Is Malware the free world’s first line of defense?
By Jerry Gordon
A chance discussion with a defense scientist at a presentation on the Electromagnetic Pulse (EMP) Congressional Commission in March 2007 alerted me to the possible uses of Malware. This was buttressed by information on the Israeli Defense Forces (IDF) high tech Unit 8200. Other elements were Israel’s technological prowess in manufacturing computer chip sets for Intel and Israel’s truly innovative and proprietary software security systems. This was now beyond the realm of science fiction.
Why would Israel be the place where all this might came together? The question as to which country in the world had the greatest need to develop and deploy a Cyber-warfare capability is easy to answer. While the US, Russia, China, India and some say Taiwan, may be among those with both offensive and defensive cyber war capabilities, Israel has a compelling reason to consider using Malware. Malware can disrupt Supervisory Control and Data Acquisition (SCADA) infrastructure and control systems software to slow down and perhaps disable the nuclear enrichment process of Iran. Certainly, the news of the day coming out of the Middle East about 30,000 Iranian computers infected with newly named Stuxnet Malware should send a message to Ahmadinejad and the Mullahs that yards of concrete cannot deter this new technological weapon.
The Israelis realized that there wasn’t the impetus in the U.S. to develop this type of weapon. Most established defense bureaucracies make their decisions for reasons other than real need. Under the Obama Administration, the U.S. is doing very little to address the looming denouement of a nuclear Iran. Iran in turn is strutting like a bully on the world stage intimidating the region, rattling its nuclear weaponry and delivery systems. Obama, during a recent MSNBC Town hall forum, in response to a question about Iran said that the ‘sanctions’ are working, proving that ‘hope and change’ is as much a defensive posture as it is a domestic priority. The U.S. defense posture is why Arab neighbors in the region have bet on Israel as the other strong horse in the Middle East. Notice that these Arab states do not raise the usual canards about the road to peace running through Jerusalem.
The Saudis have their hands full dealing with the Shia insurgency in Northern Yemen and in the oil-rich Eastern Gulf province. Jordan has the daunting prospect of rising Salafism threatening the Hashemite Kingdom. Egypt is tottering on the brink of collapse with the end of Mubarak’s dictatorial reign and the rise of the Muslim Brotherhood. So, the use of the cyber war equivalent of an ICBM gives Israel an important third leg in a possible military strategy. That strategy involves destruction of the near enemies and proxies of Iran, Hezbollah with its cache of tens of thousands of rockets and missiles in Lebanon, and Hamas in Gaza with its stockpile of weaponry and rockets. The possibility of a Malware attack will cause Syria to think twice about another round of covert nuclear bomb assembly projects.
The other point of impact on Iran, that could be affected by any outside Cyber effort, is the possible disruption of the command and control net of the Revolutionary Guard, and the isolation of communications by the ruling Supreme Council of Mullahs. That could aid in the re-emergence of home grown opposition in Iran.
If Israel is developing Malware, it is being circumspect. A pattern of Israel acting and the U.S. disclosing was the one used in September, 2007 regarding Israel’s destruction of Syria’s newly developed nuclear bomb capability.
All of this is speculation. Aside from the infection of Iranian computers there is no hard evidence as yet that a malware attack has breached the Iranian offensive systems and there is even less in the way of signs that Israel is a player in this drama.
There is no question that the development of this new weaponry by any one country is a threat to all countries. Weapon systems and technology don’t remain the province of one user for long. Perhaps this Malware episode in the Middle East may be a game changer in cyber warfare.
Jerry Gordon is a correspondent and commentator formerly of Fairfield and now of Pensacola, Fla.