How to wage cyber warfare: The relationship between cyber and kinetics, Part 7

There is a certain amount of misunderstanding about the Internet and the global communications grid. On the one hand we have a mythos that has risen stating that the Internet was created to allow communication in the advent of nuclear war. That would be true if it also wasn’t true that electro magnetic pulses from nuclear weapons would play havoc with the entire worlds information grid never mind the localized effects. The Internet and the global information grid is a very sensitive system where logically it is robust, but physically it is very weak. When considering the efforts of cyber warfare it is good to remember that at the lowest level the global information grid at the physical level is very weak.

Cyber space logical networks are those networks that exist in configuration and through how the systems are hooked to together above the physical level.  Two Internet protocol addresses can be sequential but on different continents. The Internet protocol address is kind of like your home address. In the case of the Internet though it doesn’t matter what street you are on, but more like what the use of the house is. You know this and can check this phenomenon out when you use your cell phone. When you call your friend on his cell phone it doesn’t matter where he is physically the phone still rings. Whether he is standing next to you or half way around the planet.

Cyber space physical networks are all of the bundled wires and the equipment that carry the logical traffic. There is most definitely a hierarchy. This physical structure has been proven to be very weak as ship anchors have drug and destroyed undersea telecommunication cables. Sun spots can play havoc on wireless signals and even secure radio systems for the military. Satellite communications has been subject to damage from space debris. The attack on 9/11 in New York and the destruction of the Verizon telephone exchange at the Twin towers shows a weakness to physical attack or damage. The military has often attacked and destroyed the command and control functionality of networks by physically destroying telecommunications.

Cyber space social networks are the bonds between people as enhanced or created through the introduction of technology. In the 1970s people would get on the phone and dial into party lines where they could chat. This functionality has been transferred in part over to social media and realized as cyber space social networks. Now web forums, blogging, micro-blogging services, and chat rooms function right along all of the other elements of Internet use. Since command and control is still primarily a human endeavor the methods of how people communicate is very important to understanding of risks. As such it is important to know that social networks are even more fragile than physical networks since they are based on the cognitive capability of users and subject to the emotional whims of human beings.

Kinetics are fists, bullets, bombs, artillery or about anything that can create damage.  We can attack each of the different layers we’ve talked about with a kinetic attack and be very successful. Whether we use fists to hurt the individual using the network or we bomb a telephone switch as was done in Iraq. The result is a kinetic attack against the global information grid. A distributed denial of service attack requires extensive coordination and usually significant technical capability. What often happens when talking about cyber warfare is this kinetic attack is put in the back seat and the logical layers are all that is considered. Doing a DDOS might slow a company down for a day, but putting a backhoe through their fiber connections is enough to stop business for weeks (in some cases). Because, the equipment is usually built using just in time inventory controls, often there is no repairs possible until the equipment is built as an example, if a data center catches on fire. To make matters worse there is a history of legacy equipment that the functions and capabilities may support tools or applications that should the equipment be damaged would require extensive solutions to be created. If legacy equipment is damaged it is a classic case of, “You can’t get there from here”.

Cyber space is a technology terrain that includes how that technology reacts and is acted upon in the real world. As we’ve discussed the actions of the world humans live in on the cyber realm there are also ways that the cyber realm can act upon us. Simply to explain it is possible for the cyber world to reach out and create destruction. Consider the case of the errant manufacturing robot. A simple device with programming the robot creates and modifies objects in the real world. The programming and cybernetic processes can run without human intervention.  Should safety protocols be changed by accident or providence death could result. The cyber world is realized in the real world.

Weaponization of cyber space is much more than simply creating software tools that exploit segments or features of cyber space. With the advent of military drone aircraft that have semi-autonomous capability and are controlled by software these weapons systems should be regarded as cyber weapons with kinetic capability. Arguments against this will abound and there is political hay to be made at the expense of military drones. They are called unmanned aerial vehicles because they are controlled through command and control systems based in cyber space. Even military drawings depicting the global information grid will often show a predator drone and the global information grid is a component of cyber space. All of the same issues with our robot example exist with military drones. The risk is a matter of scope not existence.

