30 November 1998. Thanks to SH.


(UK) The Sunday Times

'Logic bomb' arms race panics Russia 

by Matthew Campbell

FEARING it has slipped behind America in an arms race involving
secret weapons of the future, Russia is proposing an international
treaty to control "information warfare", an invisible but deadly
threat that could be used as effectively as missiles and bombs. 

It may sound like science fiction, but around the world military
planners are acknowledging that "cyber warfare" will play an
important role in future conflicts. Not since the advent of nuclear
bombs half a century ago has the world confronted weapons with
such potential for altering the way in which warfare is waged. 

Already secret army research departments in Russia and America
are racing to perfect "logic bombs" and computer viruses
designed to create havoc in an enemy country by destroying
computer networks controlling weapons systems, financial
transactions and even traffic. 

Igor Ivanov, the Russian foreign minister, wrote to Kofi Annan, the
United Nations secretary-general, last month warning that the
effect of information weapons "may be comparable to that of
weapons of mass destruction". 

In another development the Russians presented a proposal for
"international legal regimes to prohibit the development,
production or use of particularly dangerous forms of information
weapons" to the UN. 

According to Peter Feaver, an information warfare expert at Duke
University, North Carolina, the secrecy and lack of official
guidelines surrounding the research are reminiscent of America's
early years as a nuclear power "before the political leadership
understood what nuclear weapons could do". A military official
once told him: "If we waited around for political guidance, we
wouldn't be able to do anything." 

The full extent of America's information warfare capabilities is a
closely guarded secret. According to some reports, the American
military has been developing ways of implanting "worm viruses"
in foreign computer networks to spread confusion. The Pentagon
fears that Russia, China, Iraq and Libya have similar programs. 

An announcement by President Bill Clinton in May of measures to
build ramparts against the threat of a "digital Pearl Harbor" made
no mention of America's capacity to conduct its own attacks. But
George Tenet, director of the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA)
has told Congress: "We're not asleep at the switch in this regard." 

He testified last year that information warfare techniques were
already being deployed in the battles against terrorism and
drugs. Computer hacker technology, he said, had been used to
disrupt international money transfers between Arab businessmen
supporting suspected terrorists. 

Clinton has pledged to make America safe within five years from
"asymmetrical" threats, a term used by experts to describe the
theoretical danger of a relatively weak and insignificant adversary

taking on - and defeating - a superpower with a few taps on a
laptop computer. America's extreme dependence on computer
technology makes it the most vulnerable nation on earth. At the
same time, however, its technological advantage renders
traditional adversaries wary. 

Russian anxieties about being left behind in the information
weapons race have been heightened by reports that the CIA has
sabotaged some computer systems exported from America to the
former Soviet Union. This involved putting "bugs" in computers
that could be activated by CIA hackers thousands of miles away. 

The Russians are pressing for a UN debate about information
warfare, urging Annan to submit a report at the 54th session of
the general assembly next year. 

"We cannot permit the emergence of a fundamentally new area of
international confrontation, which may lead to an escalation of the
arms race based on the latest developments of the scientific and
technological revolution," Ivanov wrote to Annan. 

With its political instability, low military morale and lack of
resources, Russia is in no position to compete with America in the
field of high technology. It has already fallen behind in tackling
the "millennium bug", expected to cripple computer systems at the
start of the next century. 

Russia's ineffectiveness in making its imported computer systems
immune to the bug has raised fears in the White House that the
Kremlin might misinterpret any disruption over the millennium as
an information warfare attack and retaliate with nuclear weapons.

A US defence department report earlier this year described how
an information warfare attack might unfold. It starts with an
unexplained power blackout in a large city. Telephone systems
across the country become paralysed. Freight and passenger
trains collide. Civilian air traffic control systems go haywire.
Malfunctioning pipeline-flow control mechanisms trigger oil
refinery blasts. 

As alarm spreads, "logic bombs" disable the financial system,
disrupting money transfers and causing stocks to plunge on world
exchanges. Automatic teller machines randomly credit or debit
customers' accounts. Sensitive weapons systems malfunction. 

"[An] information war has no front line," says the study. "Potential
battlefields are anywhere." 

In a military exercise involving senior Pentagon and intelligence
officials last year, a scenario was mapped out in which India and
Pakistan were on the verge of using nuclear weapons. 

The participants were asked whether America should interfere,
using information warfare techniques to alter the capability of
both countries so that neither had a clear picture of the battlefield.
The debate was inconclusive.