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With Cyber becoming operational domain of warfare, Militaries establish Cyber commands and develop offensive cyberwarfare capabilites

Cyber warfare has developed into a more sophisticated type of combat between countries, where you can destroy communications and other digital infrastructure of adversaries. Cyberwarfare involves digital attacks on the networks, systems and data of another state, with the aim of creating significant disruption or destruction. That might involve destroying, altering or stealing data, or making it impossible to access online services, whether they are used by the military and broader society. These digital attacks may also be designed to cause physical damage in the real world – such as hacking into a dam’s control systems to opening its floodgates, says Techrepublic. A wider definition of cyberwarfare could also include some elements of what is also known as information warfare — including online propaganda and disinformation, such as the use of ‘troll armies’ to promote a certain view of the world across social media.


Cyber warfare has become  great alternative to conventional weapons.   “It is cheaper for and far more accessible to these small nation-states. It allows these countries to pull off attacks without as much risk of getting caught and without the repercussions when they are [caught], ” said  Amy Chang, a research associate in the technology and national security program at the Center for a New American Security. NATO ministers have designated cyber as an official operational domain of warfare, along with air, sea, and land.


Many governments are building a cyberwarfare capability: among the most advanced countries are the US, Russia, China, Iran and South Korea. The U.S., U.K. and Israel are  the West’s Tier 1 countries with sophisticated capabilities from both a defensive and offensive perspective. Russia and China are Tier 1 cyber aggressors and very close behind them comes Iran, then North Korea. Cyber warfare is largely considered to be a component of information warfare by Russia and China, and is often used in support of, or to pave the way for, conventional military operations.


The incidents of cyber attacks and cyberwarfare are ever increasing, targeting more and more countries and becoming legitimate. In June 2019, The Washington Post reported that the US Cyber Command had launched a “cyber strike that disabled Iranian computer systems used to control rocket and missile launches”. The report also stated: “The strike against the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps was coordinated with US Central Command”. The cyber strikes had taken weeks of preparation and were carried out in retaliation to the shooting down of a US RQ-4A Global Hawk drone in the vicinity of Iranian airspace on 20 June.


In 2016, The US Government  announced to have launched a series of cyber-attacks against the Islamic State coordinated by the Cyber Command. “Our cyberoperations are disrupting their command-and-control and communications,” Mr. Obama saidat the C.I.A. headquarters in Langley, Va., on countering the Islamic State. Whereas,  the nation state cyber attacks are undercover operations where prevention of attribution is a critical component.


President Barack Obama strongly suggested that Russian President Vladimir Putin personally authorized the computer hacks of Democratic Party emails that American intelligence officials say were aimed at helping Republican Donald Trump win the Nov. 8 election. Russia was also suspected for cyber-attack on Turkey following the downing of a Russian fighter jet late last year. Part of the Ukrainian power grid was attacked by hackers, causing blackouts; US accused Iranians of attempting to hack into the control-system of a dam. China uses cyber operations to target its other rivals including india as well for espionage purposes against US.


US and other coutries including U.K., China, Russia, Israel and others are setting up Unified cyber commands for more effective and coordinated efforts for conducting cyberspace operations, both offensive and defensive. The offensive operations are seen as deterrent to adversaries.


US has elevated  Cyber Command to the 10th combatant command and the first new combatant command since Africa Command came online in 2007. “Today we start writing the opening chapter for U.S. Cyber Command as our nation’s newest unified combatant command,” he said. Gen. Paul Nakasone assumed the directorship of the National Security Agency and Cyber Command, now officially a unified combatant command, from Adm. Michael Rogers in a ceremony May 4, 2018.  “From defensive operations protecting our networks to offensive operations against ISIS and other adversaries, CYBERCOM has matured rapidly.” According to the New York Times, the more proactive approach has led to “nearly daily raids on foreign networks”, as US Cyber Command’s staff seek to disable “cyber weapons” before they can be deployed.


