25 August 1998
(Author James Adams discusses the new "front line") (1000) By Susan Ellis USIA Staff Writer Washington -- "Computers are the weapons and the Front Line is everywhere" -- the subtitle of James Adams' new book on the future of warfare -- succinctly defines what "information warfare" has come to mean: waging war on a nation's infrastructures, water supplies, electric power grids, bank computer systems, and even national defense systems, without putting at risk a single soldier's life. The author, until recently chief executive officer for United Press International and now head of his own company, spoke to U.S. Information Agency staff members about his book, "The Next World War," which deals with the threat of cyber attack. Describing the potential impact of a cyber attack on a nation, Adams said, "What this represents for those who have the capability is the opportunity to wage war not by deploying soldiers in a conventional sense, or a battlefield with thousands on both sides and many thousands dying, or even deploying missiles in the conventional way -- but instead launching through cyberspace bits and bytes that can effectively destroy a potential aggressor before the troops meet each other on the battlefield." For example, he said, it means turning out the lights of a metropolis; "it means stealing or preventing the foreign exchange from operating properly; it means interrupting the information flow in a foreign country and inserting your own information flow so that you wage a very effective psychological operation against a potential enemy." Adams added, "These things sound quite mild but in fact they can cause the kind of loss of life that a very large bombing campaign might equally achieve." He cited a recent dispute between the United States and Iraq during which efforts were detected to interfere with the U.S. logistics infrastructure in the Gulf region. The disturbance was tracked to a building in Abu Dhabi, he said, "and the assumption was that this was Saddam Hussein waging information warfare (IW) against America in advance of the military action." However, when Americans appeared at the relevant building, "it turned out to be a router along the internet" and in fact, the attack was being launched by some teenagers in Seattle, Washington. Adams said the incident illustrates both the challenge and the opportunity the new technology affords. He cited another case that took place last summer in which a simulated cyber attack named "Eligible Receiver," was launched by the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff and several U.S. security agencies. In the simulated exercise, an unfriendly foreign power, by means of computer hackers, attempted to disrupt the United States' response to an international crisis. The "hackers," U.S. government personnel, bought their laptops from local computer stores and "successfully demonstrated that they could with ease break into the power grids of all the major American cities from Los Angeles to Chicago to Washington, D.C., to New York." The hackers at the same time broke into the telephone industry's emergency reporting system and then were able to move onto the command and control system of the Pentagon. "Over the course of a few days, they interrogated 40,000 networks and got root-level access to 36 of them. They were able to go deep inside the command and control structure and could have, if they had so wished, prevented that structure from working effectively," Adams said. He noted the exercise demonstrated that "35 people using publicly available information with skills that were available around the world," could have prevented the United States from responding effectively to a security threat. "That is an extraordinary demonstration of the power that information warfare represents in its purest sense, and it is that power that has attracted the United States to invest very large sums of money -- billions of dollars -- in developing an effective offensive capability," he said. "The potential of information warfare is attractive but it's also extremely threatening" to economically-strapped countries, Adams said, adding that IW is "fundamentally changing a dynamic which has existed for a long, long time and that has helped sustain stability between states." That dynamic is that "the government decides pace of change by and large, and is an instrument for a lot of the change. You develop a new weapons system, it takes quite a long time for that weapon system to go from the country that generated it initially to trickle down to a Third World country that hasn't got the capability. You're looking at a 20 year cycle." Adams says some argue that the cyber age is producing an ever-wider gap between the haves and the have-nots. The less developed countries believe "they can't trust any of the information sources that they have, and that they're very vulnerable to being destroyed effectively from within, but actually from without, from thousands of miles away without a shot being fired," the author said. Consequently, they argue that "we need arms control agreements to deal with information warfare in exactly the same way as we have throw weights for missiles and accurate areas of probability and so on." Adams makes the point that information warfare is not about nations, emphasizing, "It's about the power that is given to individuals. I have the power, the capability, of sitting in my home...with my computer and my modem -- if I only understood how to do things like that -- to wage war. And that is a very different environment than anything that we have experienced in the past." He says a beginning point is "to try to educate people about these issues and to encourage not only public awareness but more action by those that have the ability to spread the word and thus create defenses against what is going to be an extremely aggressive environment in the next century."