by Robert L. Glass
US Engages in an Instance of Cyber War
At the same time I was reviewing the book Cyber Wars, news came out that the US government has been engaging in cyberattacks on Iran. The attacks are designed to de-stabilize and undermine the Iranian nuclear program, which the West believes is intended to produce nuclear weapons, by such means as affecting the operational ability of 1000 to 5000 Iranian centrifuges. It is thought that the Iranian efforts may have been set back 18 months to two years by these cyberattacks, which began under President George W. Bush and have continued under President Barack Obama, according to news sources.
The cyberattack program was, of course, secret, but it became detectable because of an error in the latest version of the cyberattack code.
Note also that the US cyberattack against Iran is described in the 2012 book Confront and Control: Obama’s Secret Wars and Surprising Use of American Power by David E. Sanger. That book is apparently the source of the latest news releases about US policy described above, since it was quoted as such a source on the US news program PBS Newshour in an interview with the author of the book on June 7.
I have neither read nor intend to review this book, since it is less about computing subjects than about American policies. Note that although the title of the book implies that the cyberattack is an Obama policy, the substance of the news story said to be derived from the book says the cyberattacks are a continuation of a George W. Bush policy.
Computer Scientists Are Asked to Consider Cyber War
While there is all of this interest in Cyber War, we begin to hear from another constituency on this subject. In one of computing’s leading publications for both theorists and practitioners, Communications of the ACM (the June 2012 issue), there appears an article entitled “Why Computer Scientists Should Care About Cyber Conflict and US National Security Policy.” The title pretty well describes what the article is about, and we add here only the concluding paragraph from that article: “We are in the earliest stages of an ongoing policy debate about matters of war and peace in cyberspace, and the voice of professional computer scientists should be heard in that debate. Whatever one’s views on the topic, dialog and discussion within the computer science community about this matter can help policy makers make more informed decisions in this area.”
Google Becomes a Cyber War Combatant
At the same time the notion of Cyber War has attracted all of this attention, Google has announced that it is stepping into the fray.
The company has announced, as of early June, that it will issue a warning if it believes that state-sponsored attackers may be attempting to hack into their users’ computers or accounts. The announcement did not state how Google would recognize such “state-sponsored” attacks, but it did suggest what the notified user could do about them -- update passwords, Internet browsers, and operating systems.
It is believed that Google intends to employ the same sort of mechanism it uses for spam detection to identify these attacks.