All posts by JKallberg45

Private Hackbacks can be Blowbacks

The demands for legalizing corporate hack backs are growing – and there is significant interest by private actors to utilize hack back if it was lawful. If private companies were able to obtain the right to hack back legally, the risks for blowback is likely more significant than the opportunity and potential gains from private hackbacks. The proponents of private hackback tend to build their case on a set of assumptions. If these assumptions are not valid, private hackback is likely becoming a federal problem through uncontrolled escalation and spillover from these private counterstrikes.

-The private companies can attribute.

The idea of legalizing hack back operations is based on the assumption that the defending company can attribute the initial attack with pin-point precision. If a defending company is given the right to strike back, it is based on the assumption that the counterstrike can beyond doubt determine which entity was the initial attacker. If attribution is not achieved with satisfactory granularity and precision, a right to cyber counterstrike would be a right to strike anyone based on suspicion of involvement. Very few private entities can as of today with high granularity determine who attacked them and can trace back the attack so the counterstrike can be accurate. The lack of norms and a right to strike back, even if the precision in the counterstrike is not perfect, would increase entropy and deviation from emerging norms and international governance.

-The counterstriking corporations can engage a state-sponsored organization.

Things might spin out of control.  The old small tactics rule – anyone can open fire, only geniuses can get out unharmed. The counterstriking corporation perceives that they can handle the adversaries believing that it is an underfunded group of college students that hacks for fun – and later finds out that it is a heavily funded and highly able foreign state agency. The counterstriking company would have limited means to before a counterstrike determines the exact size of the initial attacker and the full spectrum of resources available for the initial attacker. A probing counterattack would not be enough to determine the operational strength, ability, and intent of the potential adversary. Following the assumption that the counterstriking corporation can handle any adversary is embedded the assumption that there will be no uncontrolled escalation.

-The whole engagement is locked in between parties A and B.

If there is an assumption of no uncontrolled escalation, then a follow-up assumption is that ,the engagement creates a deterrence that prevents the initial attacker from continuing attacking. The defending company needs to be able to counterattack with the magnitude that the initial attacker is deterred from further attacks. Once deterrence is established then the digital interchange will cease. The question is how to establish deterrence – and deterring from which array of cyber operations – without causing any damages. If deterrence cannot be establish it would likely lead to escalation or to a strict tit-for-tat game without any decisive conclusion and continue until the initial attacker decides to end the interchange.

-The initial attacker has no second strike option.

The interchange will occur with a specific set of cyber weapons and aim points. So the interchange cannot lead to further damages. Even if the initial striker had the intent to rearrange the targets, aims, and potential impacts there will be no option to do so. A new set of second strikes would not be an uncontrolled escalation as long as the targeting occurred within the same realm and values as the earlier strikes. The second strike option for the initial attacker could target unprecedented targets at the initial attackers discretion. Instead, it is more likely that the initial attacker has second strike options that the initial target is unaware of at the moment of counterstrike.

-The counterstriking company has no interests or assets in the initial attacker’s jurisdiction.

If a multi-national company (MNC) counterstrikes a state agency or state sponsored attacker the MNC could face the risk of repercussions if there are MNC assets in the jurisdiction of the initial attacker. Major MNC companies have interests, subsidiaries, and assets in hundreds of jurisdictions. The Fortune 500 companies have assets in the US, China, Russia, India, and numerous other jurisdictions. The question is then if MNC “A” counterstrike a cyberattack from China, what will the risks be for the “A” MNC subsidiary “A in China”? Related is the issue if by improper attribution MNC “A” counterstrikes from the US targeting foreign digital assets when these foreign assets had no connection with the initial attack, which constitutes a new unjustifiable and illegal attack on foreign digital assets. The majority of the potential source countries for hacking attacks are totalitarian and authoritarian states. A totalitarian state can easily, and it is in their reach, switch domain and seize property, arrest innocent business travels, and act in other ways as a result of corporate hackback. I am not saying that we should let totalitarian regimes act any way they want – I am only saying that it is not for private corporations to engage and seeking to resolve. It is a government domain to interact with foreign governments.

The idea to legalize corporate hack backs could lead to increased distrust, entropy, and be contra-productive to the long-term goal of a secure and safe Internet.

Jan Kallberg, PhD

Jan Kallberg is a research scientist at the Army Cyber Institute at West Point and an assistant professor in the department of social sciences at the United States Military Academy.

The views expressed are those of the author and do not reflect the official policy or position of the Army Cyber Institute at West Point, the United States Military Academy or the Department of Defense.

The Zero Domain – Cyber Space Superiority through Acceleration beyond the Adversary’s Comprehension


In the upcoming Fall 2018 issue of the Cyber Defense Review, I present a concept – the Zero Domain. The Zero Domain concept is battlespace singularity through acceleration. There is a point along the trajectory of accelerated warfare where only one warfighting nation comprehend what is unfolding and the sees the cyber terrain; it is an upper barrier for comprehension where the acceleration makes the cyber engagement unilateral.

I intentionally use the word accelerated warfare, because it has a driver and a command of the events unfolding, even if it is only one actor of two, meanwhile hyperwar suggests events unfolding without control or ability to steer the engagement fully.

