Tag Archives: War

US Killer Robot Policy – No. 5 gets to press the fire button


When the US Defence Secretary signed the deliciously named directive 3000.09, he was, in effect, launching the world’s first national policy on killer robots.

The purpose of the directive is split in two and reads like this:

“This Directive:

a.Establishes DoD policy and assigns responsibilities for the development and use of autonomous and semi – autonomous functions in weapon systems, including manned and unmanned platforms.

b. Establishes guidelines designed to minimize the probability and consequences of failures in autonomous and semi – autonomous
weapon systems that could lead to unintended engagements.”

So basically, it’s about who get to develop killer robots, and who we get to point the blame at, should the killer robots go all Robocop 2 on everyone.

It was released last year, but according to a thourhgly researched and very interesting article in the rather niche publication Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, the policy actually:

“[…] fully supports developing, testing, and using the technology, without delay. Far from applying the brakes, the policy in effect overrides longstanding resistance within the military, establishes a framework for managing legal, ethical, and technical concerns, and signals to developers and vendors that the Pentagon is serious about autonomous weapons.”

What this means is that not only are we likely to see various arms manufacturers enter a race to build real versions of the No. 5 Robot from Short Circuit (minus the actual short circuiting and evolving feelings from jumping on a frog), but that one piece of legislation has achieved the nigh on impossible feat of horrifying human rights organisations and military drone operators at the same time. .

Anonymous hacks official North Korean social media accounts – moves world closer to nuclear war????

Photo by: Abode of Chaos

The official North Korean accounts on the social(ist) (sorry) media sites Twitter and Flickr have looked a little odd recently – the reason being that the hacking community Anonymous have managed to break into them and change the content just a little.

And according to some media pundits, the hack is bad, bad, bad news for the South Koreans who should be running for the bomb shelters.

True or false?

Well, let’s take a quick look at the evidence. For example, I’m pretty sure this picture from the North Korean Flickr account is from Anonymous:


Tweets on the North’s Twitter account said “Hacked” – instead of the usual steady stream of praise for the country’s leader, Kim Jong Un.

While some parts of the Internet have been smirking at the lulz – certain parts of the news media have been lashing out at Anonymous, claiming the collectives’ actions brings international armed conflict that much closer.

One of those worried of the (nuclear) fall-out of the hacks is Huffington Post’s Doug Olenick.

“I don’t think I am overstating the situation when I say lives could have been lost by this bit of online tomfoolery,” he said in a recent blog piece on Huffington.com.

He then goes on to stipulate that the hacking of North Korea’s official Twitter and Flickr accounts might be the final straw that brakes the camel’s back, making North Korea launch missiles at South Korea or other enemies.

“Exactly what would it take to push Kim Jong Un over the edge and decide to further up the ante? Perhaps a small bit of international embarrassment?,” he asks, rhetorically.

Doug Olenick goes on to say that North Korea ‘routinely attacks its southerly neighbour’ and that Anonymous’ attack came at a ‘a particularly inopportune time’ because of the current tension in the region.

If you look at the list of attacks by North Korea on South Korea, you see that they certainly live up to the following definition of routinely: ‘A prescribed, detailed course of action to be followed regularly; a standard procedure.’

However, as Doug Olenick as admits in his blog piece, the attacks are usually carried out to ‘extract concessions from others’.

So on one hand Olenick is saying that Anonymous have struck a blow against a volatile regime at a really, really bad time. The defacing of Twitter and Flickr might, in other words, push it over the edge and see it launch a spontaneous attack on South Korea.

To prove this is a likely scenario, he refers us to the fact that North Korea have a history of attacking South Korea, and then tells us that these attacks are always premeditated and carried out in order to get something from someone.

So it’s a bad time for the cyber attacks, because North Korea are almost always about to launch attacks on South Korea and the cyber attacks might push North Korea into launching a spontaneous attack on a country they routinely carry out premeditated attacks on?

Apart from this – seemingy faulty, logic, my big(gest) problem with a piece like this is that it should be in the dictionary as the definition of the pot calling the kettle black.

Because if North Korea and Kim Jong Un are really that easily swayed, then what is more likely to make him press the big red button, labelled ‘fire’? A cyber attack defacing something that only a few people in his country actually has access to, or international media companies going on about how an attack like this damages his reputation or how he, based on prior evidence, is likely to launch an attack in order to gain something?

Companies that he knows his entire diplomatic core and military leaders will be listening to.

I mean, if he actually saw the Flickr picture above (which was more than likely kept far, far from Kin Jong Un by people who will have been afraid of what would happen to them and their families should the great leader actually see it), then what? More likely than not, he’d be thinking about actually getting that tattoo of Mickey Mouse…

And when talking about bad timing – then what about the Arab Spring? Wasn’t that people inside and outside various countries using social media to generate regime change at a time where the actions might have triggered a country like Libya to launch attacks on its neighbours?

It might be a weak argument, but I’m happy being the kettle if Doug Olenick and other voices in the media landscape will own up to being pots….

Can your country kill a hacker in a cyber war?

The frontline of a coming war? Cyber warfare raises a number of questions about  who can be defines as the enemy.
The front-line of a coming war? Cyber warfare raises a number of questions about how you define the enemy.

Wars moving from blowing stuff up to a fight for information, using the internet instead of missiles, has created a marked shift of who is on the front-line in the 21st century. It has also meant that the rules of engagement from previous centuries no longer apply. It created new questions like: can a nation kill an enemy hacker? If your country is a member of NATO, then the answer seems to be…maybe…

Recently, a group of hackers found itself in the midst of a media storm. The group in question is called PLA Unit 61398 and it was identified as being behind cyber attacks on hundreds of companies around the world The revelation came in a recent report by the American information-security company Mandiant .

