Saturday, December 03, 2005


China apparently thinks it can slam our warfighting capabilities by launching a cyber attack on our civilian and military networks.

The Chinese are not so invulnerable to a counter-strike:

While China makes no secret of its intention of using Cyber War in any future conflict with the United States, it seems to be ignoring the fact that such tactics work both ways. China is becoming increasingly dependent on the Internet, with over a hundred million users and much of the nation’s economy dependent on being connected. How is that a problem? How about because this year some 80 percent of Chinese PCs were found to be infected with one kind of virus or another. That’s actually the good news. Last year, the infection rate was some 88 percent. The problem has been noted, both by the Chinese government, and potential Chinese enemies. The Chinese realize that if hackers and cyber criminals can get viruses into that many PCs, so can Cyber Warriors from the United States.

This whole situation raises a number of questions for me.

Remember in 1999 how Serbian and American computer users waged a low-level cyber war during the Kosovo campaign? It was basically cyber-defacing efforts to paint slogans on the other guy's walls, but it showed that warfare could become decentralized and cease to be a near-monopoly of sovereign governments. Already we see private mercenary companies with more influence. They can overthrow or protect governments. We've hired them for security in Iraq, anti-piracy duties in the Horn of Africa, and to plan the fast Croation campaign (Operation Storm) in 1995 that retook regions of Croatia held by Serbs during the Bosnia air strikes.

So if the Chinese go to war with America, it is likely that American civilian computer users will launch massive attacks on the Chinese network even as the Chinese and American professionals wage cyber war.

Will this cyber militia complement or interfere with the official US efforts? I tend to think civilian efforts would help by flooding the Chinese network with so many attacks that our guys will be tougher to find in the sea of amateurs.

This raises the issue of whether Chinese intelligence would try to physically attack civilians that they are able to identify who seem particularly effective.

And beyond a war against a recognized enemy, what happens if the old freebooting tradition of conducting independent foreign policies at odds with American interests arises? We have had citizens going off for adventure in Central America and even had an abortive Irish-American plan to invade British Canada.

What happens when members of our many ethnic communities decide to band together to seriously attack other countries' networks? If computer users can break a dam by messing with the computers that control them, how is it that different in effect from going off and planting a bomb to break the dam?

When the target is our enemy like Serbia was in 1999, it is no big deal. Nor is it vital to address when the attacks were merely cyber spray painting as it was in 1999. But as networks become more vital to economies and militaries, as tools to damage those networks get better and actually replicate the effects of conventional attack, and as civilians gain the skill and tools to actually damage networks seriously, what does our government do?

Will these computer users be a cyber militia to help defend our nation? Or will they be cyber freebooters carrying out independent foreign policies and even waging a kind of war contrary to US foreign policy?