It is questionable and even unlikely that cyber supremacy can be reached by overwhelming capabilities manifested by stacking more technical capacity and adding attack vectors. The alternative is to use time as the vehicle to supremacy by accelerating the velocity in the engagements beyond the speed at which the enemy can target, precisely execute and comprehend the events unfolding. The space created beyond the adversary’s comprehension is titled the Zero Domain. Military traditionally sees the battles space as land, sea, air, space and cyber domains. When fighting the battle beyond the adversary’s comprehension, no traditional warfighting domain that serves as a battle space; it is a not a vacuum nor an unclaimed terra nullius, but instead the Zero Domain. In the Zero Domain, cyberspace superiority surface as the outfall of the accelerated time and a digital space-separated singularity that benefit the more rapid actor. The Zero Domain has a time space that is only accessible by the rapid actor and a digital landscape that is not accessible to the slower actor due to the execution velocity in the enhanced accelerated warfare. Velocity achieves cyber Anti Access/Area Denial (A2/AD), which can be achieved without active initial interchanges by accelerating the execution and cyber ability in a solitaire state. During this process, any adversarial probing engagements only affect the actor on the approach to the Comprehension Barrier and once arrived in the Zero Domain there is a complete state of Anti Access/Area Denial (A2/AD) present. From that point forward, the actor that reached the Zero Domain has cyberspace singularity where the accelerated actor is the only actor that can understand the digital landscape, engage unilaterally without an adversarial ability to counterattack or interfere, and hold the ability to decide when, how, and where to attack. In the Zero Domain, the accelerated singularity forges the battlefield gravity and thrust into a single power that denies adversarial cyber operations and acts as one force of destruction, extraction, corruption, and exploitation of targeted adversarial digital assets.

When breaking the Comprehension Barrier the first of the adversary’s final points of comprehension is human deliberation, directly followed by pre-authorization and machine learning, and then these final points of comprehension are passed, and the rapid actor enters the Zero Domain.

Key to victory has been the concept of being able to be inside the opponents OODA-loop, and thereby distort, degrade, and derail any of the opponent’s OODA. In accelerated warfare beyond the Comprehension Barrier, there is no need to be inside the opponent’s OODA loop because the accelerated warfare concept is to remove the OODA loop for the opponent and by doing so decapitate the opponent’s ability to coordinate, seek effect, and command. In the Zero Domain, the opposing force has no contact with their enemy, and their OODA loop is evaporated.

The Zero Domain is the warfighting domain where accelerated velocity in the warfighting operations removes the enemy’s presence. It is the domain with zero opponents. It is not an area denial, because the enemy is unable to accelerate to the level that they can enter the battle space, and it is not access denial because the enemy has never been a part of the later fight since the Comprehension Barrier was broken through.

Even if adversarial nations invest heavily in quantum, machine learning, and artificial intelligence, I am not convinced that these adversarial authoritarian regimes can capitalize on their potential technological peer-status to America. The Zero Domain concept has an American advantage because we are less afraid of allowing degrees of freedom in operations, whereas the totalitarian and authoritarian states are slowed down by their culture of fear and need for control. An actor that is slowed down will lower the threshold for the Comprehension Barrier and enable the American force to reach the Zero Domain earlier in the future fight and establish information superiority as confluency of cyber and information operations.

Jan Kallberg, PhD

Jan Kallberg is a research scientist at the Army Cyber Institute at West Point and an assistant professor in the department of social sciences at the United States Military Academy.The views expressed are those of the author and do not reflect the official policy or position of the Army Cyber Institute at West Point, the United States Military Academy or the Department of Defense.

When Everything Else Fails in an EW Saturated Environment – Old School Shortwave

( I wrote this opinion piece together with Lt. Col. Stephen Hamilton and Capt. Kyle Hager)

The U.S. Army’s ability to employ high-frequency radio systems has atrophied significantly since the Cold War as the United States transitioned to counterinsurgency operations. Alarmingly, as hostile near-peer adversaries reemerge, it is necessary to re-establish HF alternatives should very-high frequency, ultra-high frequency or SATCOM come under attack. The Army must increase training to enhance its ability to utilize HF data and voice communication.

The Department of Defense’s focus over the last several years has primarily been Russian hybrid warfare and special forces. If there is a future armed conflict with Russia, it is anticipated ground forces will encounter the Russian army’s mechanized infantry and armor.

A potential future conflict with a capable near-peer adversary, such as Russia, is notable in that they have heavily invested in electromagnetic spectrum warfare and are highly capable of employing electronic warfare throughout their force structure. Electronic warfare elements deployed within theaters of operation threaten to degrade, disrupt or deny VHF, UHF and SATCOM communication. In this scenario, HF radio is a viable backup mode of communication.

The Russian doctrine favors rapid employment of nonlethal effects, such as electronic warfare, in order to paralyze and disrupt the enemy in the early hours of conflict. The Russian army has an inherited legacy from the Soviet Union and its integrated use of electronic warfare as a component of a greater campaign plan, enabling freedom of maneuver for combat forces. The rear echelons are postured to attack either utilizing a single envelopment, attacking the defending enemy from the rear, or a double envelopment, seeking to destroy the main enemy forces by unleashing the reserves. Ideally, a Russian motorized rifle regiment’s advanced guard battalion makes contact with the enemy and quickly engage on a broader front, identifying weaknesses permitting the regiment’s rear echelons to conduct flanking operations. These maneuvers are generally followed by another motorized regiment flanking, producing a double envelopment and destroying the defending forces.