In their report on PLA Unit 61398, Mandiant stipulated that the Chinese government must to some extent have known what the hackers were up to.

“The details we have analysed during hundreds of investigations convince us that the groups conducting these activities are based primarily in China and that the Chinese government is aware of them,” Mandiant said in the report.

“Either they are coming from inside Unit 61398, or the people who run the most-controlled, most-monitored Internet networks in the world are clueless about thousands of people generating attacks from this one neighbourhood,” Kevin Mandia, founder and chief executive of Mandiant, told The New York Times.

In other words: the hackers were – at least to some extent – working with the blessing of the Chinese Government. The reason could be that PLA Unit 61398’s attacks seemed to have a specific focus: information that could benefit both Chinese companies and the Chinese government.

Of course, China has denied any sort of involvement, saying it itself had been the victim of malicious cyber attacks.

And it might have been. and the attacks might even have come from somewhere deep in the US military system, which has previously been involved in cyber warfare.

As reported by Ars Technica, the US Military were, for instance, partly responsible for developing the Stuxnet virus, which targeted Iranian nuclear facilities.

Until now, the world has (luckily) yet to see a full-out cyber-war between nations, but the possibility has left military commanders throughout the world scratching their heads.

The reason is that a cyber-war is not actually fought in a physical world. It’s a new way of fighting that has given the commanders even more grey hair than the war on terror.

In conventional warfare, someone does something physical to something that’s part of your war machine; say blow up your tank, for example. This is great, because it’s definitely an act of aggression, meaning that you can, in turn, blow up something belonging to them.

You might be tempted to let this ‘something’ be your enemy’s entire country. Luckily, there is a Geneva Convention, which gives you a rough outline of how much you can blow up. It’s the idea of a proportionate response. But the convention was created at a time when enemies usually had countries.

Which is why I personally think the war on terror has given the Americans the problems/oppotunities it has. If your enemy turns out not to have a country, hell, he might not even have a tank, then what are you going to blow up? And if he hasn’t got a country, then how do you treat him?

One possibility is to do what the US did, which was basically to call in their lawyers, create a legal country called ‘Terroristland’, based on a really skewed interpretation of the Geneva convention, give anyone fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan a passport to Terroristland and then sail it straight into the Bermuda Triangle of human rights.

But at least the people in Terroristland had the common decency to blow your stuff up.

That’s not the case when it comes to the front-line soldiers of the 21st centuries potential cyber-wars, the hackers, who are more likely to be looking for information about your stuff that blows stuff up.

So how do you deal with hackers? What sort of rights do they have? Well, the Geneva conventions doesn’t really apply – hell, the convention is from a time long before Alan Turing was being prosecuted by the British Government for being homosexual (included as an example of how all governments – not just the US – have always had a knack for disregarding human rights)

The answer to this question is still in the wind, but some agencies and organisations have tried to come up with something approaching one.

NATO is one of these. As if often the case for NATO, the solution is to make a special division that deals with this sort of thing and then let them get on with writing a really long, ambiguous report. The division in question here is the Cooperative Cyber Defence Centre of Excellence (for reasons that must surely be an in joke, the acronym for this is NATO CCD COE).

The NATO CCD COE commissioned a group of experts to look at cyber-warfare, which they did in the The Tallinn Manual on the International Law Applicable to Cyber Warfare (TMILACW).

In the TMILACW, the experts offer the following answer to whether or not hackers can be seen as enemy combatants:

“A cyber operation by a State directed against cyber infrastructure located in another State may violate the latter’s sovereignty. It certainly does so if it causes damage.”

So if a cyber attack carried out by agents of country a brings down a plane belonging to country b, everything is clear – it’s definitely a military attack.

So does this merit a military response?

The TMILACW says yes, as long as the response tries to balance “[…] the level of harm inflicted and certain qualitative elements of a particular cyber operation.”

But how about attacks like those carried out by the Chinese hackers, who were after information, not bringing down planes or causing traffic lights to change colour, causing crashes?

“Acts of cyber intelligence gathering and cyber theft,” or “cyber operations that involve brief or periodic interruption of non-essential cyber services,” do not fall into this “armed attack” category.

It’s worth to note that TMILACW is in no way binding, so it’s up to the various members of NATO to decide if they’ll use its recommendation as words of gospel, or if they’ll make their own rules.

But for now, at least, it’s not likely that your country is going to be sending missiles after anyone with a laptop. Which is probably a good thing – especially when you consider how much software you find in an average missile these days.

President Obama’s drone ‘baseball card kill-list’ revealed

In a startling piece in the New York Times, journalists Jo Becker and Scott Shane have gained an insight into how the top brass at the White House pick out which suspected terrorists it will target for assassination using unmanned aircraft, also commonly referred to as drones.

The article describes how President Obama personally reads through the potential targets’ biographies before signing off on the orders. One official describes the bios as ‘the macabre “baseball cards” of an unconventional war’.

The article is a stark reminder of the fact that Obama has signed off on more than three times as many drone assassinations during his first term as president than George Bush Jr. got around to in his entire two-term presidency.

Some critics of the new strategy describes it as a “Whac-A-Mole” approach to counter terrorism, where you are hitting the insurgents and terrorists every time you find out where they are instead of working out how to prevent them becoming terrorists in the first place.