Sergei Shoigu Russia’s defense minister in Feb 2017  made first official acknowledgement of the existence of  Russian cyber army when he said that his nation also has built up its muscle by forming a new branch of the military — information warfare troops.  Retired Gen. Vladimir Shamanov, the head of defense affairs committee in the lower house of parliament, said that information warfare troops’ task is to “protect the national defense interests and engage in information warfare,” according to the Interfax news agency. He added that part of their mission is to fend off enemy cyberattacks. Viktor Ozerov, the head of the upper house’s defense and security committee, also told Interfax that the information troops will protect Russia’s data systems from enemy attacks, not wage any hacking attacks abroad.


British government is to massively expand its cyber warfare infrastructure with the creation of a 2,000-strong unit that could absorb some 250 million pounds of annual funding and even more. It said that officials from the Government Communications Headquarters (GCHQ) will be staffed to the plan by the British Ministry of Defense which is aimed at countering the increasing cyber threats from countries like Russia. “By adopting offensive cyber techniques in the UK we are leveling the playing field and providing new means of both deterring and punishing states that wish to do us harm,” said General Sir Richard Barrons, a former commander of Joint Forces Command. Some sources said that the annual budget earmarked for the new project will even exceed 250 million pounds.


India plans to set up  Defence Cyber Agency (DCA) will initially directly employ about 1,000 people drawn from the Indian Air Force, the Army and the Navy, besid-es from the Integrated Defence Staff (IDS) and will be a precursor to the setting up of a cyber command in the near future. The new body will engage in defending military assets and resources and also use its offensive capabilities in proxy cyber warfare like those being indulged in by non-state actors and terrorists.

The US Unified Cyber command, USCYBERCOM

US cyber  strategy document  notes that China and Russia are conducting persistent campaigns in cyberspace that pose long term risk. The documents also say that China is eroding the U.S. military’s ability to overmatch opponents and that Russia is using cyber-enabled information operations to influence the U.S. population and challenge democratic processes. “The first shots of the next actual war will likely be fired in cyberspace and likely with devastating effect,” Chief of Staff  Gen. Milley said at the event. “Many analysts and senior government officials have said their greatest fear is a cyber Pearl Harbor. “The breadth of cyber threats posed to U.S. national and economic security has become increasingly diverse, sophisticated, and impactful,”


The Department of Defense said it would focus its cyber efforts on China and Russia and use the Pentagon’s cyber capabilities to collect intelligence as well as to prepare for future conflicts. In  March 2016, Secretary of Defense Ash Carter testified before Congress that the Pentagon is actively ramping up its cyber and electronic warfare divisions, including $34 billion appropriated exclusively for the new cyber and electronic divisions. On June 23, 2009, the Secretary of Defense directed the Commander of US Strategic Command (USSTRATCOM) to establish a sub-unified command, USCYBERCOM. The increase in the number and sophistication of attacks on the US’ cyber networks is necessitating more effective and coordinated efforts for conducting cyberspace operations, according to US Army officials. US Defense Secretary Ash Carter’s new cyber-strategy acknowledges that the Pentagon may wage offensive cyber-warfare.


U.S. Cyber Command is split off from the intelligence-focused National Security Agency. The goal, they said, is to give U.S. Cyber Command more autonomy, freeing it from any constraints that stem from working alongside the NSA. Making cyber an independent military command will put the fight in digital space on the same footing as more traditional realms of battle on land, in the air, at sea and in space. The move reflects the escalating threat of cyberattacks and intrusions from other nation states, terrorist groups and hackers, and comes as the U.S. faces fears about Russian hacking.


U.S. Cyber Command is composed of several service components, units from military services who will provide Joint services to Cyber Command. In March the Cyber Mission Force was said to be at about half of its target of 6,187 personnel in 133 teams, to be divided among the nation mission force, the combat mission teams and cyber-protection teams. Each service has a two- or three-star headquarters whose commander provides forces both to their service and Cyber Command when they are supporting other joint forces headquarters.