Currently, the competency with HF radio systems within the U.S. Army is limited; however, there is a strong case to train and ensure readiness for the utilization of HF communication. Even in EMS-denied environments, HF radios can provide stable, beyond-line-of-sight communication permitting the ability to initiate a prompt global strike. While HF radio equipment is also vulnerable to electronic attack, it can be difficult to target due to near vertical incident skywave signal propagation. This propagation method provides the ability to reflect signals off the ionosphere in an EMS-contested environment, establishing communications beyond the line of sight. Due to the signal path, the ability to target an HF transmitter is much more difficult than transmissions from VHF and UHF radios that transmit line of sight ground waves.

The expense to attain an improved HF-readiness level is low in comparison to other Army needs, yet with a high return on investment. The equipment has already been fielded to maneuver units; the next step is Army leadership prioritizing soldier training and employment of the equipment in tactical environments. This will posture the U.S. Army in a state of higher readiness for future conflicts.

Dr. Jan Kallberg, Lt. Col. Stephen Hamilton and Capt. Kyle Hager are research scientists at the Army Cyber Institute at West Point and assistant professors at the United States Military Academy.

Utilizing Cyber in Arctic Warfare

The change from a focus on counter-insurgency to near-peer and peer-conflicts has also introduced the likelihood, if there is a conflict, for a fight in colder and frigid conditions. The weather conditions in Korea and Eastern Europe are harsh during winter time, with increasing challenges the farther north the engagement is taking place. In traditional war theaters, the threats to your existence line up as follows: enemy, logistics, and climate. In a polar climate, it is reversed: climate, logistics, and the enemy.

An enemy will engage you and seek to take you on different occasions, but the climate will be ever-present. The battle for your own physical survival in staying warm, eating and seeking rest can create unit fatigue and lower the ability to fight within days, even for trained and able troops. The easiest way to envision how three feet of snow affects you is to think about your mobility walking in water up to your hip, so to compensate either you ski or use low ground pressure and wide-tracked vehicles, such as specialized small unit support vehicles.

The climate and the snow depth also affect equipment. Lethality in your regular weapons is lowered. Gunfire accuracy goes down as charges burn slower in an arctic subzero-degree environment. Mortar rounds are less effective than under normal conditions when the snow captures shrapnel. Any heat, either from weapons, vehicles or your body, will make the snow melt and then freeze to ice. If not cleaned, weapons will jam. In a near-peer or peer conflict, the time units are engaged is longer and the exposure to the climate can last months.

I say all this to set the stage. Arctic warfare takes place in an environment that often lacks roads, infrastructure, minimal logistics, and with snow and ice blocking mobility. The climate affects both you and the enemy; once you are comfortable in this environment, you can work on the enemy’s discomfort.

The unique opportunity for cyberattacks in an Arctic conflict is, in my opinion, the ability to destroy a small piece of a machine or waste electric energy.

First, the ability to replace and repair equipment is limited in an arctic environment — the logistic chain is weak and unreliable and there are no facilities that effectively can support needed repairs, so the whole machine is a loss. If a cyberattack destroys a fuel pump in a vehicle, the targeted vehicle could be out of service for a week or more before repaired. The vehicle might have to be abandoned as units continue to move over the landscape. Units that operate in the Arctic have a limited logistic trail and ability to carry spare parts and reserve equipment. A systematic attack on a set of equipment can paralyze the enemy.

Second, electric energy waste is extremely stressful for any unit targeted. The Arctic has no urban infrastructure and often no existing power line that can provide electric power to charge batteries and upkeep electronic equipment. If there are power lines, they are few and likely already targeted by long-range enemy patrols.

The winter does not have enough sun to provide enough energy for solar panels if the sun even gets above the horizon (if you get far enough north, the sun is for several months a theoretical concept). The batteries do not hold a charge when it gets colder (a battery that holds a 100-percent charge at 80 degrees Fahrenheit has its capacity halved to 50-percent at 0 degrees Fahrenheit). Generators demand fuel from a limited supply chain and not only generate a heat signature, but also noise. The Arctic night is clear, with no noise pollution, so a working generator can be pick up by a long-range skiing patrol from 500 yards, risking an ambush. The loss or intermittent ability to use electronics and signal equipment due to power issues reduces and degrades situation awareness, command and control, the ability to call for strikes, and blinds the targeted unit.

Arctic warfare is a fight with low margins for errors, where climate guarantees that small failures can turn nasty, and even limited success with arctic cyber operations can tip the scales in your favor.

Jan Kallberg, PhD

Jan Kallberg is a research fellow/research scientist at the Army Cyber Institute at West Point. As a former Swedish reserve officer and light infantry company commander, Kallberg has personal experience facing Arctic conditions. The views expressed herein are those of the author and do not reflect the official policy or position of the Army Cyber Institute at West Point, the United States Military Academy, or the Department of Defense.

