International Agreement for Control of Cyber Weapons


Cyber Arms Control and the Middle East

The current situation in the Middle East is a disaster.  Yesterday, Turkey shot down a Russian SU-24M fighter aircraft flying over Northern Syria near the Turkish border.  Although the Turkish and Russian militaries had set up a “hot line” to handle any crisis or emergency, the Turkish side never bothered to contact the Russians.

Supposedly, the Russian aircraft flew into Turkish air space, but inspection of the radar outputs published by Turkey indicate that the amount of time flying inside Turkey could not have been more than a minute, possibly only half a minute or less.

When the aircraft was shot down, it was already back in Syrian air space, which means that the Turks shot their missiles from Turkey into Syria.

The Turks said that they had warned the Russian pilots for at least ten times over a period of 5 minutes.  At those speeds, this means that the Russian pilots were warned about Turkish air space when they were still in Syria, and heading towards Turkish territory.

The Russian pilot who survived the attack reported that no communication from the Turks had been received.

Originally there were two pilots in the SU-24.  Shortly after the aircraft was hit, they pushed the emergency escape buttons, to eject in their seats and parachute to safety.  On their way down, at a time when they could not possibly do any harm to anyone, Turkomen persons started firing on them with machine guns, killing one of the Russian pilots.

To add insult to injury, when two rescue helicopters were dispatched from nearby Russian ships to rescue the pilots, one was shot down, and yet another soldier or more were killed.

After the incident, the Turks rather than contacting Russia, instead went directly to NATO with a complaint, demanding support as part of the mutual defense treaty.  Military analysts in the United States are saying that this was an ambush by Turkey against the Russians.

Some are worried that this may lead to a third world war.  It is a horrible situation.  Fascinating as it may be, this blog is no place to examine the complex realities of the Middle East, Syria, Iraq, Iran, Turkey, Russia, the United States, and all the other players there.

Cyber War in the Middle East Now

The list of cyber weapons that are being used now in the Middle East and across the world is very large.  We can name only a few, and without doubt could not list them all, even if there were inclination or time.

Electronic Battlefield. The United States is operating a gigantic information battlefield in which soldiers or special forces on the ground in Syria and Iraq are receiving more or less real time information from a variety of intelligence sources, including real time information from drones and satellites.  For every American soldier in the battlefield hell of ISIS, there are satellites overhead looking out for them.  These in effect are teams of persons at various US dark sites around the world. Constantly on duty, they monitor US troop movements are look ahead so as to be able to warn of danger.

Social Media War. ISIS has mastered the use of social media to recruit “sleeper” agents inside Western countries.  The recruits go through three phases:  First, there is general curiosity about propaganda available online.  Second, they make an initial contact with a recruiter for the Islamic State.  Sometimes this recruitment period goes on for a long time.  Some persons in the United States have even received gifts of candy and books.  In the third phase, the recruited agent goes over to the dark web, which means that all of their communications are encrypted, and this makes it impossible for the intelligence communities around the world to read what they are doing.  It is during this phase that the sleeper agent is given specific instructions regarding what they are next to do.

Hacking War. Every day the United States receives more than 100,000 attacks from overseas.  These attacks are aimed at either destroying or stealing important information.  Most attacks come from Russia, China, North Korea, and Iran.  These attacks are monitored by the NSA Cyber Command, but it is difficult to keep up with all of the attacks, as many of them are automated.

It often is noted that even now adversaries have the ability to shut down or disrupt the US transportation system, the electricity grid, and financial institutions.  This merely compliments the constant virus and denial-of-service attacks that constantly flood the Internet.

The Internet is one of the greatest advantages of the US economy, but also it is a great factor of weakness.

Prospects for Arms Control

For the time being, the prospects for cyber arms control are not good.  Countries are too busy engaging in the growing war against ISIS, and in defending their own national interests.  Second, the cyber arms race is a time in which countries are working very hard to develop their capabilities.  Countries would rather develop their capabilities, than cut these efforts short by working on a treaty.

For the time being, the US is a global intelligence and cyber superpower, but no one knows how long that situation can last.




Daesh in Paris

The November 13th, 2015 attack by Daesh in Paris was devastating.  We have learned that the criminals had rented an apartment in Paris to prepare themselves, probably to wait for Friday the 13th, the day on which in 1307 Philip IV of France arrested hundreds of the Knights Templar.  The “crusaders” were crushed then, and Daesh wanted to strike again now.  The use of AK-47 Russian assault rifles against teenagers attending a heavy metal concert seems to have been particularly heartless.  Many are calling what happened in Paris “France’s 9/11”.

