Tuesday, February 26, 2013

World War III is Now in Cyber Space

This article was originally published in May of 2011 on 10GbE.net.

“We don't know who struck first, us or them. But we do know it was us that scorched the sky.” Morpheus explaining to Neo how the final World War between the humans & the machines started.

Unlike the first two World Wars, or the final fictitious one is in the Matrix. WW III is being fought today exclusively in cyber space.  It is a silent war, rarely reported in mainstream media, primarily because there’s almost never a human casualty*, and most readers wouldn’t understand it.  Often the combatants have no idea who they're fighting. If we look at one of the early major battles, Stuxnet, no one has officially claimed to have launched the attack, but the target was laser focused on Iran's nuclear weapons program. The campaign was successful, and it delayed Iran's weapons program by several years.

Now I'm sure your wondering, "Why is this being covered in a blog about 10GbE?"  Simple, all battles require supple lines. Today the supply lines for cyber warfare are moving from GbE to 10GbE.  Sure a lone hacker can use a Low Orbit Ion Cannon (LOIC) to take down an unsophisticated opponent using little more than a laptop, and a decent Internet connection. Frankly this is synonymous in the real world to someone with a machine gun trying to shut down a store.

On the other hand governments, and corporations have substantially more resources.  As we saw with Stuxnet.  For those not familiar with Stuxnet, this was a very carefully engineered offensive cyber weapon delivered in virus form.  It had several different parallel attack vectors to ensure that it reached all the intended targets, which reports suggest that it did.  It contained a precise triggering system, and a lethal warhead.   This battle would not have been possible with only a handful of intelligent people.  It took a collaborative effort by several governments, at least one corporation, and several unique pieces of equipment for testing to ensure the weapon’s success.  This went way beyond your garden variety LOIC class assault, and defined a whole new category of offensive cyber weaponry.  While the LOIC is a machine gun obtainable by nearly anyone, Stuxnet by comparison is a state of the art cruise missile.

Now back to 10GbE.  Markets like HFT and HPC are breaking new ground in low latency, high packet rate & wire-rate bandwidth.  They are utilizing advanced 10GbE network adapters and switches, along with sophisticated algorithmic routines.  Today HFT’s are exploring lossless wire-rate 10GbE capture to do real time analysis and simulation.  They capture real trading data in buffers or spin up synthetic ones to emulate the market.  They then inject these buffers into an HFT trading engine to see how it responds.  Is this really any different then simulating 100s or 1,000’s of web surfers?  This technology is crossing over into cyber warfare.

All of the above was written over the holiday weekend.  This morning the Wall Street Journal reported that the US Government has announced that The Pentagon has adopted a new strategy that will classify major cyber attacks as acts of war, paving the way for possible real world military retaliation.  "If you shut down our power grid, maybe we will put a missile down one of your smokestacks," said a military official as quoted in the WSJ.  So if you don’t believe the ongoing war in cyber space is real, then just consider it a prelude to it.

* John P. Wheeler III may very well be the first person slain in this cyber war.  He is a former Pentagon official, and was a consultant for Mitre prior to his murder.  John was an outspoken proponent of Cyber defense.  In January 2011 he was found dead in a Maryland landfill, the investigation into is death is currently stalled.

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