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Computer Hack Could Lead to JDAM Strike

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It's just like blowing up a building, or is it?

Type up some nefarious code, hack into a government system and "boom" you bring down the whole network without even firing a shot, right?

Well that's not how the Air Force's cyber warriors see it. To them, dropping a "logic bomb" into a computer network is the same as launching a 2,000-pound JDAM from a B-2 bomber at 20,000 feet -- you've done the same kind of damage but with different means.

So take cover from incoming.

You can use standard combat terminology in cyber warfare as you can with traditional warfare, said Col. Tony Buntyn, vice commander of Air Force Cyber Command, during a June 3 interview with military bloggers.

"You can find, fix, target, and engage an enemy," he said. "A target could be a [computer] network ... or it could be physical, with a [geographical] location. But we need the capabilities, just like we have in kinetic warfare, to engage targets when necessary."

Cyber warfare -- the use of computers and digital code to penetrate information systems and damage or infiltrate a foreign network -- is becoming an increasingly critical capability to the U.S. military. Because of the ease of access to powerful hardware and the ubiquity of hacker software, more countries and non-state actors are getting into the game, Pentagon and government officials say.

Countries like China, Russia and North Korea have quietly entered the cyber-warfare arena, already scoring significant hits against U.S. and other government computer and communications networks.

To computer warriors like Buntyn and his fellow Airmen, sometimes your defense is only as good as your offense.

"It could be either a kinetic or non-kinetic effect you want to achieve. And we need the ability to provide either," Buntyn said.

But when and how to use either method is based on the kind of conflict you're in.

"It depends on our target; it depends on our rules of engagement -- are we conducting open warfare with an adversary?" Buntyn explained. "If that's the case, then we don't really need to be discreet about it. When we drop a JDAM and leave a big smoking hole, that's not very discreet."

"If I can [locate] it and I can take it out with a kinetic attack ... and it meets the rules of engagement, then that might be the preferred method."

That works if you're targeting terrorist nodes and communication relays during an open conflict. But what about malicious network infiltration originating from a country with whom the U.S. is not at war?

"If it's an [Internet]-based target that's accessible to us and we can take it out electronically, reliably, then that may be the preferred method," Buntyn added.

Though China has become "cyber-enemy-number-one" recently, with stories of DoD network hacking attacks and millions spent by the PLA on its computer warfare capabilities, the Air Force isn't looking too hard over its shoulder at the rising cyber power in the Pacific -- despite Pentagon warnings.

"In the past year, numerous computer networks around the world, including those owned by the U.S. Government, were subject to intrusions that appear to have originated within the PRC. These intrusions require many of the skills and capabilities that would also be required for computer network attack," according to this year's Pentagon report on Chinese military power. "Although it is unclear if these intrusions were conducted by or with the endorsement of the PLA or other elements of the PRC government, developing capabilities for cyber warfare is consistent with authoritative PLA writings on this subject."

But to Buntyn, the threat is more diffuse, accessible to all and is proliferating more than on a simple state-to-state basis.

"The entry into this warfighting domain is very cheap. A 12 year old with a laptop can spend a couple hours on the Internet and achieve a pretty good capability," he said. "It's not limited to nation states. There are plenty of criminal organizations that are out there just trying to make a buck and they're using the same offensive tools that a nation-state would use."

-- Christian

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