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Posts Tagged ‘Consumerization of Warfare’

Riot In Motion

August 10, 2011 3 comments

As an (in)direct consequence of the London Riots, a crew of hackers called TeaMp0isoN has defaced the The Official BlackBerry Blog after RIM has indicated to assist London police, who are investigating the use of the messaging service in organizing riots, with a “very extensive monitoring of the BlackBerry Messenger model”.

The availability of BBM (Black Berry Messenger), a closed messaging system for one-to-one or one-to-many (encrypted!) communications at no charge, has made BlackBerry a very popular device among U.K. teens, who are believed to be the major responsible for the riots which have hit British streets. As a consequence BlackBerry Messenger is believed to have played a key role for rioters to organize themselves.

Since the Company decided to support the Police to contain the riot, granting access to BBM data and logs, it did not take so long for a resounding retaliation by the above quoted hacker group.

Curiously shortly after the attack, MP called for BlackBerry Messenger suspension to calm UK riots, and albeit this is claimed as a victory from rioters, I cannot help but notice that it is really a paradox: the whole story is a consequence of the need for authorities to extensively monitor BBM and the same authorities now ask for a complete lockdown of BBM which might be the ultimate remediation to stop the riots).

In my opinion, this hactivism event can be seen from a double perspective: at first glance this is only the last episode of hactivism, whose actions and impacts are nowadays natural extensions in the fifth virtual domain for wars and revolutions crossing the borders of the real world. But a second deeper analysis shows surprising and, somewhat, unexpected consequences.

The event was a consequence of the attempt by authorities to deprive rioters of their weapons, that is mobile technologies. Said in simple words, we are seeing a kind of  Consumerization of Riots (the western world equivalent of what I defined Consumerization of Warfare that is the influence played by consumer technologies, mobile and social networks in primis, for spreading the riots in  Middle East). Of course with the obvious difference of scopes and geography.

But if the contemporary use of both mobile technologies, for communicating and coordinating, and Social Media for virally spreading information useful for the cause (tweets like weapons), is a (quite) common and consolidated practice whose primary role has been recognized for the revolutions of Maghreb and Middle East, what is completely new is, for the first time, the impact and the price (to be) paid by the technology vendor, in this case RIM, (in)directly involved in the events. As a matter of fact RIM is suffering heavy aftermaths, which will not likely end here.

Not only the Waterloo based company was hacked with a resounding defacement, with huge consequences in terms of image, but also the brand seriously risks to be negatively associated with rioters, which could lead to further negative impacts for the brand, with possible consequences in terms of sells.

Is this maybe the reason why Twitter refused to shut down the accounts of the London rioters, besides the blog post according to which Tweets must always flow?

P.S. From an Information Security Perspective…

Several Information Security blogs were wondering if hackers managed to post on BlackBerry’s blog because of a software vulnerability, or because one of their administrators had his password cracked. In my opinion several tweets from TeaMp0isoN seems to confirm the first hypothesis:

Try to find out how we got in and patch…

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Tweets Like Weapons

July 27, 2011 2 comments

Thanks to Andrea Zapparoli Manzoni for suggesting the original concept of Consumerization of Warfare and this update.

If the Cyberspace is the fifth domain of war, social media are likely destined to became the major sub-domain.

In a previous post we defined “Consumerization of Warfare” the growing use of consumer technologies such as Social Networks and Mobile for Military purposes (such as propaganda or espionage).

The most obvious examples of this trend are represented, on a global scale, by the influence (also recognized by President Obama) that social media had for the Wind of Changes blowing from Maghreb to the Middle East. In this contest they were used for different purposes: for witnessing the real extent of the events (which was a key factor in fostering the Allied intervention in Libya), for virally spreading propaganda and psyops information, and, last but not least, in a strict military context, as a further evidence to “strong authenticate” coordinates for Nato Missile Attacks in Libya.

But this approach is not limited to social media. Mobile devices are the natural companions of social media, so U.S. Army, U.S. Marines, and National Security Agency are just evaluating the use of COTS (Commercial Off-The-Shelf) products for military purposes and is evaluating several different commercially available smartphones and tablets, properly hardened and secured.

