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CYBER WAR: Does this describe the next major world conflict? Or is it merely electronic saber rattling of those hoping to profit from a non-threat?

An item in 1 March 20123 Science, published by the American Association for the Advancement of Science, is titled “A Call to Cyber Arms.” With firsthand details, it notes China’s extensive recruitment of cyber specialists.


An item at ( looks at a broader, but related issue, “Chinese Eugenics.” Yet a Scientific American blog item, though almost two years old now, June 3, 2011, had the title “Don’t Believe Scare Stories about Cyber War.” (See

What’s more—and worse—the matter has become entangled with politics of the left and right, not to say of big government versus small government. Here’s my summary—relatively free of these extremes.

The world is deeply embedded in information technology. Air traffic control, banking, communications, electric power grids, industrial and military infrastructures, stock markets; these are all controlled, to one extent or another, by computer. And computers are vulnerable to unauthorized control, to hacking.

According to Science, the Chinese People’s Liberation Army has characterized the electromagnet spectrum as “the fifth domain of battle space,” of equal importance with land, sea, air and space. For example, the PLA has an elite corps of programmers writing codes designed to cripple command-and-control systems of enemy naval vessels.

So cyber security isn’t just defense; it’s offense too. Fortunately, China isn’t the world’s sole participant. The U.S. now spends about $3 billion annually on cyber security.


In 2009, the U.S. Cyber Command was established in Fort Meade, Maryland; its purpose, to conduct “full-spectrum military cyberspace operations.”

Back in 2010, the Stuxnet computer worm tricked Iran’s uranium-enrichment centrifuges into spinning at destructive speeds. At the time, Israel was given credit for this setback in Iranian nuclear ambitions. Hinted at the time, it’s now recognized that the U.S. played a role as well.


Upperclass cadets at the U.S. Air Force Academy spend a session in Cyber 256, Basic Cyber Operations. Image from the U.S. Air Force/Raymond McCoy.

In July 2011, two Chinese researchers at Dalian University of Technology published a report in Safety Science, an Elsevier journal of international stature. Funded by the Chinese Science Ministry and its National Natural Science Foundation, the paper’s topic was vulnerabilities of the U.S. power grid.

Other areas of Chinese cyber research have included the injection of Trojan Horses into the Windows platform and the pros and cons of Rootkit, a program for highjacking computer systems.

Those who claim all this is no big thing offer interesting arguments: One is that espionage, intelligence and counterintelligence have always existed. What’s new is the venue, not the practice.

What’s more, isn’t a war of bits and bytes preferred to one waged with bombs?

And haven’t there been other “weapons of mass destruction”?

Also cited are the relative ambiguity and anonymity of cyber warfare. How do you retaliate to an attack when you’re not sure of its origin or even of its existence?

Advances of technology have weakened this last argument. Since 2006, the security firm Mandiant has analyzed cyber attacks on U.S. electric power grids, gas lines and other infrastructure.


This office building in the Pudong district of Shanghai is the source of no small amount of cyber mischief. Image from The New York Times, February 18, 2013.

The culprits have been specifically identified as PLA Unit 61398, housed in a particular 10-story office building in a non-descript neighborhood of Shanghai’s Pudong district. Global Images of the building have been shown, its neighborhood mapped (

Cyber warriors may run, but they can’t hide. ds

© Dennis Simanaitis,, 2013

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This entry was posted on April 10, 2013 by in Sci-Tech and tagged , , .
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