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Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Iran and the New Warfare

The Shadow War

A vicious and shrewd plot came to me courtesy of a New York Times article today. The article in today's paper by Thomas Erdbrink reports that Iran as "unplugged" some computers in the powerful Oil Ministry Monday in response to a virus attacked which started Sunday and may have deleted data from the Ministry's servers.

The question that rocketed into my mind was this...who would be perpetrating these cyber-attacks on Iran?... Last year centrifuges used to enrich Uranium for Iran's nuclear program were attacked by a virus called "Stuxnet". Although Israeli officials were giddy with the viruses success, no perpetrator of the attacks has come forward.

Applying the "cui bono" (who benefits?) logic to this article had my mind warping together a possibly scheme that will change warfare as we know it, and it is being tested on Iran as we speak.

Who would benefit from the attacking of the Iranian nuclear program is easy and the list is long. The US and Israel lead Western powers against Iranian interests. Clearly the security of Israel is at least symbolically protected by the active attacking of Iran's nuclear aspirations.

But who would benefit from a successful attack against Iran's Oil Ministry is slightly more complicated. The US government benefits in any situation where Iran's vulnerability comes to the surface, especially after the two countries' recently strained relationship. The price of oil will undoubtedly be affected by the incident, or at least OPEC will use it as a pretense to magically elevate the already-criminal price of crude oil. And if there is one certainty about anything in this global economy, oil is always big business.

My first thought was it is child's play for a NSA attack to cripple centrifuges used to enrich uranium, or send a virus to disrupt the oil industry in a country George W. Bush described as one leg of "The Axis of Evil".

But then I rethought the shrewd nature of the US government. Surely if they were involved it would be in a less direct and conspicuous way, someone else would definitely be left holding the bucket if the plan went to shit somehow. A clear option would be for the NSA or CIA to enlist known hackers to the cause using either the threat of federal hacking charges on those already under investigation, or cold hard cash to the free hacker groups living in the shadows. Using hackers would give the the government deniability if shit hit the fan.

Even better cover for a government-hacker pact against Iran is the vast press coverage given to hacker groups such as Anonymous. Viewed by internet-dwellings as protectors of internet freedom, the hacking groups are direct foils to the government, making an agreement between the two seem ridiculous.

This is a grim hypothetical on a day when the New Orleans Saints are being dragged through the mud for allegedly recording opposing coaches from 2002-04, on top of the bounty scandal of a month ago.

I think it's safe to assume Roger Gooddell is poised to drop the hammer on one team for two offenses most contending teams probably have perpetrated blatantly for years. Now, thanks to precedents established by Major League Baseball and government oversight of sport, the FBI is involved in the soon-to-be coronated "Tape-Gate" which will be added to the list of "Bounty-Gate" and "Spy-Gate". The mileage sports gets out of Watergate references is shocking.

Back to the matter at hand, Iran. I think that Us involvement in the attacks against Iran in some way can be taken for granted. The talks between Iran and Western powers has been almost as infalmmatory as that posturing midget in North Korea.

More importantly these attacks show a new direction in warfare the US may take to combat terrorists and other nations. A vile march into Tehran by the US Marine Corps would certainly be made easier if every military server in Iran was melted to the consistency of scrambled eggs due to some super-virus the NSA is spawning. The effect would be a new type of "total war".

This "Total Electronic War" would see the blitzkrieg-like US Air Force bombs preceded by strategic cyber-attacks to disrupt key military communications. Nations, especially non-Westernized ones, would find these cyber-attacks as crippling as any ordinance.

Is it so hard to imagine the US government hiring hackers to help develop cyber-weaponry? This is the same government with a track record of outsourcing to organized crime and assorted criminals throughout US history. It is logical that if the CIA or NSA need a virus, they would reach out to hackers who regularly attack corporate sites. If you can't employ the best, then hire them out from the lowest reaches of the internet.

The Hacker Army

From the other side of the coin could hackers, the "Robin Hood's" of the internet, protectors of free information and enemies of exploitative corporations, sell-out to the Department of Defense?

Well, in many cases they might not have much of a choice. Most people can relate to choosing working for the enemy over a federal indictment on hacking charges. The government may even become bold and reach out to known hackers that aren't up on charges. These, the true capitalist swine among hackers, would jump at the deep pockets of Uncle Sam.

Better to make a mountain of money working as a "government consultant" or "contractor" than rot in a prison cell. On top of access to the NSA's super-computers, and every luxury they could "need" to help develop cyber-weapons for deployment against Iran and others would be made available.

It is a scary time, and even scarier still if the public or media ever catch on to the persistent cyber-attacks against Iran and the most likely source of these attacks. Somewhere in a government facility an ex-internet freedom fighter is creating the newest virus to be tested against the evil flavor-of-the-day, Iran.

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