Cyber Attacks with Environmental Impact – High Impact on Societal Sentiment

In the cyber debate, there is a significant, if not totally over-shadowing, focus on the information systems themselves – the concerns don’t migrate to secondary and tertiary effects. For example, the problem with vulnerable industrial control systems in the management of water-reservoir dams is not limited to the digital conduit and systems. It is the fact that a massive release of water can create a flood that affects hundreds of thousands of citizens. It is important to look at the actual effects of a systematic or pinpoint-accurate cyberattack – and go beyond the limits of the actual information system.

As an example, a cascading effect of failing dams in a larger watershed would have a significant environmental impact. Hydroelectric dams and reservoirs are controlled using different forms of computer networks, either cable or wireless, and the control networks are connected to the Internet. A breach in the cyber defenses for the electric utility company leads all the way down to the logic controllers that instruct the electric machinery to open the floodgates. Many hydroelectric dams and reservoirs are designed as a chain of dams in a major watershed to create an even flow of water that is utilized to generate energy. A cyberattack on several upstream dams would release water that increases pressure on downstream dams. With rapidly diminishing storage capacity, downstream dams risk being breached by the oncoming water. Eventually, it can turn to a cascading effect through the river system which could result in a catastrophic flood event.

The traditional cyber security way to frame the problem is the loss of function and disruption in electricity generation, but that overlooks the potential environmental effect of an inland tsunami. This is especially troublesome in areas where the population and the industries are dense along a river; examples would include Pennsylvania, West Virginia and other areas with cities built around historic mills.

We have seen that events that are close to citizens’ near-environment affect them highly, which makes sense. If they perceive a threat to their immediate environment, it creates rapid public shifts of belief; erodes trust in government; generates extreme pressure under an intense, short time frame for government to act to stabilize the situation; and public vocal outcry.

One such example is the Three Mile Island accident, which created significant public turbulence and fear – an incident that still has a profound impact on how we view nuclear power. The Three Mile Island incident changed U.S. nuclear policy in a completely different direction and halted all new construction of nuclear plants even until today, forty years later.

For a covert state actor that seeks to cripple our society, embarrass the political leadership, change policy and project to the world that we cannot defend ourselves, environmental damages are inviting. An attack on the environment feels, for the general public, closer and scarier than a dozen servers malfunctioning in a server park. We are all dependent on clean drinking water and non-toxic air. Cyber attacks on these fundamentals for life could create panic and desperation in the public – even if the reacting citizens were not directly affected.

It is crucial for cyber resilience to look beyond the information systems. The societal effect is embedded in the secondary and tertiary effects that need to be addressed, understood and, to the limit of what we can do, mitigated. Cyber resilience goes beyond the digital realm.

Jan Kallberg, PhD

The time to act is before the attack


In my view, one of the major weaknesses in cyber defense planning is the perception that there is time to lead a cyber defense while under attack. It is likely that a major attack is automated and premeditated. If it is automated the systems will execute the attacks at computational speed. In that case, no political or military leadership would be able to lead of one simple reason – it has already happened before they react.

A premeditated attack is planned for a long time, maybe years, and if automated, the execution of a massive number of exploits will be limited to minutes. Therefore, the future cyber defense would rely on components of artificial intelligence that can assess, act, and mitigate at computational speed. Naturally, this is a development that does not happen overnight.

In an environment where the actual digital interchange occurs at computational speed, the only thing the government can do is to prepare, give guidelines, set rules of engagement, disseminate knowledge to ensure a cyber resilient society, and let the coders prepare the systems to survive in a degraded environment.

Another important factor is how these cyber defense measures can be reversed engineered and how visible they are in a pre-conflict probing wave of cyber attacks. If the preset cyber defense measures can be “measured up” early in a probing phase of a cyber conflict it is likely that the defense measures can through reverse engineering become a force multiplier for the future attacks – instead of bulwarks against the attacks.

So we enter the land of “damned if you do-damned if you don’t” because if we pre-stage the conflict with artificial intelligence supported decision systems that lead the cyber defense at the computational speed we are also vulnerable by being reverse engineered and the artificial intelligence becomes tangible stupidity.

We are in the early dawn of cyber conflicts, we can see the silhouettes of what is coming, but one thing becomes very clear – the time factor. Politicians and military leadership will have no factual impact on the actual events in real time in conflicts occurring at computational speed, so focus have then to be at the front end. The leadership is likely to have the highest impact by addressing what has to be done pre-conflict to ensure resilience when under attack.

Jan Kallberg, PhD

Artificial Intelligence (AI): The risk of over-reliance on quantifiable data

The rise of interest in artificial intelligence and machine learning has a flip side. It might not be so smart if we fail to design the methods correctly. A question out there – can we compress the reality into measurable numbers? Artificial Intelligence relies on what can be measured and quantified, risking an over-reliance on measurable knowledge. The challenge with many other technical problems is that it all ends with humans that design and assess according to their own perceived reality. The designers’ bias, perceived reality, weltanschauung, and outlook – everything goes into the design. The limitations are not on the machine side; the humans are far more limiting. Even if the machines learn from a point forward, it is still a human that stake out the starting point and the initial landscape.

Quantifiable data has historically served America well; it was a part of the American boom after the Second World War when America was one of the first countries that took a scientific look on how to improve, streamline, and increase production utilizing fewer resources and manpower.