The USCYBERCOM conducts and synchronizes activities to: secure, operate, and defend the DODIN; attain freedom of action in cyberspace while denying same to adversaries; and, when directed, conduct full spectrum cyberspace operations in order to deter or defeat strategic threats to U.S. interests and infrastructure, ensure DoD mission assurance, and achieve Joint Force Commander objectives.


US’s CYBERCOM, which has overall authority over the 133 teams the military services are building certified that the Army’s 41 teams of active-duty soldiers and civilians had reached full operational capability (FOC) on Sept. 28 2017. A similar validation for the Navy’s 40 teams followed on Oct. 6, officials said. Each of the services is expected to have its teams achieve the FOC stage by Sept. 30, 2018, and each declared initial operating capability (IOC) in October of last year.


“Reaching FOC at this point in the development of the Navy’s CMF teams is a testament to the extraordinary hard work invested in manning our teams and training our personnel,” Vice Adm. Michael Gilday, the commander of the Navy’s 10th Fleet/Fleet Cyber Command, said in a statement. But he cautioned that the FOC declaration — coming after 1,800 personnel had completed some 18,000 courses — does not mean the Navy has come close to meeting all of its objectives when it comes to equipping and training its cyber workforce, and is not a measure of overall “combat readiness.”


The US Army will soon send teams of cyber warriors to the battlefield as the military increasingly looks to take the offensive against enemy computer networks. While the Army’s mission is generally to ‘attack and destroy,’ the cyber troops have a slightly different goal, said Colonel Robert Ryan, who commands a Hawaii-based combat team. ‘Not everything is destroy. How can I influence by non-kinetic means? How can I reach up and create confusion and gain control?’ he told reporters. The cyber soldiers have been integrated for six months in infantry units, and will tailor operations according to commanders’ needs, said Colonel William Hartman of the Army’s Cyber Command.


However, Cyberwarfare is still eveolving . Since cyber became a major domain, what exactly constitutes an attack on the nation and its people remains debatable. Rep. Dan Donovan (R-N.Y.)  went before the House Armed Services Committee to request a provision be added to the 2019 defense authorization bill that provides a legal definition of cyber warfare. “We currently do not know when a cyber attack is an act of war. If North Korea were to bomb a hospital, that would undoubtedly be considered an act of war under both U.S. and international legal standards, but if North Korea were to launch a cyber attack on a hospital and were able to shut down the hospital or alter patient records, there is nothing that defines this as an act of war,” Donovan said.


According to reports, Pentagon has already finalized “Rules of Engagement” for Cyber Warfare which will allow military commanders to determine when the cyber-attack constitutes a “Act of War”. It will also provide a framework so that the military can take appropriate actions. For these operations to be militarily relevant in the future, they need to be integrated into campaign plans.


The creation of U.S. Cyber Command appears to have motivated other countries in this arena.


UK establishes British Cyber Command to Attack ISIL

Britain spies will be able to launch “offensive” cyber-attacks on individual hackers, criminal gangs and rogue states as well as jihadists for the first time under new techniques being developed by the intelligence agencies, George Osborne has revealed.


“Strong defences are necessary for our long-term security. But the capacity to attack is also a form of defence. “We need not just to defend ourselves against attacks, but rather to dissuade people and states from targetting us in the first place. “Part of establishing deterrence will be making ourselves a difficult target, so that doing us damage in cyberspace is neither cheap nor easy. “And part of establishing deterrence will be making sure that whoever attacks us knows we are able to hit back. “We are building our own offensive cyber capability – a dedicated ability to counter-attack in cyberspace.”


According to The Guardian, the 77th brigade formally came into being in April 2015. It was established as a special unit within its military structure – the British Cyber Command, by transferring up to 1500 officers under its command. The brigade will be carrying out covert operations on social networks exclusively, in an effort to spread disinformation and manipulate the population of certain countries, which should create “favorable conditions” for applying political pressure or the executing of regime change in strategically important regions of the world.

