Friday, December 18, 2009

War game set to send Iran a message

Washington (CNN) -- The U.S. military's Missile Defense Agency will practice protecting the United States from a simulated Iranian missile attack next month in an exercise using the agency's newest missile-killing technology, Pentagon officials said Friday.

Previous tests have been focused on a missile trajectory that mimics an attack from North Korea, but the January test will have a trajectory and distance resembling an intercontinental ballistic missile launch from Iran.

At the same time, the agency will be testing its new "Capability-2" technology, with upgraded software and sensors loaded inside an interceptor missile that will be fired at the fake Iranian missile.

The Capability-2 technology is designed to eventually replace the existing hardware the United States has in its two missile defense bases in California and Alaska, according to Rick Lehner, a spokesman for the Missile Defense Agency.

While intelligence assessments of that country's capabilities now suggest an Iranian ICBM threat is as far away as 2020, this test was planned more than three years ago, when the threat seemed much closer, Lehner said.

In the January test, the fake ICBM is slated to originate from the Missile Defense Agency's launch facility in the Marshall Islands in the South Pacific while the interceptor missile will be launched from Vandenberg Air Force Base in California, according to Lehner.

Missile defense tests have been likened to hitting a bullet with a bullet. This test will be even more difficult: It will be like hitting a bullet head-on with another bullet, because any launch from Iran would have a trajectory that would require a U.S. interceptor missile hitting the target directly, Lehner said.

The missiles will be flying at speeds of between 17,000 and 18,000 miles per hour, according to Lehner, about 3,000 mph faster than tests involving mock North Korean missiles. The speed will reduce the strike window, meaning the interceptor, also known as the "kill vehicle," will have to work even faster at identifying and striking the target missile.

The United States has only two missile defense bases, one at Vandenberg, with three missiles, and the other at Fort Greely, Arkansas, with 20 interceptor missiles at the ready.

Lehner said that if Iran were to launch an ICBM attack against the United States, the most likely defense option would be firing a missile from Alaska, because of the shorter distance around the globe.

The United States was prepared to put a third missile defense site in eastern Europe, but the Obama administration scrapped that option because of the reduced ICBM threat from Iran. In its place, the administration said it will move ships with the capability of shooting down short- and medium-range missile from Iran which, they say, pose a greater threat to Iran's neighbors and U.S. bases in the Middle East.

North Korean hackers may have gained access to war plans.

SEOUL, South Korea - Computer hackers who may be from North Korea have gained access to a secret U.S.-South Korean plan to defend the peninsula in case of war, the defense ministry said Dec. 18.

The hackers used an IP address in China to access some military data related to Operation Plan 5027, a spokesman told AFP.

"Authorities are trying to find whether North Korea was involved," he said, adding the leaked data contained crucial information such as slide and power point displays explaining the plan.

OPLAN 5027 was drawn up jointly by South Korea and the U.S., which stations 28,500 troops in the South. It allows for the dispatch of nearly 700,000 U.S. troops to the peninsula should a full-scale war break out.

The plan also sets wartime operational guidelines for the troops of the two countries. South Korea has technically remained at war with the North since the 1950-53 war ended in a truce, not a peace treaty.

"A probe is underway to figure out how much the leakage will affect our military plan," the spokesman said. "The officer concerned will be disciplined."

Chosun Ilbo newspaper said the officer with the Combined Forces Command had used an unsecured USB memory stick to download the plan.

South Korea believes the North has military personnel who specialize in overseas hacking and will set up its own military cyber command Jan. 1.

South Korea's spy chief has blamed North Korea's telecommunications ministry for cyber attacks that briefly crippled unclassified U.S. and South Korean government and commercial Web sites in July.

Editorial: More fact than fiction: On Predator Hacking...

I read with great interest the many articles detailing how Iraqi insurgents were able to intercept Predator UAV downlink video and was both amazed and aghast.

Recently, I had just finished a re-write on my novel "The Interceptors Club & the Secret of the Black Manta" which (as its' McGuffin)centers around a rag-tag gang of hackers who manage to steal an advanced, stealthy prototype UAV known as the Black Manta.

Almost everything in the novel is loosely base on my true "interceptor" experiences, except for the part about then theft of a UAV. I've never done that.

Although the hacking of a fictional UAV (in my book) is what the action is centered around, I was worried that it might be a bit far-fetched for the reader to buy and required a good amount of the suspension of disbelief - but not anymore.

The revelation that Iraqi insurgents are intercepting UAV video downlinks just pushed my fiction from "could it happen?" to well inside the "that's not so far fetched at all" zone.

Although by all accounts, there is no-possible-way a UAV could be commandeered by insurgents, the fact that by employing "skygrabber" software (combined with a C/KU band antenna and receiver) enables them to easily intercept video feeds is very disturbing indeed.

Despite what the DOD may say, not only is there a distinct possibility that anti-insurgency operations could (and probably have) been compromised by what an enemy may have learned from watching the feeds, the fact they could detect the feeds at all) is a major breech of military security

As a result, you can bet the farm that somewhere in some secret sub-committee, techs are being called on the carpet and heads are going to roll.

Just as a small example, by watching the feeds an enemy could not only deduce which areas were being surveilled by the Predators but could ascertain where the Predators were based, aerial images of those bases, standard UAV operational procedures as well the limits of what a Predator or other drone can or cannot see at altitude.

Not to mention, even with the Pentagon's (now urgent, since the cat has been let out of the bag) program to encrypt the video-downlinks of all its UAVs, the mere fact that the enemy could detect (even if they couldn't view) the Predator downlinks is still a major problem.

In the future, the insurgents may not be able to tune in and watch "The UAV Channel" but the detectable presence of even an encrypted digital downlink will be enough to tip off the enemy that they are being watched, therefore it is imperative the whole downlink system be revamped to employ LPI (Low-probability of intercept) narrow-band microwave frequencies or (optical modulated laser) transmission techniquesto render the downlinks undetectable and only receivable by friendly forces.

In the meantime, U.S. forces should flood the airwaves with real and faked and easily intercepted video downlink feeds, which could be accomplished by several COMMAND SOLO C-130Es. That way the insurgents wouldn't know which feeds were live and which ones were Memorex.

In any event all drones will require an expensive and extensive retro-fit, requiring testing, field-testing and re-testing of an entirely new (satellite-based) UAV command control and communications system which wouldn't have been necessary if Pentagon planners would stop underestimating the technical savvy of what they perceive is an unsophisticated enemy.

-Steve Douglass

Twitter hacked by "Iranian Cyber Army"

CNN) -- The popular microblogging Web site Twitter was hacked overnight, leaving the millions who use the site tweetless.
Those who tried to access Twitter were redirected to a site that had a green flag and proclaimed "This site has been hacked by Iranian Cyber Army."

The Web site was down for nearly an hour. Representatives from Twitter could not be immediately reached for comment, but the company spoke about the issue on its official Twitter page.
"Twitter's DNS records were temporarily compromised but have now been fixed. We will update with more information soon," the company posted at about 2:30 a.m. ET Friday.
It was unclear who the group Iranian Cyber Army was and if it is connected to Iran. However, Twitter has had an interesting relationship with Iran.

Earlier this summer when Iran's disputed presidential election spiraled into bloody protests, the opposition took to social networking and used Twitter to inform the world.
Protesters beamed images from the violent protests at a time when the mainstream media outlets had a hard time getting access to Iran.
Twitter became so fundamental in spreading news of the protests that followed that the U.S. State Department asked the company to delay a planned shutdown for maintenance.


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