

To protect itself from the same kind of damage, China is developing military communications and control systems, using existing technologies (like cell phones) that can survive American attacks on Chinese satellites. China also has (not so) secret military research and development operations that are creating military equipment that can use the civilian communications technologies without interruption by American attack. Theres no guarantee that these innovative Chinese developments will actually work in practice. Weapons, and defenses, in this sort of information war, are made stronger by making public as few details as possible. But the Chinese effort is likely to produce some items that will work, and that will provide some nasty surprises.

The most ominous development, however, is Chinas eagerness to develop weapons that could temporarily wreck the Internet, or portions of it. The viruses and worms that cause millions of PC users grief each year can be a lost more damaging if someone puts a major effort behind it. The Chinese appear to be doing that, and have been for several years. This is a real threat, because it is known that, as the Internet hardware and software becomes more extensive and complex, more flaws develop. Those who wish to harm, or protect, the Internet, call these flaws vulnerabilities. When they are found, they are fixed, especially if they provide a malicious or criminal programmer with a way to do a lot of damage. But if a large government cyberwar operation, like China apparently has, constantly looks for such vulnerabilities, they will find some of them before anyone else does. For a period of time (weeks or months, usually), the Chinese will be the only one to know about a vulnerability, and can quickly write a computer virus that exploits the vulnerability. But you have to have a lot of people constantly looking for vulnerabilities, for as the vulnerabilities become widely known, they become useless as weapons.

Although most of Chinas military technology is a decade or more behind that of the United States, the Chinese are making deliberate efforts to develop a first rate cyberwar capability, thus providing them with a weapon that can strike at Americas greatest strength (computer networks), which is also the greatest vulnerability, if someone can attack it. 

 


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