China unifying cyber warfare capabilities under a centralized command “Strategic Support Force (SSF)”

China’s rival to U.S. Cyber Command, the ambiguously named Strategic Support Force (SSF) was founded in 2015,  and today responsible for conducting many of Beijing’s most sensitive cyber-espionage and propaganda missions.  A recently released unclassified report by the Defense Department concerning the state of the PLA highlights the importance of the SSF in the scope of Beijing’s quest to challenge the U.S. in cyber and space weapons development.


“Chinese leadership has described the SSF as a ‘new-type’ force and force for innovation, incubating some of the [People Liberation Army]’s most advanced capabilities, meaning it will be earmarked significant resources,” said John Costello, a senior analyst with U.S. dark web intelligence firm Flashpoint. “The SSF reflects a broader conception of cyber operations than that assumed by U.S. armed forces,” said Segal, specifically by Cyber Command. For example, information operations, also known as psychological warfare, is aligned with China’s offensive cyber mission because of the way Chinese military officials generally understand cybersecurity.


China established “information warfare units in the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) in 2003 and in the 2004 it prioritized of using information to fight and win wars. In 2010, China introduced its first department dedicated to defensive cyber war and information security, in response to the creation of USCYBERCOM. The PLA’s first specialized information unit was set up in July 2010, not long after the U.S. Cyber Command went operational.


Segments of the country’s 3PLA, China’s version of the NSA, and 4PLA, a clandestine unit responsible for electronic warfare and information operations, were consolidated into the SSF two years ago. China’s military chiefs unified the country’s cyber warfare capabilities under a centralized command reporting to the Central Military Commission. This would better organize China’s cyber warfare capabilities and enhance the role of cyber within the PLA. A unified command would be “a pretty big deal” in organizing domestic cyber forces to “win informationized local wars,” according to Council on Foreign Relations cyberspace program director Adam Segal.


“It would be an official sign that cyber-attacks would be used in a military conflict,” he said. “Theoretically, it would allow them to concentrate resources in one place and create specialized forces, and might make it easier to plan joint operations.” Rep. Mike Pompeo (R-Kan.) said that China, through the PLA, has developed one of the most sophisticated cyber capabilities in the world.


China’s government is sharply increasing its investment in cyber warfare programs in what U.S. intelligence officials say is a major attempt to compete with superior U.S. military cyber capabilities. The boost in Chinese cyber warfare programs followed a meeting in September of the ruling Communist Party Politburo when General Secretary and President Xi Jinping called for adopting a new information warfare strategy.


State-run Chinese television reported Sept. 2 that President Xi Jinping called for “more military innovation in China and a new strategy for information warfare amid a global military revolution.” The directive was made during an Aug. 29 meeting of the Communist Party Politburo.


North and South Korea

Cyber operations in North Korea (DPRK) are more diverse, aggressive and capable than often realized. According to the cyber security firm FireEye, “There is no question that DPRK has become increasingly aggressive with their use of cyber capabilities. They are not just focused on espionage — we’ve seen them use it for attack, we’ve seen them use it for crime. …They are showing up in places outside South Korea [and] continuing to expand capabilities.” DPRK cyber warriors regularly exploit so-called zero-day vulnerabilities — undiscovered flaws in operating systems that allow a breach of defenses.


Moreover, cyber experts in DPRK are now capable of stealing documents from vital computer networks isolated from the internet — air-gapped — such as military servers and power plant control systems. Now even air-gapped networks can be infiltrated, because even computers not connected to the internet still leak electromagnetic radiation during operation. By measuring those emanations, a cyber warrior can “extract the whole secret key by monitoring the target’s electromagnetic field for just a few seconds,” according to a recently published paper. While other countries, like New Zealand, Singapore and Canada, have complained about cyberattacks from the DPRK, most of North Korea’s cyber focus is on South Korea and the US


North Korea is believed to have thousands of personnel involved in cyberwarfare. Since 2010 they have been focusing on application programming interfaces (APIs), which can be designed to attack national infrastructures, North Korean defector and computer science professor Kim Heung-Kwang told the BBC.


