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[ISN] The Dogs of Web War


By Rebecca Grant
Air Force Association	
January 2008
Vol. 91, No. 1 

After years of claims and counterclaims concerning the severity of 
national security threats in cyberspace, the picture is at last starting 
to become clear. Recent jousting within cyberspace has provided clues 
about what to expect from combat in this new domain.

For example, China has been positively identified as a source of 
campaign-style cyber attacks on Department of Defense systems. Russia, 
moreover, is the prime suspect in last springs notorious cyber assault 
on Estonia.

Outside the military realm, too, cyber attacks are forming a persistent 
threat to aerospace enterprises and other parts of the US industrial 

More than ever before, cyberspace is on the minds of Americas top 
leaders. Air Force Gen. Kevin P. Chilton, the new head of US Strategic 
Command, said during his confirmation hearing that attacks impacting our 
freedom to operate in space and cyberspace pose serious strategic 

Defending the nation from cyberspace attacks is STRATCOMs missionbut one 
of the big challenges is assessing the strategic threat and demarcating 
lines of response.

It all begins with knowing the adversary. China is at the top of most 
lists of nations with advanced cyber capabilityand the will to use it.

Because of the overall tenor of military competition with China, every 
report of Chinese activity raises hackles. In fact, theres been a steady 
level of reported skirmishing in cyberspace this decade.

Tactic No. 1 is near-constant pressure on US government systems. The 
goal of these attacks is to breach systems and leave behind malicious 
code capable of redirecting network activity or enabling access to 
stored datato change it or steal it. Cyber is all about protect it or 
steal it,'" Lt. Gen. Robert J. Elder Jr., commander of 8th Air Force and 
USAFs point man on cyber issues, said last year.

Sometimes cyber attacks take place during more traditional crises. In 
April 2001, the Chinese were preparing a hacker onslaught during the 
tense period when a US Navy EP-3 crew was held after making an emergency 
landing following a midair brush with a Chinese fighter. The FBI 
cautioned network operators in government and commercial sectors to keep 
up their guard.

Sure enough, in May 2001, Chinese hackers took down the White House Web 
site for almost three hours with a denial-of-service strike. Since then, 
the attacks originating from servers in China have grown in 
sophistication and intensity.

In 2003, a barrage of attacks from China hit Pentagon systems. The 
incursions were notable enough to get their own temporary code name, 
Titan Rain.

In February 2007, officials at Naval Network Warfare Command 
acknowledged that Chinese attacks had reached the level of a 
campaign-style, force-on-force engagement, according to Federal Computer 

Then, last April 26, came the first full-blown cyber assault resembling 
an act of war. A controversy over moving a bronze statue of a Russian 
soldier from the center of Tallinn, capital of Estonia, ended with a 
massive, coordinated assault on Estonias cyber institutions. Many Web 
sites, both commercial and government, were shut down for days in the 
highly wired society.


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