In particular, despite privacy and reputation issues, social media have proven to be a powerful device for spreading information. Consider for example a single event: Osama Bin Laden’s death. Tweets dealing with this event averaged 3440 TPS from 10:45 to 12:30pm ET on May 2 2011, reaching a peak of 5106 TPS around 11:00pm ET.

Such a formidable weapon must be fully exploited for defensive and offensive purposes, consequently the newcomer in this warfare is none other than the Pentagon, which is asking scientists to figure out how to detect and counter propaganda on social media networks in the aftermath of Arab uprisings driven by Twitter and Facebook. The US military’s high-tech research arm, the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA), has put out a request for experts to look at “a new science of social networks” that would attempt to get ahead of the curve of events unfolding on new media.

The program’s goal is:

To track “purposeful or deceptive messaging and misinformation” in social networks and to pursue “counter messaging of detected adversary influence operations,”

according to DARPA’s request for proposals issued on July 14.

The idea to build fake personas to manipulate the social arena is not completely new (and one of the players involved was just the well known HBGary Federal), but this time the scope is pretty much wider, aiming to change the course of events by massive (counter)information campaigns (think for instance to video and images coming from Libya which were crucial to foster the Allied Intervention).

I am not sure Zuckerberg & Co. will be very happy that their creatures are considered, against their will, a battlefield from The Pentagon…

Switch Off The Revolution (With An Infrared Sensor)

Just a couple of months ago, in writing the first post about Mobile Warfare (which should have later become Consumerization of Warfare) I expressed some considerations about the growing need for illiberal government to prevent the use of mobile devices as preferred media for the rioters to capture live images of the events, and to spread the information all around the Globe by mean of Social Networks.

Cutting off the Internet has been the first clumsy countermeasure applied by Egypt and Syria, but it is really unlikely that this kind of massive preventive block will be applied again by other countries because of the huge dependence of Internet, which characterizes our epoch, and consequently, as a collateral damage, would stop other vital activities.

As a consequence, I hypothesized that possible future countermeasures will aim to make unusable directly the source of information (read mobile devices), and the media for sharing them (read social networks), relying upon a new generation of Cyber-warfare among which:

A massive Denial of Service for mobile devices through massive exploit of vulnerabilities (more and more common and pervasive on this kind of devices), through massive mobile malware deployment or also by mean of massive execution of mobile malware (as, for instance, Google did in order to remotely swipe the DroidDream malware). Honestly speaking I consider the latter option the less likely since I can easily imagine that no manufacturer will provide cooperation on this (but this does not prevent the fact that a single country could consider to leverage this channel).

No manufacturer will provide cooperation on this? Maybe… Too many times reality surpasses imagination, and when it comes to reality that surpasses the imagination, then surely it comes from Apple. This time, unfortunately, not in the sense that we’re used to (admiring products years ahead of the competition, which previously did not exist not even in our imagination), but in the sense that a patent recently filled by Apple could implicitly provide cooperation for illiberal governments to prevent smartphones to take live images of protests.

It looks like that Apple is Apple is developing software that will sense when a smartphone user is trying to record a live event, and then switch off the device’s camera (only the camera, the other functions will not be affected) by mean of infrared sensors directly installed on the device. The real reason is probably the need to prevent concertgoers to post footage of events on YouTube or other similar sites (at the expense of the organizers which sometimes sell sell their own recordings of the events), which could potentially allow Apple to negotiate better conditions with labels when dealing for placing music on sale on iTunes (and could also potentially provide another source of revenue by charging people to film live events).

But besides commercial considerations, there is another important aspect (a collateral damage I would say). The events of recent months have shown us that the concerts were not the only places where the phones have been used to capture live images. In North Africa and Middle East they have been used to document repression and illiberality. But what would have happened if this technology had really been developed? Probably it would have limited the effect of the winds of change in Tunisia, Egypt, Syria and Libya, since Mobile Devices (and their cameras) played (and are playing) an important role to witness the real entity of the events.

Imagine if Apple’s device had been available to the Mubarak regime earlier this year, and Egyptian security forces had deployed it around Tahrir Square to disable cameras just before they sent in their thugs to disperse the crowd.

Would the global outcry that helped drive Mubarak from office have occurred if a blackout of protest videos had prevented us from viewing the crackdown?

This is more than speculation. since thousands of cellphone cameras in the Middle East and North Africa have been used to document human rights abuses and to share them with millions via social media. I went in Libya approximately a month before the beginning of the revolution and I was astonished by the number of iPhones noticed over there.

