Cyber War goes behind the "geek talk" of hackers and computer scientists to explain clearly and convincingly what cyber war is, how cyber weapons work, and how vulnerable we are as a nation and as individuals to the vast and looming web of cyber criminals. From the first cyber crisis meeting in the White House a decade ago to the boardrooms of Silicon Valley and the electrical tunnels under Manhattan, Clarke and coauthor Robert K. Knake trace the rise of the cyber age and profile the unlikely characters and places at the epicenter of the battlefield. They recount the foreign cyber spies who hacked into the office of the Secretary of Defense, the control systems for U.S. electric power grids, and the plans to protect America's latest fighter aircraft.
Chapter 1. Trail Runs
A quarter-moon reflected on the slowly flowing Euphrates, a river along which nations have warred for five thousand years. It was just after midnight, September 6, 2007, and a new kind of attack was about to happen along the Euphrates, one that had begun in cyberspace. On the east side of the river, seventy-five miles south into Syria from the Turkish border, up a dry wadi from the riverbank, a few low lights cast shadows on the wadi’s sandy walls. The shadows were from a large building under construction. Many North Korean workers had left the construction site six hours earlier, queuing in orderly lines to load onto buses for the drive to their nearby dormitory. For a construction site, the area was unusually dark and unprotected, almost as if the builder wanted to avoid attracting attention. Without warning, what seemed like small stars burst above the site, illuminating the area with a blue-white clarity brighter than daylight. In less than a minute, although it seemed longer to the few Syrians and Koreans still on the site, there was a blinding flash, then a concussive sound wave, and then falling pieces of debris. If their hearing had not been temporarily destroyed by the explosions, those on the ground nearby would then have heard a longer acoustic wash of military jet engines blanketing the area. Had they been able to look beyond the flames that were now sweeping the construction site, or above the illuminating flares that were still floating down on small parachutes, the Syrians and Koreans might have seen F-15 Eagles and F-16 Falcons banking north, back toward Turkey. Perhaps they would even have made out muted blue-and-white Star of David emblems on the wings of the Israeli Air Force strike formation as it headed home, unscathed, leaving years of secret work near the wadi totally destroyed.
Behind all of this mystery, however, was another intrigue. Syria had spent billions of dollars on air defense systems. That September night, Syrian military personnel were closely watching their radars. Unexpectedly, Israel had put its troops on the Golan Heights on full alert earlier in the day. From their emplacements on the occupied Syrian territory, Israel’s Golani Brigade could literally look into downtown Damascus through their long-range lenses. Syrian forces were expecting trouble. Yet nothing unusual appeared on their screens. The skies over Syria seemed safe and largely empty as midnight rolled around. In fact, however, formations of Eagles and Falcons had penetrated Syrian airspace from Turkey. Those aircraft, designed and first built in the 1970s, were far from stealthy. Their steel and titanium airframes, their sharp edges and corners, the bombs and missiles hanging on their wings, should have lit up the Syrian radars like the Christmas tree illuminating New York’s Rockefeller Plaza in December. But they didn’t.
What the Syrians slowly, reluctantly, and painfully concluded the next morning was that Israel had “owned” Damascus’s pricey air defense network the night before. What appeared on the radar screens was what the Israeli Air Force had put there, an image of nothing. The view seen by the Syrians bore no relation to the reality that their eastern skies had become an Israeli Air Force bombing range. Syrian air defense missiles could not have been fired because there had been no targets in the system for them to seek out. Syrian air defense fighters could not have scrambled, had they been fool enough to do so again against the Israelis, because their Russian-built systems required them to be vectored toward the target aircraft by ground-based controllers. The Syrian ground-based controllers had seen no targets.
By that afternoon, the phones were ringing in the Russian Defense Ministry off Red Square. How could the Russian air defense system have been blinded? Syria wanted to know.
Cyber warriors around the world, however, were not surprised. This was how war would be fought in the information age, this was Cyber War. When the term “cyber war” is used in this book, it refers to actions by a nation-state to penetrate another nation’s computers or networks for the purposes of causing damage or disruption. When the Israelis attacked Syria, they used light and electric pulses, not to cut like a laser or stun like a taser, but to transmit 1’s and 0’s to control what the Syrian air defense radars saw. Instead of blowing up air defense radars and giving up the element of surprise before hitting the main targets, in the age of cyber war, the Israelis ensured that the enemy could not even raise its defenses.
The Israelis had planned and executed their cyber assault flawlessly. Just how they did it is a matter of some conjecture.
Publisher: Harper Collins
Pub. Date: April 20, 2010