Australians under attack in some future war may be able to call in cyber specialists able to infect an enemy aircraft with a Trojan horse virus and force it to land or to crash, its pilot helpless to intervene.
That’s one reason, says national security specialist Des Ball, that Australia needs to develop its own offensive cyber capabilities.
This extraordinary notion, worlds away from the layman’s view of dogfights, ack-ack fire and even long-range missile attacks, is contained in a series of papers, to be released today by the Kokoda Foundation think tank, on security challenges facing Australia.
In a joint paper, Ball and former Royal Australian Air Force officer Gary Waters say the government acknowledged in the defence white paper that cyber warfare posed a serious threat to Australia’s military capabilities and to the nation’s critical infrastructure and commercial operations.
“The cyber threat is clearly escalating,” they say.
“The unprecedented sophistication and reach of recent cyber attacks demonstrate that malicious actors have the ability to compromise and control millions of computers that belong to governments, private enterprises and ordinary citizens worldwide.”
Ball and Waters say that in some cases cyber specialists would be able to use wireless to directly engage the electronic systems of enemy weapons, including the controls of an attacker’s combat aircraft.
They could penetrate the firewalls protecting the avionics systems of these aircraft to insert Trojan horse viruses.
“This would conceivably allow Australian cyber specialists to effectively hijack adversary aircraft, and to choose between hard or soft landings for them.”
It also could disable or deceive electronic equipment on the aircraft.
Ball says that if Australia is going to prevent motivated adversaries from attacking its systems and stealing data, the broader community of security professionals, including academic, the private sector and government, must work together to understand emerging threats and to develop ways to safeguard the internet and the physical infrastructure that relies on it.
This year’s white paper argues that, in co-operation with the US, Australia needs to develop capabilities to guard its own information in cyberspace and to ensure the successful conduct of operations by exploiting cyber power.
The document says understanding of the cyber threat has increased markedly since the 2009 white paper.
The Cyber Security Operations Centre, set up by the government to deal with the threat, now provides a comprehensive understanding of how to respond to malicious cyber attacks on government networks.
It also has allowed Australia to increase “its intrusion detection, analytic and threat assessment capabilities, and improved its capacity to respond to cyber security incidents”.
Ball and Waters say much more needs to be done to plug gaps in Australia’s cyber defences and to develop “active cyber defence”.
And they say the use of long-range unmanned patrol aircraft, or UAVs, in conjunction with cyber capabilities, offers “extraordinary promise” in gathering intelligence on potential enemies.
Both the government and the opposition are considering buying long-range UAVs now being developed in the US.
The opposition has made the purchase of seven giant Triton unmanned patrol planes, the maritime version of the Northrop Grumman Global Hawk, a centrepiece of its plan to stop the flow of irregular boat arrivals.
The government is considering buying them for the RAAF to carry out a wider range of surveillance tasks.
This week at a Canberra seminar on the burgeoning use of unmanned aircraft, organised by the Williams Foundation military aviation think tank, the manager of maritime capability for the Australian Customs Service, Nic Arthur, said the oceans to Australia’s north eventually would be patrolled by unmanned aircraft looking for asylum-seekers and drug-smugglers.
Arthur said these UAVs, controlled from bases on mainland Australia, would work with manned aircraft and patrol boats.
But he cast doubt over whether the Triton would be the best for that job.
Arthur suggested that while UAVs certainly would help in the surveillance task, a Triton operating from a high altitude might not necessarily be the answer.
He said that each time the Triton’s radar noted a contact from 40,000ft (almost 12,200m), the aircraft might have to be brought down to a much lower altitude to identify it and that would reduce its endurance.
“The question of whether these will be the most appropriate platforms to be searching for small, wooden vessels which are unidentified (by an aircraft) operating at high altitude is something that needs to be investigated further,” Arthur said.
Unmanned aerial vehicles already play increasing military and civil roles around the world and are best known for the drone strikes on insurgent targets in the Middle East, Afghanistan and Pakistan. They have brought wide condemnation because civilians have been killed along with terrorists.
Australia does not use armed drones, though US unmanned aircraft have supported Australian forces involved in coalition operations in Afghanistan.
At the Williams Foundation seminar, RAAF chief Geoff Brown strongly rejected claims that the use of unmanned aircraft to hit enemy targets was cowardly or immoral.
Brown said the morality, ethics and rules of engagement that must be used by those operating armed drones were the same as those used by pilots of manned aircraft dropping bombs or gunners firing artillery shells at distant targets.
“To those who object to the use of unmanned aerial systems because they are ‘too cowardly, too remote, and too removed from scrutiny’, I offer no apologies,” Brown said.
“I ask those who argue the use of UAVs is cowardly to consider the safety of the sons and daughters, or brothers and sisters we commit to combat. War is not a sporting contest where the fairness of a level playing field is sought.”
He said advances in military technology had always sought to maximise advantages over an enemy and that was why the RAAF’s weapons included long-range bombs, Super Hornets and, in the future, Joint Strike Fighters.
“We will always strive to maximise the desired effect while minimising the risk to our forces,” Brown said.
“The debate over unmanned air systems needs to focus on the social, political, and bureaucratic environment that allows for conflict in the first place.
“It is only at that level that we can begin to frame the moral and ethical questions of carrying out such missions.”
Former Australian army general Jim Molan said that if there were an international agreement to limit or stop the use of drones in war, it would most likely be ignored.
“We will not stop or regulate the use of these things in war,” Molan said.
“We did not stop balloons, poison gas, machineguns, nuclear weapons, high-velocity small arms, the longbow, weapons in space, battleships or a range of other truly evil things.”
Another speaker warned that terrorists could use over-the-counter technology to turn remote controlled aircraft into flying bombs.
Mark Corcoran, from RMIT University, said the technology was accessible to terrorists. “Security for unmanned aircraft, on the commercial side, has in my belief not been given the attention it deserves,” Corcoran said.Source: The Australian – War by remote control
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