The numbers have also misled. The Vietnam-era SECDEF McNamara used the numbers to tell how to win the Vietnam War, which clearly indicated how to reach a decisive military victory – according to the numbers. In a Post-Vietnam book titled “The War Managers,” retired Army general Donald Kinnard visualize the almost bizarre world of seeking to fight the war through quantification and statistics. Kinnard, who later taught at the National Defense University, did a survey of the actual support for these methods and utilized fellow generals that had served in Vietnam as the respondents. These generals considered the concept of assessing the progress in the war by body counting as useless, and only two percent of the surveyed generals saw any value in this practice. Why were the Americans counting bodies? It is likely because it was quantifiable and measurable. It is a common error in research design that you seek out the variables that produce accessible quantifiable results and McNamara was at that time almost obsessed with numbers and the predictive power of numbers. McNamara is not the only one that relied overly on the numbers.

In 1939, the Nazi-German foreign minister Ribbentrop together with the German High Command studied and measured up the French-British ability to mobilize and the ability to start a war with a little-advanced warning. The Germans quantified assessment was that the Allies were unable to engage in a full-scale war on short notice and the Germans believed that the numbers were identical with the policy reality when politicians would understand their limits – and the Allies would not go to war over Poland. So Germany invaded Poland and started the Second World War. The quantifiable assessment was correct and lead to Dunkirk, but the grander assessment was off and underestimated the British and French will to take on the fight, which leads to at least 50 million dead, half of Europe behind the Soviet Iron Curtain and the destruction of their own regime. The British sentiment willing to fight the war to the end, the British ability to convince the US to provide resources to their effort, and the unfolding events thereafter were never captured in the data. The German assessment was a snapshot of the British and French war preparations in the summer of 1939 – nothing else.

Artificial Intelligence is as smart as the the numbers we feed it. Ad notam.

The potential failure is hidden in selecting, assessing, designing, and extracting the numbers to feed Artificial Intelligence. The risk for grave errors in decisionmaking, escalation, and avoidable human suffering and destruction, is embedded in our future use of Artifical Intelligence if we do not pay attention to the data that feed the algorithms. The data collection and aggregation is the weakest link in the future of machine-supported decisionmaking.

Jan Kallberg is a Research Scientist at the Army Cyber Institute at West Point and an Assistant Professor the Department of Social Sciences (SOSH) at the United States Military Academy. The views expressed herein are those of the author and do not reflect the official policy or position of the Army Cyber Institute at West Point, the United States Military Academy, or the Department of Defense.

Spectrum Warfare


Spectrum sounds to many ears like old fashioned, Cold War jamming, crude brute electromagnetic overkill. In reality though, the military needs access to spectrum, and more of it.

Smart defense systems need to communicate, navigate, identify, and target. It does not matter how cyber secure our platforms are if we are denied access to electromagnetic spectrum. Every modern high tech weapon system is a dud without access to spectrum. The loss of spectrum will evaporate the American military might.

Today, though, other voices are becoming stronger, desiring to commercialize military spectrum. Why does the military need an abundance of spectrum, these voices ask. It could be commercialized and create so much joy with annoying social media and stuff that does not matter beyond one of your life-time minutes.

It is a relevant question. We as an entrepreneurial and “take action” society see the opportunity to utilize parts of the military spectrum to launch wireless services and free up spectrum space for all these apps and the Internet of Things that is just around the corner of the digital development of our society and civilization. In the eyes of the entrepreneurs and their backers, the military sits on unutilized spectrum that could put be good use – and there could be a financial harvest of the military electromagnetic wasteland.

The military needs spectrum in the same way the football player needs green grass to plan and execute his run. If we limit the military access to necessary spectrum it will, to extend the football metaphor, be just a stack of players not moving or be able to win. Our military will not be able to operate effectively.

We invite people to talk about others to talk about justice, democracy, and freedom, to improve the world, but I think it is time for us to talk to our fellow man about electromagnetic spectrum because the bulwark against oppression and totalitarian regimes depends on access.

Jan Kallberg, PhD

Humanitarian Cyber Operations – Rapid, Targeted, and Active Deterrent

Cyber operations are designed to be a tool for defense, security and war. In the same way as harmless computer technology can be used as dual-purpose tools for war, tools of war can be used for humanity, to protect the innocent, uphold respect for our fellow beings and safeguard human rights.

When a nation-state acts against its population and risks their welfare through repression, violence and exposure to mistreatment, there is a possibility for the world community to take actions by launching humanitarian cyber operations to protect the targeted population. In the non-cyber world, atrocities are intervened by military intervention using the principle of “responsibility to protect,” which allows foreign interference in domestic affairs to protect a population from their repressive and violent ruler without triggering an act of war. If a state fails to protect the welfare of its citizens, then the state that commits atrocities against its population is no longer protected from foreign intervention.

Intervention in 2018 does not need to be a military intervention with troops on the grounds, but, instead, a digital intervention through humanitarian cyber operations. A cyber humanitarian intervention not only capitalizes on the digital footprint but also penetrates the violent regime’s information sources, command structure and communications. The growing digital footprint in repressive regimes creates an opportunity for early prevention and interception against the perpetration of atrocities. The last decade the totalitarian states’ digital footprint has grown larger and larger.

