The war in Iraq is over and the American dream of destroying Baghdad and its ruler has been nearly fulfilled. One major factor in this war has been the extensive use of technology, particularly information technology. This was evident from Pentagon’s regular pronouncements and the actions in the battlefield. A recent Los Angeles Times article informed that the bulk of the munitions were computer-backed and precision guided, contrary to the operations in the Kuwait war. Washington Post also reported that the military this time was using 10 times more satellite capacity it had used in Kuwait. Even the Patriot missile had been upgraded with more computing prowess to improve vastly the sorting powers.
The war is not restricted merely to the battlefield. One of the prominent conflict areas was cyber space. The first shot fired in this war was the bombing of email boxes of Iraqi commanders by Pentagon officials. For the last few weeks, propaganda war on the internet has been rampant, with anti-war protestors and sympathizers of Iraq venting their displeasure with the war. The Americans are also using the cyberspace to propagate their messages and other tactical war news. According to USA Today, radio dominated World War II, television the Vietnam war, cable TV the Kuwait war and the internet the Iraq war.
Across the net
However, the use of computers has not been restricted to the internet. There are reports to suggest that the physical war in the battlefield would also be supplemented with cyber wars in the form of virus and worm attacks, distributed denial of services attacks and, more commonly, hacking into network systems.
A new email worm, “Ganda”, that feeds on public interest in the war against Iraq, is actively spreading. A pro-Islamic hacking group, Unix Security Guard, is said to have defaced on the day the US attacks began nearly 400 websites with anti-war slogans in Arabic and English. Likewise, traffic to many US government sites have increased and this could be a build-up to a major DDOS attack. Before the war began, the National Infrastructure Protection Center in the US warned against the possibility of serious cyber attacks against US centric networks during the war.
While Pentagon is ready with cyber arsenals in its preparedness to thwart cyber attacks, the subtle shift to offensive combat is something that has recently evolved. George W. Bush recently issued the guidelines for cyber-warfare in the form of the national security presidential directive 16. These guidelines are a precursor to Pentagon’s vision for network-centric warfare strategy.
Not the end
Cyberspace is now being considered part and parcel of strategic warfare. More and more government applications, including communications control, have shifted to the net and so cyber warfare has also become a mature option. Even during the recent war in Afghanistan, the use of cyber warfare in a limited fashion has been carried out against al Qaida sympathizers and fundamentalist networks. Iraq’s networking is of doubtful standards and it is common knowledge that computers and connectivity are at their worst there. Hence for Iraq to aim at cyber warfare was out of question.
According to Bill Neugent, who has recently written a book on the US-Iraq cyber war, instead of cultivating its cyber-war readiness, Saddam Hussein’s forces would have limited their cyber-technical prowess to spying and restricting the average Iraqis’ use of the internet. Iraq had no force of cyber soldiers to launch an attack on US networks, although there are some sympathetic Muslims in the West who could launch some attack.
The war is still not over. So it remains to be seen how much of cyber-warfare actually takes place. The war in fact could be the best test for the US’s cyber warfare strategy. The message, however, is clear — cyber warfare has come to stay.