This is more than speculation also because the role of mobile technologies for the above mentioned events has been recognized also by Mr. Obama during his speech on Middle East.

As correctly stated, Smartphones like the iPhone and Droid are becoming extensions of ourselves. They are not simply tools to connect with friends and family, but a means to document the world around us, engage in political issues and organize with others. They literally put the power of the media in our own hands.

Apple’s proposed technology would take that power away, that is the reason why the community is moving in order to urge Steve Jobs to pull the plug on this technology.

Consumerization Of Warfare 2.0

June 21, 2011 2 comments

It looks like the consumerization of warfare is unstoppable and getting more and more mobile. After our first post of Jume the 16th, today I stumbled upon a couple of articles indicating the growing military interest for consumer technologies.

Network World reports that the National Security Agency is evaluating the use of COTS (Commercial Off-The-Shelf) products for military purposes and is evaluating several different commercially available smartphones and tablets, properly hardened and secured. The final goal is to have four main devices, plus a couple of infrastructure support services. Meanwhile, trying to anticipate the NSA certification process, U.S. Marines are willing to verify the benefits of a military use of smartphones and consequently issued a Request For Information for trusted handheld platforms.

In both cases, the new technologies (smartphones and tablets) are preferred since they are able to provide, in small size and weight, the capability to rapidly access information in different domains (e.g., internet, intranet, secret), geolocation capabilities which are useful in situation awareness contexts, and , last but not least, the capability to connect with different media (eg, personal area network [PAN], wireless local area network [LAN], wide area network [WAN]).

Nevertheless, in a certain manner, the two approaches, albeit aiming to the same objective, are slightly different. NSA is evaluating the possibility to harden COTS in order to make them suitable for a military use, but since this process of hardening, certification and accreditation may take up to a couple of years, which is typically the life cycle of a commercial smartphone or tablet (it sounds quite optimistic since one year is an eternity for this kind of devices), the RFI issued by the Marines Corps is soliciting for system architectures and business partnerships that facilitate low-cost and high-assurance handhelds, where high-assurance means at least meeting the common criteria for evaluated assurance level (EAL) of 5+ or above. From this point of view the Marines’ approach seems closer to (and hence follows) the approach faced by the U.S. Army which is already testing iPhones, Android devices and tablets for us in war (a total of 85 apps, whose development took about $4.2 million, we could nearly speak about a Military iTunes or Military Android Market!).

But the adoption of consumer technologies does not stop here and will probably soon involve also the use of technologies closely resembling the Cloud. As a matter of fact, the NSA plans to develop in the near future a secure mobile capability, referred to as the “Mobile Virtual Network Operator,”, which will be be able to establish a way to provide sensitive content to the military and intelligence “in a way that roughly emulates what Amazon does with Kindle”, as stated by said Debora Plunkett, director of the NSA’s information assurance directorate, speaking at the Gartner Security and Risk Management Summit 2011 (but the NSA will not be the first to pilot this kind of technology since the NATO is already adopting Cloud Computing).

Probably this is only one side of the coin, I’m willing to bet that the consumerization of warfare will soon “infect” armies belonging to different countries and consequently the next step will be the development of weapons (read mobile military malware) targeted to damage the normal behavior of the military smartphones and tablets. On the other hand the Pentagon has developed a list of cyber-weapons, including malware, that can sabotage an adversary’s critical networks, so it is likely that these kind of weapons will soon affect mobile devices…

Consumerization of Warfare

June 16, 2011 7 comments

Written by Andrea Zapparoli Manzoni and Paolo Passeri.

As predicted a couple of months ago, NATO admitted to use Twitter in Libya for receiving information from rebels pertaining coordinates and movement s of the loyalist troops of Colonel Gaddafi.

Thanks to the famous six degrees of separation and the viral propagation model, Twitter ensures a rapid spread of information, but since it is far from a reliable medium, in the specific circumstance NATO indicated to “authenticate” the tweets of war by mean of more traditional media such as satellite images. This allowed, before taking any military action with missiles, to verify the consistency of the information received.

