The Pentagon’s top research lab Darpa is planning a new classified cyberwarfare project. However it is not just about building the next Stuxnet, “Plan X” is designed to make online strikes a more routine part of U.S. military operations.
According to Wired, the move will mean that the US will “dominate the cyber battlespace” and force other nations to become born-again Christians, drink coke, watch rubbish telly, get fat, play with Apple gear and give all their cash to the very rich and other core US values.
“Plan X” will enable building tools to help warplanners assemble and launch online strikes in a hurry. It will also require software to assess the damage caused by a new piece of friendly military malware before it’s unleashed. One of the priorities is to get a map so generals to watch the fighting unfold in real time.
Darpa said that Plan X is explicitly not funding research and development efforts in vulnerability analysis or cyberweapon generation. “Plan X” aims to solve both problems simultaneously, by automatically constructing mission plans that are as easy to execute as “the auto-pilot function in modern aircraft,” but contain “formal methods to provably quantify the potential battle damage from each synthesized mission plan,” Darpa said.
A mock Internet where the Pentagon can practice cyberwar games — complete with software that simulates human behavior under multiple military threat levels — is due to be up and running in a year’s time, according to a published report.
Called the National Cyber Range, the computer network mimics the architecture of the Internet so military planners can study the effects of cyberweapons by acting out attack and defense scenarios, Reuters says.
Planning for the Cyber Range was carried out by Lockheed Martin, which won a $30.8 million Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) grant, and Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory, which won $24.7 million.
Cyber Range plans call for the ability to simulate offensive and defensive measures of the caliber that nations might be able to carry out. DARPA wants the range to support multiple tests and scenarios at the same time and to ensure that they don’t interfere with each other. “The Range must be capable of operating from Unclassified to Top Secret/Special Compartmentalized Information/Special Access Program with multiple simultaneous tests operating at different security levels and compartments,” according to DARPA’s announcement of the project.
In addition to the public version of the project, DARPA has issued a classified appendix that sets down more requirements.
“A goal of the NCR program is to develop a toolkit that the government may provide to any party it authorizes to conduct cyber testing at any authorized facility,” the DARPA Cyber Range document says.
According to the schedule for the project, Lockheed and Johns Hopkins should have produced a prototype Cyber Range for review by now. DARPA picks which one actually gets built.
The supercomputing announcement, made Wednesday, is being treated as a big deal in Iran, and involves top Iranian government officials, including president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.
If this announcement was made by any country other than Iran, it would get little attention. The larger of the two systems is way behind the current top ranked system that happens to belong to China.
But a U.S. embargo means Iran has to buy many of components from the black market. The country is also in the crosshairs of a cyberwar, as the Stuxnet worm illustrated.
Ahmadinejad discussed this project, via a video conference with officials at the two universities where these systems were installed, according to government media press reports.
Iran’s supercomputing claims could not be independently verified. It may well be a fake and an elaborate attempt to demonstrate IT prowess after the Stuxnet worm rifled its nuclear control systems. It could also be an effort by the regime to offer some distraction from the region’s spreading turmoil threatening authoritarian governments.
A photo spread in one of Iran’s news outlets shows what purports to be one of the two systems at Amirkabir University of Technology in Tehran. In it are a series of racks on what may be a raised floor, not unlike a typical data center. Other photos show people at terminals and conference rooms.
Reports include a claim that the largest system is capable of 89 teraflops, far short of the world’s most powerful systems.
An embargo prevents U.S. companies from selling microprocessors and other components to Iran, but U.S.-made computer technology seems to be readily available in that country.
In 2007, for instance, Iranian officials disclosed the source of AMD chips in a Linux-based high performance computing system. The name of a distributor in the United Arab Emirates was visible on the boxes in one of the photos.
AMD, at the time, said it never authorized the sale. The photos were quickly removed from the Iranian site after the details were published.
But Iran’s latest supercomputer announcement appears to have no details about the components used to build it. Iranian officials have not yet responded to request for details about their computer systems.