As an example, Iran had 2 million smartphones in 2014, but had already reached 48 million smartphones in 2017. Today, about 3 out of 4 Iranians live in metropolitan areas. About half of the Iranian population is under 30 years old with new habits of chatting, sharing and wireless connectivity. In North Korea, the digital footprint has grown as rapidly. In 2011, there were no cellphones in North Korea outside of a very narrow elite circle. In 2017, surveys assessed that over 65 percent of all North Korean households had a cellphone.

No totalitarian and repressive states have been able to limit the digital footprint, which continues to expand for every year. The repressive regimes rely on the computer to lead and orchestrate the repressive actions and crimes against its population. Even if the actual perpetrators of atrocities avoid digital means, the activity will be picked up as intelligence fragments when talked about, discussed, shared, eye-witnessed and silenced. The planning and initiation to execute atrocities have a logistic trail of troop moments, transportations, orders, communications and concentration of resources.

If there is a valid concern for the safety of the population in the totalitarian states, then free, democratic and responsible states can act. Utilizing the United Nations’ accepted principle, “responsibility to protect,” is a justification for the world community or democratic states that decide to act and to launch humanitarian cyber operations utilizing military cyber capacity in a humanitarian role.

Humanitarian cyber operations enable faster response, the retrieval of information necessary for the world community’s decision making to act conventionally, and they remove the secrecy surrounding the perpetrated acts of totalitarian and repressive regimes. The exposure of human rights crimes in progress can serve as a deterrent and interception against a continuation of these crimes. By transposing the responsibility to protect from international humanitarian law into cyber, repressive regimes lose their protection against foreign cyber intervention if valid human rights concerns can be raised.

Humanitarian cyber operations can act as a deterrent because perpetrators will be held accountable. The international humanitarian law is dependent on evidence gathering, and laws might not be upheld if evidence gathering fails, even if the international community promotes decisive legal action. Humanitarian cyber operations can support the prosecution of crimes against humanity and generate quality evidence. The prosecution of the human rights violations in the Balkan civil wars during the 1990s failed in many cases due to lack of evidence. Humanitarian cyber operations can capture evidence that will hold perpetrators accountable.

Humanitarian cyber operations are policy tools for a free democratic nation already in peacetime to legally penetrate and extract information from the information systems of an authoritarian potential adversary that represses their people and endangers the welfare of their citizens. Conversely, the adversary cannot systematically attack the democratic nation because that is likely an act of war with consequences to follow. There is an opportunity embedded in humanitarian cyber operations for humanity and democracy.

Jan Kallberg is a research scientist at the Army Cyber Institute at West Point and an assistant professor in the department of social sciences at the United States Military Academy. The views expressed are those of the author and do not reflect the official policy or position of the Army Cyber Institute at West Point, the United States Military Academy or the Department of Defense.

Legalizing Private Hack Backs leads to Federal Risks

During the last year several op-ed articles and commentaries have proposed that private companies should have the right to strike back if cyber attacked and conduct their own offensive cyber operations.

The demarcation in cyber between the government sphere and the private sphere is important to uphold because it influences how we see the state and the framework in which states interact. One reason why we have a nation state is to, in a uniform and structured way, under the guidance of a representative democracy, deal with foreign hostility and malicious activity. The state is given its powers by the citizenry to protect the nation utilizing a monopoly on violence. The state then acts under the existing laws on behalf of the citizens to ensure the intentions of the population it represents. These powers create an authority that federal government utilizes to enforce compliance of the laws and handle our relations with foreign powers. If the federal government cannot uphold the authority, legitimacy and confidence in government will suffer. The national interest in protecting legitimacy and authority and to maintain the confidence in the federal government is by far stronger than the benefits of a few private entities departing on their own cyber odysseys to retaliate against foreign cyber attacks.

I would like to visualize the importance of demarcation between government and private entities with an example. A failed bank robbery leads to a standoff where the robbers are encircled by government law enforcement. The government upholds its monopoly on violence based on laws that permit the government, on behalf of the people, to engage the robbers in a potential shootout. All other citizens are instructed to leave the area. The law enforcement officers seek to solve the situation without any violence. This is how we have designed the demarcation between the government and the private sphere in the analog world.
If the US decides to allow companies to strike back on foreign cyber attacks, then the US has abandoned this demarcation between nation state and private sphere. Going back to the bank robbers that are surrounded by law enforcement, using the logic of the private cyber retaliation, any bank customer who had an account in the robbed bank could show up at the standoff and open fire at the robbers at their own discretion and depart directly afterward leaving the police to sort out the shootout and the aftermath with no responsibility for the triggering event.
Abandoning the clear demarcation between government and private sphere leads to entropy, loss of control, and is counterproductive for the national cyberdefense and the national interest.
The counter argument is that the private companies are defenseless against cyber attacks and therefore they will have the right to self-defense.
The Commission on the Theft of American Intellectual Property published a report that was a strong proponent of allowing private companies to strike back and even retaliate against cyber attackers. According to the commission these counter strikes should be conducted as follows: “Without damaging the intruder’s own network, companies that experience cyber theft ought to be able to retrieve their electronic files or prevent the exploitation of their stolen information.”

