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Posts Tagged ‘Mobile Warfare’

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.

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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.

Internet In A Suitcase

June 13, 2011 2 comments

According to a NYT article, this is exactly what the Obama Administration is doing, leading a global effort to deploy a “shadow” Internet and an independent mobile phone network that dissidents can use against repressive governments that seek to silence them by censoring or shutting down telecommunications networks (as happened in Egypt and Syria).

More in detail the above mentioned effort include secretive projects to create independent cellphone networks inside foreign countries, as well as an “Internet in a suitcase” prototype, financed with a $2 million State Department grant, which could be secreted across a border and quickly set up to allow wireless communication over a wide area with a link to the global Internet. In a sort of 21st century version of Radio Free Europe relying on a version of “mesh network” technology, which can transform devices like cellphones or personal computers to create an invisible wireless web without a centralized hub

If one puts together the pieces of the puzzles of the last events, one clearly realizes that the ingredients were already on the pot and now are being mixed in the right dosage for a recipe of freedom.

On the other hand the importance of the Internet Connectivity (in terms of presence or absence) in War Zones is unquestionable. And this is brilliantly shown from the fact that we are getting more and more familiar with the shutting down of Internet connectivity as a clumsy attempt carried out by some governments for preventing the spreading of unwelcome information and the consequent use of Social Networks for propaganda, PsyOps or real War Operations. Of course I already talked about special groups of US Army, which I dubbed “Corps of (Networks and Security) Engineers” dedicated to maintain Internet connectivity in war zones by mean of 3G or Wi-Fi drones. It looks like I was only partially right since the reality seems much closer to a spy novel featuring special agents equipped with Internet suitcases rather than soulless drones equipped with antennas.

Same speech for mobile technologies: United States officials said, the State Department and Pentagon have spent at least $50 million to create an independent cellphone network in Afghanistan using towers on protected military bases inside the country in order to offset the Taliban’s ability to shut down the official Afghan services. More recently, a similar action was performed in Libya, with the hijacking of the Libyana Mobile Operator Network to be used by rebels groups to communicate between them. Clearly these were not episodic cases but the first examples of a real mobile warfare strategy aimed to maintain mobile connectivity (videos shot with mobile phones are a point in common of all the protests in Maghreb and Middle East) without clumsy actions such as the smuggling of Satellite Phones in Syria.

In light of these facts, Mr. Obama’s speech on the Middle East on May, the 19th assumes a new meaning and a deeper analysis shows that some prodromes of this strategy were already announced, even if in a hidden form:

Cell phones and social networks allow young people to connect and organize like never before. A new generation has emerged. And their voices tell us that change cannot be denied…

And again:

In fact, real reform will not come at the ballot box alone. Through our efforts we must support those basic rights to speak your mind and access information. We will support open access to the Internet.

Open support to Internet… Even if closed inside a suitcase…

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.

Tweets Of Democracy

May 19, 2011 7 comments
Official presidential portrait of Barack Obama...

Image via Wikipedia

Today President Obama held his speech on the Middle East announcing a new strategy (and new investments) for the Middle East aimed to encourage the process of Democratization in place. I gave a look to the entire speech and noticed some assertions particularly meaningful which implicitly admit the crucial role that new technologies played in the past months (and will probably play into this kind of new Middle East Mashall Plan) as triggers (and drivers) for backing the fights for human rights.

I used the term Mobile Warfare to stress the role that (consumer) mobile technologies and social networks played in the events that changed the social and political landscape in the Mediterranean Africa and more in general in the Middle East, coming to conclusion that the impact of these new technologies is defining a new democracy model which will have to be taken seriously into consideration by all those governments which still put in place severe limitations to human rights.

So, I was definitively not surprised when I noticed this assertion on Mr. Obama’s speech:

… But the events of the past six months show us that strategies of repression and diversion won’t work anymore. Satellite television and the Internet provide a window into the wider world – a world of astonishing progress in places like India, Indonesia and Brazil. Cell phones and social networks allow young people to connect and organize like never before. A new generation has emerged. And their voices tell us that change cannot be denied…

Which implicitly admits the role of Mobile Warfare: strategies of repression and diversion will not work anymore and the weapons to fight repression are just Cell Phones and Social Networks with which young people (usually most involved in the protests) can connect and not only organize life like never before but also realize that there is a world  outside the window…  On the other hand, particularly in case of Egypt, Social Network literally played a primary role in the protest, since one of the leaders was Mr. Wael Ghonim (expressly quoted by Mr. Obama’speech), a young Google Executive.

And the freedom is not only a matter of elections but also of access to new technologies:

In fact, real reform will not come at the ballot box alone. Through our efforts we must support those basic rights to speak your mind and access information. We will support open access to the Internet, and the right of journalists to be heard – whether it’s a big news organization or a blogger. In the 21st century, information is power; the truth cannot be hidden; and the legitimacy of governments will ultimately depend on active and informed citizens.

This implies that the plan that U.S. and E.U. are going to deploy for the Middle East (a comprehensive Trade and Investment Partnership Initiative in the Middle East and North Africa) will also involve funding aimed to promote the access to new technologies for facilitating the sharing of information (and the conseguent hactivism and psyops operations), a factor which the recent events have shown to become synonym of democracy. Also because, according to Cisco predictions, if in 2010 there were 12.5 billion devices connected to the Internet, there will be 25 billion by 2015, and 50 billion by 2020, and consequently it is really hard to think that filters, blocks and any other form of (social, political and technological) repression in the Middle East will stop this tide.

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