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Posts Tagged ‘Libya’

Anonymous vs Syrian Electronic Soldiers

September 28, 2011 2 comments

Hactivism is making possible to bring wars and revolutions on the cyberspace, the fifth domain of war. In particular the Arab Spring has given the definitive consecration to politically driven hacking actions that have proven to be a key factor inside the protests that are changing the political landscape in the Middle East: non conventional weapons used together with “traditional” methods by both parties involved on revolutions: cyber-opponents vs cyber-supporters.

Tunisia has been the first example of this new way to provide backing to social protests: at the beginning of 2011 the Anonymous activists targeted Tunisian government sites. It was the 4th of January and this action (or Operation quoting the same term used by the Anonymous) showed to the world the real, political and social power of the Cyber warfare.

Few days later (June, 26th 2011) the same fate befell to Egypt: government sites were targeted with DDOS attacks which contributed to draw attention to ongoing protests which led to the fall of President Mubarak.

Following the wake of the Arab spring, the Anonymous also took position in the Libyan Revolution declaring their engagement with the rebels. Although, from an information security perspective, no practical consequence followed this statement, it had a huge symbolic significance, since in a clear and decisive manner, an hacker crew crossed the boundary of the cyberspace and took position on a social and political event even before performing any hacking acton.

But in Syria the revolution fought in the fifth domain has reached its “bloody” peak. On August, the 7th 2011 the Anonymous targeted the Syrian Ministry of Defense with a resounding defacement. A couple of days later, in retaliation of the previous defacement, the Syrian Electronic Soldiers defaced Anonplus, the Anonymous Social Network, that had already been, a couple of weeks before, the target of a defacement performed by the same Syrian Crew.

But the “war inside the war” fought between the two groups does not stop here: following the bloody events in Syria, on Sunday, 25th of September, the Anonymous decided to open again the hostilities unleashing a chain of defacement action, against the Syrian Government, hacking and defacing the official sites of seven major Syrian cities, which stayed up in their defaced version for more than 16 hours. The defacement actions kept on the following day in which 11 Syrian Government Sites were defaced as part of the same operation.

Of course a retaliation of the Syrian Electronic Soldier was predictable (and close in time) and targeted, in an unexpected manner, one of the most important US Universities, the University of Harvard which was victim of a resounding defacement on Monday, the 26th of September.

So far the two Cyber Armies have shown an unprecedented impetus in countering their respective acts of cyberwar. Probably the story will not end up here and, most of all, we will have to get used to watch the wars and the revolutions on a double perspective involving real battlefields and virtual battlefields. The problem here is that information security professionals and system administrators are not likely to be mere spectators, but the real soldiers of this non conventional war.

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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…

Home Made Mobile Warfare

David has shown me another example of the strict connection between real warfare and mobile warfare come from Afghanistan. Few days after the revelations about the Internet in Suitcase project funded by the Obama Administration and aimed to deploy a “shadow” Internet and an hidden mobile phone network to be used by dissidents, an indipendent, but somehow similar project has been implemented in Afghanistan. It is called FabFi and it is essentially an open-source, FabLab-grown system using common building materials and off-the-shelf electronics to transmit wireless ethernet signals across distances of up to several miles. Said in few words, the main component of this home made network can be built out of trash.

The Afghan city of Jalalabad has built a high-speed DIY Internet network with main components built out of trash found locally. A FabFi node can be buolt out of approximately $60 worth of everyday items such as boards, wires, plastic tubs, and cans that will serve a whole community at once.

SInce January 2009, the Jalalabad FabLab demonstrated the capability of the FabFi system by bringing high-speed internet to a village, hospital, university, and a non-governmental organization in Jalalabad, Nangarhar Province, Afghanistan. These low-cost, locally-produced networks can be easily spread across isolated villages and towns, placing them in touch with the outside world and facilitating socio-economic development from the ground up.

Jalalabad’s longest link is currently 2.41 miles, between the FabLab and the water tower at the public hospital in Jalalabad, transmitting with a real throughput of 11.5Mbps (compared to 22Mbps ideal-case for a standards compliant off-the-shelf 802.11g router transitting at a distance of only a few feet). The system works consistently through heavy rain, smog and a couple of good sized trees.