The proponents for private cyber retaliation base their view on several assumptions. First, that the private company can attribute the attack and determine who is attacking them. The second assumption is that the counterstriking companies have the cyber resources to engage, even if it is a state-sponsored organization on the other end, and that there will be no damages. A third hidden assumption is that the events do not lead to uncontrolled escalation and that the cyber interchanges only affect the engaged parties.

An attacker has other options and can seek to attack other entities and institutions as a reprisal for the counterattack. If the initial attacker is a state-sponsored organization in a foreign country, multinational companies can have significant business and interests at risk if the situation escalates. Private companies will not be responsible for the aftermath and the entropy that can occur undermines the American stance and the nation loses its higher ground in challenging the state sponsors behind the cyber attacks in the framework of the international community.
The answer to who should hack back, if deciding to do so, is simple; it should be the federal government for the same reason that you would not fly on a passport issued by your neighbor across the street. Only the federal government is suitable to engage foreign nations and the private entities therein.

The unaddressed core problem is that we have not yet been able to create mechanisms to transfer cyber incidents from the private realm to the authorities. This limited ability during the short timeframe an attack occurs leads to initially a cyber attacker’s advantage, but this will be solved over time and does not outweigh the damages from an undermined federal authority due to entropy in cyber.


NDU Publication: China’s Strategic Support Force: A Force for a New Era

NDU Press just published:

From the Executive Summary:

“In late 2015, the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) initiated reforms that have brought dramatic changes to its structure, model of warfighting, and organizational culture, including the creation of a Strategic Support Force (SSF) that centralizes most PLA space, cyber, electronic, and psychological warfare capabilities. The reforms come at an inflection point as the PLA seeks to pivot from land-based territorial defense to extended power projection to protect Chinese interests in the “strategic frontiers” of space, cyberspace, and the far seas. Understanding the new strategic roles of the SSF is essential to understanding how the PLA plans to fight and win informationized wars and how it will conduct information operations.”


Area Denial in Outer Space

(I initially published this text in Fifth Domain)

Any future nation-state adversary surely understands the U.S. reliance on satellite communications for global military operations. Therefore, they likely understand there is a crude and unsophisticated way to disturb and degrade satellite communication, an IED of outer space that can be introduced, by polluting orbits with shrapnel and debris that are likely to damage any space-borne assets in their way.

Essentially, an adversary can choose between two types of noncyber anti-satellite attacks: direct kinetic and indirect kinetic. While a direct kinetic anti-satellite missile attack on a U.S. satellite is possible, it would provide direct attribution to the attacker, thus leading to repercussions.

The thruster and the heat from a missile would be identified and attributed to the country or vessel that launched the attack. A direct kinetic attack might be inviting, but the political price is high. Even though it would be inviting to attack satellites, an adversary would not be able to attack without leaving a trace of tangible evidence. Using an ASAT missile is a grave act of war and can only reasonably be used if the perpetrator anticipates and accepts a wartime response.

For a potential adversary, it can be far more advantageous to increase the amount of debris that clutters specific orbits, thus epitomizing the indirect attack. Increasing debris can be accomplished through actively adding debris to specific well-targeted orbits, systematic designer accidents or collisions in space.

During the 18th century and until the Second World War, artillery units had a special round to be used if enemy infantry came uncomfortably close to the battery position: the case shot. The battery aimed toward the closing infantry and fired the case shots, which dispersed thousands of steel balls that created massive losses in the infantry ranks. Whether those steel balls hit an arm, a leg, the torso, or a hand did not matter; the infantry assault against the battery position lost momentum and ended.

By applying the case shot idea to space, we can see an unsophisticated way to radically increase debris by using space boosters to reach lower Earth orbit (LEO) and then using kinetic energy to disperse hundreds of thousands of shrapnel into a segment of space. Any obsolete or crude missile — exemplified by the Iranian Shahab or the North Korean Taepodong — could act as a space booster to take the payload to space. A salvo of 20 such crude space boosters delivering a significant amount of prefragmented shrapnel could radically increase the amount of hypervelocity debris.

The probability for collision in space between a functional satellite and debris is a numbers game. Reduced to a simplified example, if the presence of 5,000 debris pieces at a specific altitude generates a risk of one satellite hit every 10 years — not taking into account additional debris generated from the impact — an additional 100,000 debris pieces would increase that risk drastically.

To illustrate the principle, 20 space boosters can lift 30 metric tons of payload to LEO — roughly 300,000 10g steel balls — that would be spread at hypervelocity into the satellite orbits. The attack is kinetic but indirect, as the target satellites are not individually targeted but are instead approached by a swarm of hypervelocity debris that impacts the target satellites either by penetration or by destroying antennas, solar panels or other equipment. This impact would initially generate more debris, although orbital decay would counterbalance some of it by moving it to a lower altitude; eventually, it would disappear from space. It would serve as anti-access and area denial for defined space orbits, depending on the orbit, for a calculable amount of time.

Either a direct or indirect kinetic attack would be an act of war and provide the necessary attribution to give the United States casus belli approved by at least a part of the international community. First, both the direct and indirect kinetic attack would be attributable to the nation that launched the attack, and observations from space-borne monitoring satellites would be accurate enough to give the United States a solid case.

