As any conflict that happened in the 21st century, there is usually a parallel conflict raging online as well. Either commanded by individuals or groups, which can be helped or not by either government agencies or other interest groups, acts of cyberwarfare are getting more and more common. The conflict in the Gaza strip offers a new opportunity to explore this kind of activity. This time, reports of websites defacement are numerous and ongoing, some reporting that malware is spreaded from hacked websites and even an Israeli botnet is starting to grow in order to attack Hamas supporters servers.
Reports are now growing over hundreds of websites defacements of Western websites by Palestinians supporters1. Various Palestinian groups and supporters have been vandalizing Israeli and other western nation commercial websites by putting propaganda and redirecting to jihadist forums and/or uploading malware on the hacked web servers. Hackers mentioned in the article are Team Evil, DNS Team, Tw!$3r, KaSPeRs HaCKeR CreW, PaLiSeNiaN HaCK, MoRoCcAn HaCkErZ.
Recently, sites from the U.S Army and NATO have also been targeted by the vandals2. Archived versions of the hacked NATO webpage can be found here and here for the hacked version of the U.S Army website. For now, only defacements have been reported and no real attack has occured. Web defacement is a very easy attack to do on web servers with weak passwords. Most of the time, the attackers are script kiddies using software such as AccessDiver with a list of proxies and wordlists to conduct dictionaries attacks on servers. Using AccessDiver is fairly simple and many tutorials can be found on YouTube. Other ways include of course exploits and SQL injections attacks. Surprisingly, no DDoS attacks have been reported yet, but a group of Israeli students launch the “Help Israel Win” initiative3. At the time of writing, the website was online available through Google’s cache. Anoher website (http://help-israel-win.tk/) has been suspended. The goal was to develop a voluntary botnet dubbed “Patriot” to attack Hamas-related websites:
We have launched a new project that unites the computer capabilities of many computers around the world. Our goal is to use this power in order to disrupt our enemy’s efforts to destroy the state of Israel4.
The website offered a small executable to download. This bot would receive commands as a normal criminal bot would. Hamas-friendly sites like qudsnews.net and palestine-info.info were targeted by the IRC botnet. Still according to the article, the botnet has come under attack by unknown assaillants5. No definitive number is given as to how many machines the botnet is controlling, it might range from anything from 1000 to 8000 machines6. Very few detail is given on how the bot actually works.
There was a very similar attempt to create a “conscript” botnet known as the e-Jihad botnet that failed to realized its objective last year, as the tool was unsophisticated and rather crude7. The e-Jihad tool had the same objective as the Patriot botnet, which was to launch DDoS attacks against various targets.
Nevertheless, this kind of parallel attack is due to become a popular civilian option to attack servers. The only thing needed is to create a solid botnet, by using some of the most sophisticated criminal botnets and transform them into voluntary “cyber-armies”. There is one problem thought…how can we make sure it’s legitimate ? Making such programs open source ? But then you reveal your command and control servers and information that could make the enemy hijack our own botnet. It then all comes down to a question of trust…and of course, a clear and easy way to remove the bot anytime.
Not entirely cyber warfare related but still a very interesting read, but according to the Global Trends 2025 report by the National Intelligence Council, irregular warfare, which cyber warfare is part of, will play a determinant part into the future of the United States:
“… expanded adoption of irregular warfare tactics by both state and nonstate actors, proliferation of long-range precision weapons, and growing use of cyber warfare attacks increasingly will constrict US freedom of action.“
Unfortunately this is the only mention of cyber warfare in the report, which fails to go into further details. This shouldn’t come to a surprise to anyone though. We all know how reliant on technology everything is nowadays and the interconnection between every part of the modern society. Not only does the United States recognized that cyber warfare will be an important part of the upcoming conflicts, but also does China and Russia, which are stated to become heavyweights on the world stage:
“Few countries are poised to have more impact on the world over the next 15-20 years than China. If current trends persist, by 2025 China will have the world’s second largest economy and will be a leading military power.“
Right now, even with her very large armed forces of 2 million active personnel, China is trying to modernize its military to be more mobile and efficient. In order to accomplish that modernization, it has explored many new avenues that western societies are still trying to grasp. In 1999, two Chinese Air Forces colonels discussed new ways to conduct war in a guide titled “Unrestricted Warfare”, where they describe the use of computers as new weapons for future warfare:
“With technological developments being in the process of striving to increase the types of weapons, a breakthrough in our thinking can open up the domain of the weapons kingdom at one stroke. As we see it, a single man-made stock-market crash, a single computer virus invasion, or a single rumor or scandal that results in a fluctuation in the enemy country’s exchange rates or exposes the leaders of an enemy country on the Internet, all can be included in the ranks of new-concept weapons.“
Experts seem to agree that this kind of “new weapon” could do far more damage than one can imagine:
“If someone is able to attack information that is needed by decision makers, or that is crucial to organizing logistics and supply lines of an army on the ground, that means they can induce chaos in a nation“ said Sami Saydjari, who worked as a Pentagon cyber expert for 13 years and now runs a private company, Cyber Defence Agency.