Whether we are aware or not, this is the dawning of a new age in warfare and, especially for the role played by new technologies (Mobile and Social Networks). An era brilliantly summarized by the term “Consumerization of Warfare” coined by Andrea Zapparoli Manzoni, which emphasizes the role of new consumer technologies (Social Network and Mobile) in a new war format (actually I coined the term Mobile Warfare, but unfortunately I have to admit that this term does not expresses the concept with the same completeness).

The issue is considerably more complicated than a simple tweet or a Facebook status update (a method that, although unconfirmed, is said to have been used by the Syrian Government to distribute DdoS software to its supporters for attacking adversary sites), and hides the (usual and well known) Social Network security issues, which are projected in a military dimension extending them in a much larger and dangerous scale both for senders and recipients of the tweets.

The main security concern relies in reputation, a bless and a curse for Social Networks. As already mentioned, in the specific circumstance the tweets of war were checked with “traditional” methods (anyway this is already an advantage since it is easier to check the veracity of a received information, rather than probing satellite  images search for enemy outposts), but, generally speaking in absence of verification means, there is no guarantee concerning the truthfulness of a tweet, which, for instance might have been modified or manipulated up to the point of reversing the original content.

Moreover, the distribution channel  is not what one would define “a reliable channel” and the chronic lack of privacy (which on one hand ensures a rapid spread of the tweets and/or status updates to a wider audience as possible) makes the tweets easily interceptable by the adversary, which is then able to implement adequate countermeasures, before the recipient has the time to act (on the other hand is rather easy to create a fake profile for following the tweets or status updates of the enemies ). Probably, in order to create some sort of encrypted channel between the peers, would be more effective to establish a priori a code and not to be too explicit in the indications (such as those found here), but from a theoretical point of view nothing prevents a conceptual step forward for thinking about encrypted and authenticated tweets (shifting the problem to the key exchange, but that’s another story). Without flying too much with imagination, all this delineates a real war strategy through Social Networks that the Armies of the (very near) future will have to seriously take into consideration.

And that is what is already happening: The U.S. Army already has special corps (a kind of Corps of Network and Security Engineers) dedicated to maintain the Internet connectivity in war zones by mean of, for instance, drones equipped with special antennas to provide 3G or Wi-Fi connectivity: recent events in middle east have shown that social network is an excellent medium for PsyOps operations as well as information exchange. As a further confirmation, few days ago, a scoop from NYT unleashed the project funded by the Obama Administration, for a portable “Internet in a Suitcase” and independent mobile networks, to ensure connectivity in war zones and/or backing dissidents to overtake censorship or Internet filters.

But while we are assisting to a growing use of “consumer ” technologies in war zones (up to the intention by the U.S. Army to use Android equipped devices on the battlefield), we are increasingly getting used to coarse countermeasures deployed by illiberal governments as well. Those countermeasures aim to stop internal protests and movements and span from completely shutting down of the Internet up to filtering social networks. As a consequence we may not exclude “a priori” that in the near future the countermeasures could become more sophisticated: cyber-attacks targeting social networks or tweet spoofing are two possible realistic countermeasures up to “(Mobile) Malware of State” specifically designed to alter or prevent communications from traditional or mobile endpoints . Fantasy? Maybe, even if Social Network has nothing to prove in terms of impact, after some countries preferred to completely shut the Internet, real lifeblood of every nation, in order to stop the spread of unwelcome information made with tweets and status updates (every individual may become a war reporter with a simple mobile device).

Maybe one day (near) the EULA of Social Networks will be modified to disallow the use of social media platforms for actions of virtual guerrilla or Cyberwarfare: certainly Consumerization of Warfare carries on, amplified, all the concerns of consumerization of Information Technology, that we are reporting for two years now, and that are just beginning to show all their malicious effects for security in the enterprise. This might definitely be a huge concern (think to a military devices with a 0-day vulnerability exploitable by the enemy) and for sure it is not a good omen considering that more and more federal agencies are winking to consumer technologies as well.

If you are interested to more information about Consumerization of Warfare (was Mobile Warfare), besides the link in the post:

Tweets Of Democracy: The Obama Speech In Middle East and the role of New Technologies;

Mobile Phones Vs Tanks and Tweets Of Freedom: Social Networks and their role in  Syrian Revolution;

Mobile Warfare In Libya Comes True: Hacking and Hijacking of Libyana Mobile Operator in Libya.

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