Ammunition in the Digital Age

The Sunday Times reports the director of Mossad, Israel’s overseas intelligence service, has assured Benjamin Netanyahu, its prime minister, that Saudi Arabia would allow Israeli jets to fly over the kingdom during any future raid on Iran’s nuclear sites, based on secret talks with Saudi officials in 2002 to discuss the possibility.

“The Saudis have tacitly agreed to the Israeli air force flying through their airspace on a mission which is supposed to be in the common interests of both Israel and Saudi Arabia,” a diplomatic source commented last week.  John Bolton, the former U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, said it was “entirely logical” for the Israelis to use Saudi airspace. Experts believe this is because of lingering doubts among moderate Sunni leaders about the stability of the hardline Shi’a regime in Tehran, and moderate Arab states are “concerned about an Iranian nuclear bomb, even more than the Israelis” according to a former head of Israeli intelligence research.

But would the Israelis even need to launch an airstrike? With much of Iran’s nuclear enrichment technology buried deep within mountain bunkers, the Israeli military is looking to exploit less conventional methods of neutralizing any potential threat. One recently retired Israeli security cabinet member said, “We came to the conclusion that, for our purposes, a key Iranian vulnerability is in its on-line information. We have acted accordingly.”

And Israel already has practical cyber warfare experience.  In the late ’90s, as part of a cyber warfare drill, Israeli hackers gained access to the Pi Gillot fuel depot north of Tel Aviv.

“Once inside the Pi Glilot system, we suddenly realized that, aside from accessing secret data, we could also set off deliberate explosions, just by programing a re-route of the pipelines,” according to a participant of the drill.

But how would Israeli cyber warriors implant malicious software (malware) onto Iranian hard drives when top-secret nuclear facilities are totally cut off from the Internet?  Portable hardware brought in by technicians, with or without their knowledge.

“A contaminated USB stick would be enough,” saif Scott Borg, director of the U.S. Cyber Consequences Unit.

The U.S. also has offensive cyber warfare capabilities.  According to DodBuzz, Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. Norton Schwartz said the U.S. can kill advanced surface to air missiles without F-22s, F-35s or any other kinetic capability, and that the U.S. Military possesses “the nascent capability” of taking down surface to air missile sites using cyber attacks, based on a published Air Force report.

Cyberwarfare Paradigm, as used in an Air Force Report
Cyberwarfare Paradigm, as used in an Air Force Report

As the diagram demonstrates, since capabilities depend on processes residing in the cyber domain, entire military assets can be disabled with malware. According to the report, examples of capabilities that can be disabled with cyber attacks include “tasking aircraft mid-sortie, extending the range of aircraft through refueling, launching surface-to-air missiles, launching sorties, etc.”

Without firing a shot, whole sections of the military can be disabled.  Obama was right when he said, “The future does not belong to those who gather armies on a field of battle or bury missiles in the ground,” because ammunition is becoming irrelevant in the digital age. If a cyber attack is successful, it immediately becomes infinitely scalable ammunition.

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