Dark Territory | Fred Kaplan

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


Welcome to the gripping world of cyberwar as depicted in Fred Kaplan’s ‘Dark Territory: The Secret History of Cyber War’. This summary will take you on an intriguing journey that reveals how hacking has evolved from a mere nuisance to a potentially devastating cyberweapon. From the first counter command-control warfare in Operation Desert Storm to the discussion on whether cyberattacks can be considered acts of war, Kaplan unravels a highly complex, dynamic, and clandestine world. Brace yourself for an eye-opening voyage through the shadowy realms of cyberwarfare. You’ll explore the pivotal role of cybersecurity in the US-China relationship, the Iranian cyberattacks, and much more.

The Evolution of Cyber Warfare

Military communication interception has existed since ancient times. Cryptographers were used for message encryption and decryption since the 19th century. Cyberfighters distort signals to confuse their enemies, while hackers can damage anything from traffic lights to dams at a low cost. With the information age, the capability to monitor entire networks has come into existence, which allows the collection of massive amounts of data on both citizens and non-citizens.

US Vulnerability to Cyberattacks

The book describes how the US government failed to prioritize cyberwarfare and secure critical national infrastructure. It highlights examples like Operation Desert Storm, where the US disrupted Iraq’s military by monitoring their microwaves, and the Marsh Commission report which warned of cyberattacks on vital systems. Despite these warnings, private companies rarely safeguarded their security. The book argues that cyberwarfare was often dismissed, ignored, or forgotten, even though the US government knew the risks. In 1997, the NSA exposed the US’s vulnerability to cyberattacks by hacking the Department of Defense in just four days using commercially available tools. Ultimately, the book urges readers to be aware of their own vulnerabilities in an increasingly computer-dependent world.

Hacker Intrusion

In 1998, the Air Force found hackers breaking into its computer network and traced 12 further intrusions to the same bored teenagers. The Marsh report initiated a system change in detecting these hacking intrusions; months later, officials discovered that a skilled hacker in Russia had been behind the previous attack. A US diplomatic group was sent, and the hacking soon ceased.

Protecting America’s Information

In 1997, Richard Alan Clarke, a Clinton counterterrorism adviser, discovered US firms had little knowledge of their computer networks’ weaknesses. After the NSA showed Clarke the ease with which they could penetrate foreign networks, he met with a group of hackers who then briefed the President. Clinton signed the Critical Infrastructure Protection directive, which put Clarke in charge of counterterrorism and critical infrastructure. However, private industry objected to the government’s authority. When Clarke developed a National Plan for Information Systems Protection, opposition arose both in and out of government, forcing him to rewrite the plan. The book covers Clarke’s efforts to improve America’s network vulnerabilities.

Pentagon’s Cyberwarfare Tactics.

During the Serbs’ protests against NATO troops stationed in Serbia as part of the international response to their leader Milosevic, the Pentagon’s J-39 shut down the TV stations that Serbia utilized to organize the protests. They used cyberwar techniques to disrupt Serbian ground radar, interrupted Milosevic’s propaganda, and threatened his allies with loss of power during bombing raids. Ultimately, military action and “information warfare” prevailed, illustrating the effective use of cyberwar for political and military gains.

Cyber Espionage Unveiled

The book delves into the NSA’s journey through the troubles of communication and interagency relationships that sparked senators’ ire in 1998. It is detailed how the NSA had to change policies, practices, and computer systems to run its new Information Operations Technology Center in line with applicable federal laws on military actions and intelligence agencies. This center ran a new type of cyber operation that detected crucial vulnerabilities in programs, allowing hackers to obtain confidential data. The book highlights this development in cyberterrorism, called Computer Network Exploitation (CNE), a turning point in intelligence operations that used vulnerabilities for intelligence purposes.

Bush and Cybersecurity

The book highlights how President George W. Bush dismantled many Clinton-era cyber activity initiatives and focused on missile defense, while downplaying terrorist threats. Richard Clarke, the White House’s primary counterterrorism advisor, resigned in June 2001. Shortly after, on September 11th, Bush signed an executive order on cybersecurity, incorporating the Department of Homeland Security. However, much of the document was taken verbatim from the Marsh Report, which emphasized the vulnerability of computer systems.

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