Information Warfare: The Secret Internet Simulator

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May 7,2008: DARPA, the U.S. Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, has been ordered (by the president and Congress) to develop world-class offensive and defensive Cyber War capabilities. Initial emphasis will be on defensive measures. This is a big deal. DARPA hasn't been given this large a project since Russia launched the first space satellite in 1957. This alarmed the U.S. government more than it should have, and DARPA was ordered to catch up with the Soviet Union as quickly as possible. Money was no object. Time was of the essence.

Unlike the space program boost of half a century ago, the current DARPA rush program will be highly secret. Cyber War is all about secrets. Who has what and what can they do with it. But a major problem with Cyber War is that it rarely makes the news, or at least in any really coherent way. It's not that Cyber War isn't important, it's just that all this geek stuff is hard to explain and just does not sound all that scary. In the competitive news business, Cyber War is not good news. But to the intel and security people, the U.S. has been under heavy assault for several years now. The losses of information have been huge, and it's not certain just how much, and what, has been stolen. All this will be big news in a decade or so when more details emerge about the extent of the losses. But for now, it's just one of those stories no one could wrap their heads around. Senior members of the U.S. government have become alarmed, though, which is why this new, top secret, "Manhattan Project" (as in the one that built the atomic bomb during World War II) for Cyber War underway.

Cyber War is all about finding flaws in Internet software and using those flaws to infiltrate or take over other peoples computers. In addition to the usual software flaws (that serve as exploits), there is also a growing number "malware" type software. This stuff is best known as "adware" programs that users, often unknowingly, download onto their PCs. That results in more ads, or ads based on a careful examination of what the user does, say, when using their browser. There are hundreds of thousands of these little nasties out there, and Cyber War operators have found this stuff to have military and espionage use.

In the middle of all this you have military users of exploits. These are the shadowy organizations, particularly in China and the United States, where exploits are stockpiled (and soon replaced as the exploit is rendered ineffective via a software patch) for use in wartime. China, and probably the United States, are already using their exploits arsenals for espionage, and counter-espionage. Many criminal gangs also do contract work, usually for espionage operations. Some corporations have been caught doing this as well. Only small players have been caught so far, with the possible exception of News Corp. Any large corporation going this way would put a premium on not getting caught. Chinese firms are particularly energetic in stealing technology, and producing their own versions. They are often quite blatant about it, especially if it's military technology (which means government protection from retribution.) The Russians are trying to force the Chinese government to crack down on this, without much success so far. The United States, and many other Western nations, are also going after China for the use of Internet based espionage. Again, so far, the Chinese are refusing to admit to it, much less slack off. Western Cyber War experts are urging some retaliation in kind. That could get interesting.

The first goal of the DARPA project is to try and determine just how bad off we (as in the United States) are, and then what can be done to prevent future damage. This involves building an Internet simulator. Details on this are being kept secret, but it will apparently consist of lots of hardware, and special software to simulate huge numbers of users connected to this "virtual Internet" and able to respond realistically to offensive, and defensive Cyber War operations. After that comes more money for Cyber War weapons.

 


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