The South Korean government has admitted that its cyber military command was hacked in Sep 2016 by injecting malicious codes into one of its main routing servers. South Korea’s military cyber command, set up to guard against hacking, has said. “It seems the intranet server of the cyber command has been contaminated with malware. We found that some military documents, including confidential information, have been hacked,” a military spokesman told South Korea’s Yonhap news agency.



A formal investigation has begun into the hack and its origin. Among those suspected, the first finger is being pointed at the North. “North Korea began to train its cyber warriors while developing nuclear arms in the early 1990’s and now commands 1,700 highly skilled and specialised hackers,” Cho Hyun Chun, chief of South Korea’s Defence Security Command had said earlier. In mid-June, South Korean police reported that more than 140,000 computers at 160 South Korean firms (mostly defense contractors) were hacked by North Korean hackers. During those attacks, more than 40,000 defense-related documents were stolen.


In December 2009, South Korea announced the creation of a cyber warfare command. Reportedly this is in response to North Korea’s creation of a cyber warfare unit. The GSD, the military wing of cyber operations and broadly comparable to the US Joint Chiefs of Staff, oversees operational aspects of the entire DPRK military as well as having authority over numerous operational cyber units. GSD units are tasked with political subversion, cyber warfare and operations such as network defense. So far the DPRK does not seem to have organized these units into an overarching cyber command.

Taiwan’s “Cyber Army” Plan

The overwhelming majority of recent cyber-attacks on Taiwan have originated in China, with one figure putting the numbers as high as 40 million a month. And it is no coincidence that these numbers have skyrocketed since the election of Tsai Ing-wen and her DPP administration. Learning from their allies in Russia, experts are increasingly certain that the CCP plans to use their army of state-funded hackers to try and disrupt the upcoming elections in Taiwan and ensure that their preferred candidates (those representing the pro-China KMT) win wherever possible. Taiwan has been target of cyber-attacks from china since many years, and has been a “testing ground” for China’s cyber army and state-sponsored hackers according to Taiwanese officials.


Taiwan’s new Minister of National Defense Feng Shih-kuan (馮世寬) recently confirmed the intention of the new government to create a “Cyber Army” (網軍) as the fourth branch of Taiwan’s armed forces. The announcement followed the plan outlined in the Defense Policy Blue Papers published earlier by the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP), which specifically called for the “[Integration of] existing military units and capacities of IT, communications, and electronics to establish an independent fourth service branch alongside the current Armed Forces consisting of the Army, Navy, and Air Force.” Taiwan’s plan for a Cyber Army however, will make it the first country to assign equal importance to cybersecurity as to the other branches of the armed forces.



Germany prepares for cyberwarfare offensive

Suspected attack by Russian hackers on computer systems used by the German government is still ongoing and may be more serious than at first thought, MPs warned. So far the German government has been tight-lipped about the details of the attack. The interior ministry has confirmed that hackers managed to access secure government computer systems for over a year, but there has been no official word on what information was compromised or the identity of those responsible.


Germany’s military, the Bundeswehr, is a high-value target for hackers and foreign spy agencies – not only because of its military secrets, but also due to its IT-supported weapons systems. If hackers were ever to gain control of them, the results could be devastating.


Future cyber attacks are to be fended off by the new “Cyber and Information Space Command” (CIR), which will become operational on April 1. The command will have its own independent organizational structure, thus becoming the sixth branch of the German military – on a par with the army, navy, air force, joint medical service and joint support service. Eventually, 13,500 German soldiers and civilian contractors currently dealing with cyber defense from a number of different locations will be brought together under the CIR’s roof.


The Bundeswehr is facing a major change of its strategy in cyber warfare. In addition to defense against cyberattacks, the German army is due to perform attacks on foreign states, DWN wrote, referring to a strategy paper of the German Ministry of Defense. The Bundeswehr will be responsible for responding to cyberattacks – while also resorting to military means in case of attack on its critical infrastructure such as communication and transport networks. The guidelines include not only defensive measures but also offensive ones. The Bundeswehr will be ready to carry out offensive cyber operations in Germany as well as abroad.