We don’t know how much of the concepts explained in this book as been accepted by the People’s Liberation Army (PLA), but events from the last decade can gave us clues as how much China has developed cyber warfare capacities based on the text of the two colonels. .Concretes realizations of these ideas may have happened as soon as four years after the publication of the guide during Operation Titan Rain in 2003.With a computer network of more than 3.5 million computers spread across 65 countries, the Pentagon faces many challenges against a strong and sophisticated attack and Operation Titan Rain proved this. According to an article on ZDNet, 20 hackers, based or using proxies based in China, successfully attacked American networks in a coordinated attack:
At 10:23 p.m. PST, the Titan Rain hackers exploited vulnerabilities at the U.S. Army Information Systems Engineering Command at Fort Huachuca, Ariz.
At 1:19 a.m., they exploited the same hole in computers at the Defense Information Systems Agency in Arlington, Va.
At 3:25 a.m., they hit the Naval Ocean Systems Center, a Defense Department installation in San Diego, Calif.
At 4:46 a.m., they struck the U.S. Army Space and Strategic Defense installation in Huntsville, Ala.
The results from this operation were the theft of several classified information:
“From the Redstone Arsenal, home to the Army Aviation and Missile Command, the attackers grabbed specs for the aviation mission-planning system for Army helicopters, as well as Falconview 3.2, the flight-planning software used by the Army and Air Force,” according to Alan Paller, the director of the SANS Institute.
Many other attacks have been suspected to originate from China afterwards. Attacks against most of the G7 countries such as France, UK and Germany, New Zealand and India have been reported by many medias.
Although evidence gathered shows that China is aggressively pursuing irregular warfare, Russia is also gaining a strong cyber warfare reputation on the world scene. Its attack against Estonia has won world coverage and succeeding attacks on Georgia gave the country experience in that domain. It is again unclear though if attacks from Russia are actually coming from government agencies or from criminal behaviour.
The first incident concerning Russia goes back to 1999, before the Chinese cyber attacks. American networks went under siege in what is now called Operation Moonlight Maze. Back then, FBI officials were investigating a breach into the DOD satellite control systems. Again, while the first accusations for the source of this attack were Russian authorities, it was soon shown that they were not implied in this attack. The only certitude about this operation was that the attack went through a Russian proxy.
Nevertheless, Russia cyber warfare was displayed on Estonia in 2007. Once against, it was unclear if the government was involved or if Russian patriotism over the removal of the war memorial caused Russian script kiddies and botnets to answer with a massive DDoS attack. Moscow always denied any involvement in that case. It is also well known that major botnets that are lurking on the net are often controlled by Russian cyber-criminal gangs such as the Russian Business Network. It’s quite possible that those cyber-gangs ordered their botnets to retaliate against Estonia, especially since the attack consisted mostly of a denial-of-service attack, and wasn’t not as sophisticated as a coordinated hacking attack on networks. Another plausible option would be that Russia’s cyber army is a mercenary force.
A repetition of the Estonia cyber attack then took place against Georgia during the Russia-Georgian conflict. The same kind of attack occurred and took down various governmental and commercial websites: HTTP floods were send to www.parliament.ge and president.gov.ge. Some other sites were hi-jacked and displayed fake information. The Georgian government had to put up a temporary website on Blogspot. This time, the Russian Business Network was openly suspected by many analysts to be behind the attacks.
McAfee claims that 120 countries around the world are now developing cyber warfare strategies. It is inevitable that countries without cyber warfare capacities will be at great disadvantage in any arising conflict, as disruption of communications will be the first objective of any belligerent. It’s crucial that a strong offensive and defensive cyber war force be developed in order to not only defend against cyber threats, but also wage war in cyberspace.