To be cyber warfare it is necessary that all the elements of war exist. Regardless of definitions used to depict war a kinetic capability is required. Cyber space and cyber warfare has the ability to reach out and kill or maim within the model of conflict. Likewise the real world can have drastic and substantive impacts on the cyber realm. There is symmetry to be found between these two positions found on other terrains of conflict.

3 comments for “How to wage cyber warfare: The relationship between cyber and kinetics, Part 7

  1. LawVol
    June 20, 2009 at 1:15 pm


    Although you state that a “kinetic capability is required,” your examples indicate kinetic effects. Is it really necessary to have kinetic effects to have cyberwar?

    For a COIN perspective, warafre is often thought of as population-centric rather than enemy-centric. This means that the bulk of the effort is design to influence that population and many of the effects generated are non-kinetic. As you know its the whole hearts and minds thing and often consists of humanitarian-type operations. If cyber effects are generated to engage in a battle for the hearts and minds, isn’t this a form of cyberwar? There Iran things comes to mind although it seems to be limited to the WWW component of cyberspace (although I think some cellphone stuff is also included). Both sides are using or blocking things like twitter in an effort to generate non-kinetic effects designed to influence the population.

    I’m trying to wrap my head around this. Am I way off here? -john

  2. sam
    June 20, 2009 at 6:01 pm

    You are not far off base. This particular article argues that kinetic is a part of the cyber warfare spectrum and discusses that portion of the spectrum in detail. Cyber warfare refers to a terrain just like land warfare is a terrain (or domain for the military parlance). Land war is filled with the features of massed formation, insurgency, guerilla warfare, and such. The same can be said about cyber warfare as applied to the terrain. I most definitely believe and am a strong proponent that like “space war” we will find cyber warfare has specific tactics and strategies that are specific to this domain. Similar to how we don’t find very many submersibles in land warfare. This article though is arguing that for cyber warfare to be an actual war fighting domain the kinetic effects must exist as part of that spectrum. This is also true about space as a terrain. As to that argument I try and show that the evidence exists that cyber space has kinetic impact.

    I also believe and am a strong proponent of the low intensity conflict model (hence COIN) is a valid and supporting conflict model that we can exploit through cyber space. The winning hearts and minds strikes at the information operations aspects of cyber warfare. However, I am in this piece acknowledging that cyber warfare is much more than that too. Cyber terrain includes as part of the battle space extensive tools and weapons that are much more than IO would include. In other words the IO aspects found in JP3-13 are inside the much larger aspect of cyber warfare itself.

  3. gresh
    July 10, 2009 at 9:47 am

    I first have to say, thanks for putting something like this together. Its an awesome resource. Good Stuff!!

    This is very interesting topic and the use of kinetic actions in cyber warfare is not new, but I have to agree with SAM, that 1) Cyber warfare is a part of a bigger picture (IO) and 2) You not only dont need to have kinetic actions to fight a cyber war, you want to stay away from them. A good part of cyber warfare is not destruction of equipment or data, but manipulation of that data to create a mindset. by destroying the physical layer, you prevent the ability to change the data. Dont get me wrong, there are times when you want to “go in with guns blazing”, but for the most part, you can create a kinetic effect without ever firing a shot.
    For instance, lets say a company want stealing corporate secrets from another company. 99% of companies would stop the leak instead of control the flow. By stopping the leak, they protect what they have left and move on. However, by controlling the flow, they can at a minimum destroy the reputation and reliability of the person stealing the information. By controling the flow, I mean they “allow” certain modified information be taken, painting a very good, but incorrect picture for the stealing company. This causes the stealing company to expend resources for little or no gain.
    I think the bottom line is that the information operations aspects should drive the level of network operations. Sometimes kinetic actions are needed, but not always.
    Thanks again. This is awesome!! Looking forward to reading more.

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