Out-manned and out-gunned

Jeff Bohren draws our attention to this article on Cyber Offence research being done by the US Air Force Cyber Command (AFCYBER).  The article says:

…Williamson makes a pretty decent case for the military botnet; his points are especially strong when he describes the inevitable failure of a purely defensive posture. Williamson argues that, like every fortress down through history that has eventually fallen to a determined invader, America’s cyber defenses can never be strong enough to ward off all attacks.

And here, Williamson is on solid infosec ground-it’s a truism in security circles that any electronic “fortress” that you build, whether it’s intended to protect media files from unauthorized viewers or financial data from thieves, can eventually be breached with enough collective effort.

Given that cyber defenses are doomed to failure, Williamson argues that we need a credible cyber offensive capability to act as a deterrent against foreign attackers. I have a hard time disagreeing with this, but I’m still very uncomfortable with it, partly because it involves using civilian infrastructure for military ends…

Jeff then comments:

The idea (as I understand it) is to use military owned computers to launch a botnet attack as a retaliation against an attack by an enemy.

In this field of battle I fear the AFCYBER is both out-manned and out-gunned. The AF are the go-to guys if you absolutely, positively need something blown up tomorrow. But a DDoS attack? Without compromising civilian hardware, the AF likely couldn’t muster enough machines. Additionally the network locations of the machines they could muster could be easily predicted before the start of any cyber war.

There is an interesting alternative if anyone from AFCYBER is reading this. How about a volunteer botnet force? Civilians could volunteer to download an application that would allow their computer to be used in an AFCYBER controlled botnet in time of a cyber war. Obviously securing this so that it couldn’t be hijacked is a formidable technical challenge, but it’s not insurmountable.

If the reason for having a botnet is because we should assume every system can be compromised, don't we HAVE TO assume the botnet can be compromised too?   Once we say “the problem is not surmountable” we have turned our back on the presuppositions that led to the botnet in the first place.  

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Kim Cameron

Work on identity.