The project is important from a double perspective: from a technological point of view it allows high speed connectivity for war zones, or rather zones lacking conventional broadband. From a sociological point of view it confirms the strict relationship between Internet and Democracy, and, (in)directly it also confirms that the Internet is a fundamental weapon for fights in favor of the democracy, what we called the Mobile Warfare.

I could not help noticing, by tweeting with my colleague David:

@cencio4 if you make a parallelism with real warfare, it is like building home made weapons for guerrilla.

And, as a matter of fact, in order to further emphasize the parallelism, he replied:

@paulsparrows that’s exactly what rebels did in Libya with parts of helos on Mad Max-like vehicles

Take the examples of Afghanistan and Libya, invert respectively the terms Internet Connectivity and Weapons, and result is exactly the same.

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.

Tweets Of War Officially Confirmed

June 11, 2011 4 comments

Do you remember my Tweets of War? That is the post in which I hypothesized that the rebels in Libya could use social networks to provide the coordinates of loyalists to the Allied troops in order to identify targets to bomb? Well, it looks like that a couple of months ago I was a good prophet, since the tweets of war  were effectively real.

As a matter of fact today Wired confirmed that NATO used Twitter as the newest bombing tool (the information was originally reported by AFP)

Twitter and Facebook are among a wide range of media and other sources NATO’s intelligence officers monitor around-the-clock to identify potential targets in the air war against Kadhafi’s troops, the officials said.

“We will take information from every source we can,” said British Wing Commander Mike Bracken, the Libya operation’s military spokesman. “We get information from open sources on the Internet, we get Twitter.”

What follows is a Tweet of War from the original article collected a couple of months ago, indicating possible coordinates in the city of Misrata:

Of course, reputation is the main security concern, so that an anonymous official stressed that any information is checked against other more reliable sources such as satellite imagery and other traditional intelligence gathering before any jets are deployed.

With no doubt this evidence shows the real power and the primary role played in modern wars of what I called Mobile Warfare, that is the use of mobile technologies and social networks to turn the tide of a conflict.

Thanks to David for identifying the tweets and suggesting me the article from Wired.

Mobile Phones Vs Tanks

April 26, 2011 4 comments

Or rather “Tweets like Bullets”… I must confess I was uncertain about the title of this post. At the end the one I chose, although absurd at first view, better describes the role that Mobile Technologies (the so called Mobile Warfare) are playing in the dramatic events of Syria. Only few months ago it would have been absurd to only think to fight a tank with a mobile phone, today, looking at what it is happening in the Middle East (and also to what has happened in the Maghreb), it is an image which goes far beyond the reality, and perfectly describes in few words, much better than any post, the way in which the battles for human rights are being led in the Web 2.0 (or War 2.0) world…

The title of the post came to my mind after viewing this post, which well summarizes the way revolutions are being fought.

(Thanks to Josh Levy for reporting the tweet in this post). The above tweet follows the line of the one I mentioned yesterday:

And both of them (together with other tweets of the same shape appeared today), are dramatically witnessing, once again more than any post, how deeply the Mobile Warfare is acting in Syria.

Mobile Warfare shows, once more, that modern wars are being fought in real battlefields and virtual battlefields in the same time, and if one considers mobile phones as a new kind of weapons (and social networks as the media to propagate PsyOps), one finds for these new weapons the same patterns used for real weapons. As a matter of fact what happens in real battlefields? It often happens that foreign governments interested in changing the tide of the battle, allocate funding  for the revolutions. Instead in virtual battlefields foreign governments spend millions to facilitate the use of the Internet technologies for activists (as I reported yesterday). Moreover in real battlefields close countries to war zones are used to deliver weapons to one of the parties fighting; again in virtual battlefield close countries are used to smuggle “war 2.0” weapons such as satellite phones, cameras and laptops. Not only: while in real battlefields corps of engineers build line of communications, in virtual battlefield corps of (network and security) engineers  build line of mobile communications: this happened in Libya with the backing of Egypt and this is happening in Syria with the backing of Jordan which today enhanced the strength of its mobile network to balance the cut-off of yesterday performed by the Government in order to prevent Mobile Communications the Deraa Governatorate.

In the virtual battlefield there are also sabotage actions: how else to interpret the fact that the Syrian government has been forced to postpone the auction of its third GSM mobile licence due to the political uprisings in the country. The story in itself is really interesting, but there is a point in particular which is worthwhile to mention:

Before the protests started, France Telecom, Turkcell and Etisalat were all in the running to bid for the licence. But, at the end of March Etisalat withdrew its offer with France Telecom and Turkcell both removing their bids at the beginning of April.