In response, the French are in a state of shock, and are insisting that their lives will not be changed by this attack, the worst loss of life for the French since the Second World War.  Many have been gathering at the Place Vendôme leaving candles and flowers.  Many French citizens interviewed have insisted that they are not afraid, and that their lifestyle is not going to change, but this is wishful thinking.

The President of France, François Hollande speaking in the Palace of Versailles to a joint meeting of the French Senate and Assembly, set forth some of the changes that need to be made to fight this terror.

There are an number of expected measures, such as hiring of more law enforcement and judiciary personnel.  Border controls will be improved.  A series of bombing raids by French jets were launched in Syria targeting the small city Raqqa, the self-proclaimed capital of Daesh.  The sole French aircraft carrier, the Charles de Gaulle, is being moved into position in the Eastern Mediterranean, and this will triple French air power.  French diplomats are attempting to get the US and the Russian Federation to join in a coalition to destroy Daesh.

There are a number of cyber measures also being proposed.  These include (a) an increase in funding for cyber intelligence services to support the police and military; (b) a change in the rules of evidence for criminal proceedings allowing the judiciary to use information gathered by intelligence services; (c) perhaps more authority to interfere with social media and web traffic that has been used to promote Daesh.

The use by Daesh of the Internet as a major recruiting tool has been a shock to those who propose unrestricted Internet freedom.   Indeed, the use of the Internet for criminal and terrorist activities long has been a motivating factor for governments to grab control over its use.  On the one hand, we cherish the principles of freedom of communication and freedom of information.  On the other hand, we have a need for governments to protect the public from danger.

This is a trend towards control over the Internet that we have seen in other countries.  In this case, it means the blocking of Internet traffic, and the monitoring of individuals who are reading and distributing this revolutionary information aimed at incitement.

It also has emerged that law enforcement is frustrated by how the terrorists are using encryption, and the hiding of their communication within video games.

All of these challenges, particularly breaking encryption, are extraordinarily tough technical problems.  It is not known how many organizations are capable of breaking encryption, if any.

This is a strange type of “weapon”.

Since Daesh is not a government or a state, its use of the Internet as a weapon would not be covered under a traditional cyber arms control treaty, although the use of the Internet in this degraded fashion should be considered at all levels.

It is difficult to anticipate what the downstream consequences  will be.





Charles Evans Hughes and the Theatre (Internet Incitement)

It was the famous Charles Evans Hughes (1862 – 1948), who had studied at Columbia Law School and taught with Woodrow Wilson at the New York Law School, that defined one of the principles of free speech under the U.S. Constitution.  He wrote in Schenck v. United States, 249 U.S. 47 (1919) “The most stringent protection of free speech would not protect a man in falsely shouting fire in a theatre and causing a panic. It does not even protect a man from an injunction against uttering words that may have all the effect of force.”

Does the same apply to the Internet as a whole?  Is it possible to use the Internet for incitement?  In a recent article Shlomo Ben-Ami, a former foreign minister of Israel, criticizes the current Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu for claiming that many of the recent attacks of Palestinians against Israelis are caused by Islamist websites.  The Director of National Intelligence James R. Clapper also has warned that ISIL (The Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (Arabic: الدولة الإسلامية في العراق والشام‎)) is using the Internet to recruit people from around the world into their cause.

In the article “The Cyber Intelligence eChallenge of Asyngnotic Networks“, the authors discuss how the Internet and social media, combined with other forms of communication, allow the formation of self-organizing networks.  They argue that principles of neuroscience can be used to model these networks and predict when an event will be triggered.   In their view, the formation of these networks does not need to be conscious, not directed by any single or centralized authority.  Events can simply happen as people in various places, such as terrorists, are simply inspired by the messages they receive.

It is doubtful that the world’s public policy community will ever manage to develop an international treaty that deals with the emergence of self-organizing communication networks that inspire terrorism.  Many countries simply will develop technologies of the “kill switch” to shut off the Internet if there is an emergency.  The problem is that advanced societies are so dependent upon the Internet, it is not feasible to cut off the Internet, because doing this would immediately collapse the economy.

This is another reason why an international convention for the control of cyber weapons is so important.  In the nuclear age, people worried that intercontinental ballistic missiles would be used to drop bombs on their society.  Now, the threat is that the entire economy and communications fabric of a society would be wiped out or severely damaged.  Instead of real death, we would experience a type of “cyber death” – an inability to communicate or even exist as we know it today.  For many this threat may seem abstract, but when we examine the behavior of the younger generations, it is easily possible to see their complete reliance on Internet technologies.  The threat of cyber war is much more disruptive than it may at first appear, and that is why it must be prevented.