Dark Territory | Fred Kaplan

Summary of: Dark Territory: The Secret History of Cyber War
By: Fred Kaplan


Embark on a journey through the secret world of cyberwar in ‘Dark Territory: The Secret History of Cyber War’ by Fred Kaplan. This book summary delves into the complex and evolving world of cyberwarfare, highlighting its history, tactics, and consequences. It explores how governments worldwide, particularly the United States, have tried to adapt to the “new normal” of technology-based attacks and espionage. From the ancient Roman signal interception methods to the modern-day cyberattacks on nations’ critical infrastructures, the book provides fascinating insights into how cyberwarfare has changed the face of global conflicts, intelligence gathering and even diplomacy.

Cyberfighting and Mass Surveillance

Armies have been intercepting each other’s communications for centuries, and since the 19th century, cryptographers have been used to encode messages. However, with the advent of cyber warfare, attackers can not only retrieve signals but also change or corrupt them to disorient their foes. Today, networks can be monitored to collect vast amounts of data on individuals worldwide, allowing attackers to wreak havoc at a low cost. The book delves into the evolution of cyber warfare, its impact on modern warfare, and the implications of mass surveillance for privacy and security.

US Vulnerability to Cyber Attacks

The book highlights the US’s initial ignorance of the potential of cyberwarfare and the ramifications of such a dismissal. Operation Desert Storm marked the beginning of “counter command-control warfare” with the US penetrating Saddam Hussein’s “command-control network.” The US monitored Iraq’s usage of a backup system using microwaves after bombing Saddam’s fiber optic cable. However, top officers dismissed the significance of cyberwarfare, resulting in more collateral casualties. President Clinton established a committee to analyze the vulnerability of ‘critical national infrastructure,’ where cybersecurity took up more than half of the report. The Marsh Commission report warned of a potential for enemies to use computers for disruption and theft, but almost no one acted on it. In 1997, an NSA team hacked the Department of Defense during a war game, using only commercially available tools to penetrate “the entire defense establishment’s network” within four days, illustrating the US’s vulnerability to cyberattacks. The book emphasizes the need for a better understanding of cyberwarfare and its potential effects on national security and infrastructure.

The Russian Hacker

In 1998, the Air Force detected hackers’ activity in its computer network. After investigation, they found out that bored teenagers were behind the intrusions at 12 bases, while a skilled hacker ran purposeful searches on the military systems. The Marsh report prompted officials to add detection systems to military networks. Finally, months of intelligence efforts identified the Russian hacker. Diplomatic efforts in Russia resulted in the cessation of the hacking activities.

Clarke’s Battle for Cybersecurity

In 1997, Richard Alan Clarke was tasked with cybersecurity, and he realized that US firms knew little about their networks’ security, which could be exploited by countries. He met with hackers who briefed the president, resulting in the Critical Infrastructure Protection directive and Clarke’s appointment as counterterrorism head. However, private industry opposed the government’s authority, delaying the implementation of the National Plan for Information Systems Protection. Yet, Clarke persisted, rewriting the plan to protect American networks. This book chronicles Clarke’s battle to protect the country from cyberattacks.

The Power of Information Warfare

In the book section, an account is given of the Joint Staff secret organization, J-39, that applied cyberwarfare techniques in the field during the NATO mission in Serbia. J-39 blocked Serbia’s TV stations used to organize protests and disrupted their ground radar during bombing raids. The organization also interrupted Milosevic’s propaganda and threatened his allies with power loss. The book discusses how military action and “information warfare” combined prevailed against the Serbs. It showcases the significance of information as a tool in modern-day warfare, capable of achieving unprecedented military success through the disruption of vital communication channels and propaganda machines.

The Birth of Cyberoperations

A new era of cyberwarfare began in 1998 when the NSA started using hacking techniques and secret technology to exploit vulnerabilities for intelligence purposes. This practice was called Computer Network Exploitation (CNE), and it allowed the NSA to detect unpatched weaknesses in software programs, known as “zero-day vulnerabilities,” which gave hackers easy access. The NSA’s Office of Tailored Access Operations (TAO) was at the forefront of this new development, which caused the agency to change its policies, practices, and computer system after facing legal trouble due to faulty communication and bad interagency relationships.

Bush’s Impact on Cybersecurity

President George W. Bush’s move towards missile defense led to a de-emphasis on intelligence gathering and terrorist threats, resulting in a lack of focus on cybersecurity. His main adviser for counterterrorism, Clarke, resigned in June 2001. In September of the same year, just weeks before the end of his term, Clarke wrote an executive order on cybersecurity, incorporating new points, but also reusing sections from the Marsh Report. This action marked a departure from the Clinton administration’s focus on cyber activities and signaled the beginning of a new era for cybersecurity in the US.

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