| A/O Global Intelligence Weekly: Cyber Warfare Remains An Existential Threat To The West
| by Charles Wagner
To many Americans, the threat of cyber-attacks and discussions of cyber security is limited to concerns of identity theft, Wikileaks intelligence releases, compromised credit card information, and the kind of stuff that only large corporations need to worry about to protect their intellectual property.
The reality of the potential damage represented by cyber malfeasance is orders of magnitude more severe and if wielded as a weapon, represents an existential threat to the functioning of modern civilization.
Cyber warfare could reasonably be classified as the penultimate weapon of mass destruction, but it is not a new threat. The threat of cyber vulnerability was born with the first digital recording device – arguably, the Atlas magnetic drum built for the US Navy in 1950, Univac’s UNISERVO tape drive memory introduced in 1951, and MIT’s Whirlwind magnetic core memory of 1953.
As modern life became increasingly digital, so did our digital vulnerability. Today, the scope of the cyber threat extends to all aspects of modern life:
Sun Tzu stated in the Art of War:
- Communications: loss of interconnectivity, loss of communication security;
- Loss of data from corrupted, pilfered, modified, and destroyed records;
- Fraud: identity theft, bank fraud, dark web trafficking, ransomware, extortion, and character assassination.
- Critical infrastructure: Loss of power, transportation, food and water, and communications.
- Defense systems: Loss of ships, planes, weapons, sensors, and command and control systems.
Applying this to modern warfare, cyber warfare is probably the most effective technology ever devised for employment against an enemy’s defenses. Cyber warfare’s intrinsic advantages are that it is inexpensive to develop and to deploy; it can effectively deny the enemy the use of his forces; it is highly conducive to pre-positioning; it does not suffer from battle fatigue, endurance, or conscience; and it minimizes collateral damage and maximizes benefit to the victor.
“Every battle is won before it is ever fought.”
This is a battle the civilized world cannot afford to lose.
Exacerbating the cyber threat today is the emergence of quantum processors. Unlike classical computers that solve problems by combining one bit with another, quantum computers employ polynomial computations, exponential equations, superposition, and quantum entanglement using a basic unit called a Qubit which can be both a 1 and a 0 at the same time.
Sidestepping a long treatise on quantum computing, suffice it to say that quantum technology's relative speed vs. classical computing that directly threatens to render obsolete all current asymmetric and symmetric cryptology (Enveloped Public Key Encryption/PGP/SSL/TLS/PKI/SPKI/RSA) which rely on integer factorization or discrete logarithm computations.
Quantum computing threatens to break these encryptions in seconds in what is now theoretically impossible for a classic computer to achieve. The interested reader is referred to Shor’s algorithm, a quantum algorithm for integer factorization, or adiabatic quantum computation, another methodology for integer factorization.
The response required for success in the cyber theater of conflict will need to address all aspects of the cyber threat in a unified, integrated endeavor if it is to achieve any measure of success. A quick review of the threats indicates that a vulnerability in any area will have significant impacts to the security of all systems. Any competent cyber response must address and provide the following:
The significant difficulty in protecting a defense or critical infrastructure system is the requirement to perform the identification and response in real time. The real time criteria is an absolute hard requirement, because interrupting system operation may be all that is necessary to achieve the desired intent of the attack. Such a real time response must include:
- Un-breakable Encryption: Development of post quantum cryptology, secure from the threat posed by quantum computers.
- High Confidence, Fast Real-time Threat Identification Engines. Threats must be identified early, in real time, and with high confidence to be effectively combated. This is particularly true in Industrial Control Systems (ICS) as used in defense and critical infrastructure.
- Uncompromising Barriers to System Penetration. If the cyber threat cannot gain access, it is defeated. This is a multi-level effort employing physical, computational, and analytical barriers.
- Unassailable Back-up Systems. The ability to shift to back-up emergency controls that maintain an adequate level of critical performance is a necessity.
It is critical the approach proposed for addressing the cyber threat to critical systems addresses all aspects of the control system, and the approach is not limited to simply a software task.
- Identification that a cyber-attack is underway;
- Isolating the mode and/or area of attack;
- Retaining critical functionality;
- Restoring full operability as soon as possible.
The definition of a Cyber Citadel Architecture is postulated to define a system designed from the ground up to be cyber immune. The following rules of thumb are postulated as guiding principles (better ones can probably be defined by better minds)
Cyber Rule #1: Software is the Achilles Heel of A Critical Control System: Software only solutions to cyber threats, and by definition, cannot eliminate the cyber threat.
Corollary #1: A Cyber Citadel Architecture Must Include Three or More Non-Software Elements To Its Architecture To Achieve Any Measure Of Operational Success. Citadel architecture must include physical security, proprietary hardware, and off-plane* back-up systems.
Corollary #2: A Cyber Citadel Architecture Must Include Non-Disclosed, Un-Used Operational Modes (Conflict Reserve Modes (CRM)). In the event of cyber-attack, the system must be capable of shifting to a secure hardware and software operating system with a low probability of previous exposure to minimize the potential for prior characterization.
This article is presented as an opening discussion of the threat posed by cyber malfeasance today. Follow on articles will discuss threats to specific areas in today’s society, discussing an overview of the threat that will explore potential methods by which to meet the threat and achieve some level of security.
Charles Wagner is the CEO of C3I, an industry leader in the design, development, manufacture, integration, and delivery of sophisticated communication, control and monitoring technologies.
* Off plane is defined as computational and communication resources that do not employ the same fundamental communication paths, protocols, processors, software, or decision algorithms as are employed by the primary system.
More after the jump. . .