Establishing an IDF Cyber Command

Annual nationwide exercise run by the IDF’s General Staff in cooperation with Home Front Command puts emphasis on possible two pronged attack from Iranian fighters in Syria and their allies in the Gaza Strip—Hamas. A future multi-theater war, the IDF predicts, may have Iran as a major actor, and if so will undoubtedly drag its proxy in Gaza, Hamas, to back it in its efforts with a simultaneous pincer attack from the north and the south.


IDF Chief of Staff Gadi Eisenkot said that, in light of the challenges the IDF faces in the cyber sphere, a cyber command should be established in order for it to oversee all operational activity in the cyber dimension. According to the IDF Spokesperson’s Unit, the new command will be established over a time period of two years.


The announcement of the new cyber command came a day after Israeli cybersecurity company ClearSky said it had uncovered a massive Iranian cyber-attack against Israel. Attacks were launched against 40 Israeli targets and 500 other targets worldwide, including against reserve generals in the IDF, a security consulting company, and researchers, the firm told Army Radio.


IDF cyber command will be directly subordinate to the Chief of Staff; the fifth such branch after, the air force, navy, and intelligence, charged with both the buildup and the operational missions of the force. The major imperative in coherently implementing the decision to set up a cyber command within the IDF will be the attainment of maximal operational cooperation between the new command and other IDF forces and units.


Meir Elran and Gabi Sibonisay in INSS note: “This will not be an easy undertaking. A particularly important challenge will be the attainment of both long range planning and precise execution capabilities on the different levels, together with an optimal degree of operational flexibility in the defensive and offensive theater. An improved, innovative cyber system will serve to expand Israel’s spectrum of security capabilities, as long as it is integrated with an updated general security doctrine that is responsive to Israel’s rapidly changing needs.”


Iran scaling up their cyber capabilities

Iranian hackers  ramped up their attacks against U.S. targets  in the immediate aftermath of President Trump withdrawing  from the Iran nuclear deal and expected to further worsen after killing of  Iranian general Qassem Soleimani   who was killed in a U.S. airstrike in January 2010.


Iran has been scaling up its cyber capacities since the United States and Israel carried out a cyber assault on Iran in 2010, now known as the “Stuxnet” worm, aimed at disabling centrifuges in its nuclear programme.  And it had a big impact: it put the Iranian uranium enrichment programme back several years. One of the most well known is the attack on the Saudi Aramco oil company in 2017 utilizing the Shamoon virus–which was so devastating that the network had to be rebuilt almost from scratch. Then in December 2018, Italian oil company Saipem was targeted by hackers utilizing a modified version of Shamoon, taking down hundreds of the company’s servers and personal computers in the UAE, Saudi Arabia, Scotland, and India.


Hackers probably linked to Iran’s government have hit Saudi and Western aerospace and petrochemical firms, marking a rise in Iranian cyber-spying prowess, security firm FireEye (FEYE.O) said , an assessment shared by other U.S. experts.  Speaking to reporters in Singapore, FireEye Chief Executive Kevin Mandia said Iranian cyber espionage had grown in sophistication since he first spotted Iranians conducting rudimentary attacks on the U.S. State Department in 2008. “They’re good. (They‘ve) got a real capability there,” Mandia said of Iran. In the investigations of attacks on Western companies and governments that FireEye is hired to do, Iran now ranks with China and Russia in terms of frequency, he said.

“In recent years, Iran has invested heavily in building out their computer network attack and exploit capabilities,” said Frank Cilluffo, director of George Washington University’s Center for Cyber and Homeland Security. Cilluffo, a former homeland security advisor to President George W. Bush, estimated  in testimony before the U.S. Congress that Iran’s cyber budget had jumped twelve-fold under President Rouhani, making it a “top five world cyber-power”.  “They are also integrating cyber operations into their military strategy and doctrine,” he told Reuters.


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