IWS - The Information Warfare Site
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Information Warfare
It is night over Germany, October 1943. Two BMW radial engines are pounding through your helmet and headset. The cockpit of the Junkers Ju88 night fighter is drafty and freezing cold and an enemy RAF Lancaster bomber is as easy to find as a rat in the Berlin Opera House with all the lights out. You have the help of a ground interception controller, which is good. You have two controllers, which is bad. One of them is a fake, a German-speaking RAF officer. The two controllers are trying to shout each other down. One of them lets fly with a volley of foul language fresh from the Hamburg waterfront. The other responds with forced calm: "The Englishman is now swearing."

"It is not the Englishman who is swearing," screams the other voice. "It is me!"

This early venture into information warfare spawned imitations. In 1944, the Germans copied the British use of a "ghost" voice controller to confuse American pilots flying close-air-support missions over the Western Front. In one incident, a suspicious and quick-witted U.S. Air Force fighter pilot unmasked the German controller by asking him to sing "Mairzy Doats."

In the intervening years, the goals of information warfare (IW), in fact, have not changed. An attacker's goal is still to put the adversary's resources in the wrong place, so that they miss their targets or blunder into the attacker's prepared defenses. An attacker wants to disrupt his adversaries support operations, so that their forces do not get the spares, fuel or ammunition that they need. The attack also works on a second level: every successful IW strike makes the adversary less and less confident in his own systems.

While such goals of information warfare have remained constant, the tools of IW have changed beyond recognition. Information exchanged over computer networks is now as vital to almost every aspect of military operations as it is to business. From mission plans to targeting and threat data, the military relies on information to such a degree that the loss of data integrity would be disastrous. To cite a simple example: if a hacker were to change one digit of one time designation in an air tasking order (ATO), he could cause a formation of F-16s to reach their refueling rendezvous and find no tanker waiting for them. At best, the F-16s' mission would be aborted; at worst, they could be unable to recover safely to their bases.

But you can't ask a computer to sing "Mairzy Doats."

A New Angle on Defensive IW
The traditional approach to defensive IW has been security. Locked doors protect the computers that access a classified network. Firewalls, passwords and cards protect the data in the computers. And the data itself may be routed along separate lines. In the ultimate incarnation of security-the Department of Defense's TEMPEST standards-computers, peripherals and the rooms where they were located were elaborately sealed to prevent the leakage of stray electrons.

For several years, a small and cohesive team of Northrop Grumman researchers has been supporting Pentagon customers in the development of a new and fundamentally different approach to defensive IW. "Our strategy has been to keep the adversary outside our networks-just like the Maginot Line," says Dr. Stephen Taylor of the Air Force's Rome Laboratory. "But what happens when there is no longer an ‘outside’-when we are just inhabitants of cyberspace along with our adversaries?"

That cohabitation is increasingly the case. The military's need for information is outrunning the capacity of its private networks. Unique hardware is too expensive to cover all of the Pentagon's needs. Coalition warfare links U.S. military networks to portals that it does not own.

Moreover, says Taylor, the future adversary will be smart and sophisticated, "not the lone hacker or terrorist but a nation-state capable of coordinated attacks. They'll use speed, mobility, and deception. They'll try to occupy the space behind our firewalls and subvert our sensors. They'll be creative and will find ways into the system. And they can afford to pay insiders." In short, Taylor believes, there is no practical, 100 percent effective way of keeping intruders out of the system.

Instead, Taylor has coined the term "information resiliency" to describe another level of defense, one that assumes that intruders will break in, but which works in several ways to limit the damage that they cause.

Forecasting and Recovering From an Attack
Northrop Grumman's work in this area started in 1988 when the company began to address IW survivability issues, according to Greg Swain, director of Information Assurance at Logicon, the company's information technology subsidiary. "We then began to look at how susceptible our products might be to IW."

The Northrop Grumman team, which includes people from its Electronic Sensors and Systems Sector, has based its work on the timeline of a cyberattack. As in any military operation, the hypothetical cyberattack will begin with reconnaissance. This allows the attacker to locate points where the system might be accessed. Then, the attacker will attempt to enter the system, starting with a basic access level and then working to establish as much access as possible. For example, an attacker who can emulate the system manager can establish multiple points of access and eliminate records of his own access to the system. The deeper the access, the more options an attacker enjoys when the attack is mounted. After an attack, the intruder will cover his actions and the defender has to restore the integrity of his data.


Commercially available products can detect the actual attack and can perform a reasonably good job of safeguarding data in the long term. The Northrop Grumman team has focused on two unique areas-forecasting an attack and responding in real time immediately after the attack-which allow the user to react rapidly to an attack, or even forestall it, and let the defender re-establish the system's operation as soon as possible. Forecasting and recovery are linked, because recovery is easier if the attack is not entirely unexpected.

Investigative NEWS Reports
That technology is now being championed by the Network Early Warning System (NEWS) program, which has been developed by the Air Force's IW Battlelab. "What's really notable about that system," comments Paul Zavidniak, a senior technical staff member at Logicon, "is that it sits above all the other systems." NEWS can be set up to forecast an attack in almost any network-based system and can use data from all of them to generate a comprehensive picture of an impending attack.

"There are no rules in IW," says Dennis McCallam, a Logicon senior technical staff member. "To say, ‘They're not going to do that,’ is a bad assumption. But there always have to be precursor events." Comments Zavidniak, "Reconnaissance and analysis always precede an attack. That attack may be months ahead, but someone first has to know where you are situated."

NEWS looks for 26 different attributes that may indicate that a network event-a ping, a contact or a log-on session-could be a precursor to an attack. They include the time of day, the apparent source of the event and even the length of time between keystrokes. NEWS may look for internal events such as unusual hard drive activity. NEWS could be connected to the security system of the premises where the system was accessed; if the individual whose code or workstation was used to access the system was not signed into the building, there could be a problem. NEWS draws on probabilistic forecasting technology of the kind that has been developed to predict failures of critical mechanical systems, such as helicopter transmissions. "It's not just a signature," says Zavidniak. "It infers and forecasts from a broad perspective."

But "prediction" is a strong word, cautions Zavidniak. "This is engineered to be a decision aid to the analyst," he says. "We don't want to take the analyst out of the loop." Warned of an attack, the defender then has a number of options. Taking instant action to deny access to an intruder may not be the best choice. "Hiding behind a wall trying to protect your home is not giving you the clues that you need," Zavidniak says. Instead, the analyst may operate at a higher level of awareness, preparing back-up data and letting the intruder think he is undetected.



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