Etisalat is the UAE Telco Provider which took part to the hack of Colonel Gaddafi’s Libyana Operator  providing the satellite feed allowing the Free Libyana calls to be routed. Mobile Warfare has always the same patterns regardless of the country in which it acts.

One last consideration: on top of these thoughts (and these tweets) I could not help thinking about the opposite role that mobile technologies and social network play into different regions of the world. While they contribute to maintain stability (and maturity) in mature countries (even if an excessive usage, most of all from younger generations, tends to make people slave and immature), they are playing a crucial role to enhance the level of freedom and awareness in unstable countries. This is what I called The Thin Red Line which marks the political and social impact of the new technologies into our World constantly moving.

Tweets Of Freedom (Updated)

April 25, 2011 4 comments

It was exactly a month ago when commenting on the Mobile Warfare in Syria, I predicted a possible peak in the protests for the half of April. Unfortunately I was a (quite easy actually) good prophet even if my prediction was not completely correct since we are now in the second half of the month. The wave is moving and in the last days the situation has plunged: protests are rising and from the “Black Friday”, the day in which the protests reached the peak, sources report nearly 300 victims in the wave of violence which shook the Country.

As usual I am watching with interest the roles that mobile technologies and social networks are playing and I am noticing the same patterns which characterized the revolutions of this beginning of 2011: social networks used for witnessing the events, common persons becoming improvised reporters armed only with their mobile devices (weapons), and governments desperately trying to stop the streams of bits from the hot zones with coarse attempts.

Consequently it is not surprising that many tweets are just reporting (together with the dramatic news of new military repressions) the cut-off of Internet, Mobile Phones and landlines in Nawa (Governorate of Daraa).

Nevertheless, Syrian Citizens keep on witnessing, what is happening and their tweets and updates are shacking the web (and the world): they show the importance and power of Mobile Warfare and the weapons citizens are using are well summarized by this tweet which encloses the essence of the mobile warfare:

The shots of the gun are viewable, for instance on the Facebook Syrian Revolution 2011 page, which is continuously fed with video “shot” from mobile devices. Moreover, in this moment, mobile communications in Daraa are possible only thanks to Jordanian Mobile Networks:

Will it happen an hijacking of the mobile network with the collaboration of a close country as occurred in Libya with the “Free Libyana”? Difficult to say, but for sure some other tweets do not exclude this possibility:

Worthwile to mention: the above tweet also mentions the hacking of Addounia.tv occurred on April, the 23rd. “More tradional” Cyberwar operations…

Update

Few seconds after publishing the post I found an interesting information, emphasizing the power of mobile warfare, according to which reports by the “Israeli”, announced yesterday that the United States intends to allocate funding for the “revolutions” through the Internet in the “Arab countries” to help the activists bring about change for their countries.

The information have been mentioned by tge “Jerusalem Post” (but I did not fond any conform so far). According to the latter, the administration of President Barack Obama plans to spend more than $ 25 million to facilitate the use of the Internet through activists who’s governments hinder the use of Internet services.

U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for Public Democracy, Human Rights and Labor “Michael Posner” announced to the newspaper “the current administration believes that democratic change must be emanated from within. “

Wars and battlefield are really changing and the parallelism between real weapons and cyber weapons is getting more and more pertinent strengthening the concept of War 2.0: in the “old” world, foreign enemy countries financed internal rebels providing them weapons; in the new world they learn them how to use internet.

Update 2

Thanks to Twitter I came across this interesting article from NYT, which further enhances the similarities between cyber-activism and real activism. Exiles drive the revolution allowing the sharing of images and information all over the World. Meanwhile they created a network to smuggle “weapons” inside Syria. Which kind of weapons? Of course satellite phones, along with hundreds of cameras and laptops.

Several say they relied on Syrian businessmen — abroad or in Syria — to finance one of their most impressive feats. After witnessing the Egyptian government’s success in shutting down the Internet and mobile phone networks in January, they made a concerted attempt to circumvent a similar move by delivering satellite phones and modems across Syria. Ammar Abdulhamid, an activist in Maryland, estimated that they delivered 100 satellite phones, along with hundreds of cameras and laptops.

Thanks to this “smuggling” we may listen to the tweets of freedom. The mobile warfare seems unstoppable…

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