Second, creating unprecedented amounts of space debris would not only be hazardous to U.S. satellites, but also to those of other major powers. If rogue nation X launches an indirect kinetic attack, it could affect Russia, Europe, China, India, Pakistan and other nations’ satellites. Depending on the dispersing of these debris objects, damage could be limited to small areas of space, but it would still be a space territory not used solely by the United States. A future adversary will have to weigh the benefit against the geopolitical risk of collateral damage to friendly nations.

If the future adversary is ready to take the risk of collateral damage, it is likely within their reach to disrupt and degrade the satellites in targeted orbits or with reachable means, preventing the U.S. utilization of space terrain by using orbit pollution as area denial.

Jan Kallberg is a research scientist at the Army Cyber Institute at West Point and an assistant professor in the department of social sciences at the United States Military Academy. The views expressed are those of the author and do not reflect the official policy or position of the Army Cyber Institute at West Point, the United States Military Academy or the Department of Defense.

The Death of the Cyber Generalist

I recommend reading Patrick Bell and my article from June 2018:

“The Department of Defense (DoD) must abandon its “up-or-out” promotion model for cyber forces. It should let competent officers hold their positions longer. Applying the outdated Defense Officer Personnel Management Act’s (DOPMA) staffing model to the cyber force is foolish, and makes it difficult to keep experienced, technically-proficient cyber officers in the military. DOPMA’s prescribed career paths entail officers’ attendance at a variety of schools, with several rotations through geographical areas and work domains. In the process, domain-specific knowledge that would allow officers to lead and understand the impact of their various choices in a technically complex and ever-changing environment evaporates. In a world of increasing complexity, shortened windows of opportunity to act, and constantly-changing technical environments, the generalist leaders that the DOPMA system yields may doom the military’s cyber force to failure.”

The link to the article:


Retention is Key for Cyber Talent Management


If the armed forces seek to create a more significant force, recruitment and training of cyber support will only meet demand if retention is high. (Bill Roche/Army Cyber Command)
The United States is an engineering country where technical solutions are born, and solutions are thought up, in an innovation-friendly environment of academia and industry. There are gaps, but the United States is highly adaptive and able to face technological challenges due to its research capacity and industrial base.

The more substantial challenges are retention, maintaining an able workforce and transferring the willingness to serve to the next generation. The cost for the Department of Defense to recruit and train, or transition a mid-career officer, are high. Equally challenging is the time to replace an officer that decides to leave the armed forces. This is a simple math problem: If the armed forces seek to create a more significant force, recruitment and training will only meet demand if retention is high; otherwise, the inflow is only compensating the outflow from the service.

With the strengthening of the American economy, combined with a radically increased demand for information security competence in the civilian workforce, retention of cyber skills and cyberwarriors will be an ongoing concern. If you train, you need to be able to retain the personnel — otherwise it is a lost investment for the organization.

The millennials are likely the next decade’s cultural-change agents, not by intent but through catalyzing change and, from a cyber perspective, it might be necessary.
According to the RAND study “Millennial Perceptions of Security,” millennials and young people are less invested in national security issues, but care about their economic security. Millennials will be the predominant workforce in the next decade, slowly replaced by the post-millennials in the late-2020s. The retention of “Generation Instagram” is likely different than earlier generations.

Should we expect that “Generation Instagram” to leave their social media-upheld island in the digital world, return to the 20th century and embrace the bureaucracy and its industrial age apparatus?

A culture shift is needed. Conventional forces consistently prepare for war, while cyber forces are continuously engaged in cyberwar. Therefore, rotating cyber officers through assignments reduces readiness and increases risks. Allowing one individual to hold a position for five or more years will significantly improve operational readiness. Exempting the cyber force from mandatory positional and geographic moves will help build and maintain a more effective future force.

Also in need of change is the dated Defense Officer Personnel Management Act, which includes an embedded assumption that one partner makes a career and the other tags along with the rotations, trying to see what they can do at the post where they land. To retain these two smart individuals as a military family we have to design rotations and positions in a way that the spouses have career opportunities that match their abilities. Millennials and the younger generation want to influence their future.

Alexander Hamilton, writing in 1775, said “There is a certain enthusiasm in liberty, that makes human nature rise above itself, in acts of bravery and heroism.” A rigid bureaucracy has limited workplace appeal for millennials; to release the enthusiasm, an organization that has a higher degree of freedom is more adaptive and mission-centered as the unit commanders are empowered.

Freedom is also a prerequisite for innovation, the freedom to fail an informed and rational attempt. Millennials are likely the next decade’s cultural-change agents, not by intent but through catalyzing change, and from a cyber perspective, it might be necessary.

The rapid changing technical landscape, the increased velocity in engagements, the thick fog of uncertainty, all create a need for future cyberwarriors to stay current within an innovative, embracing, and enabling culture. At a large scale, it can be a strategic advantage compared to our potential adversaries that lack initiative, and have fear-driven cultures and repressive outlooks.

Jan Kallberg, PhD

Jan Kallberg is a research scientist at the Army Cyber Institute at West Point and an assistant professor in the department of social sciences at the United States Military Academy. The views expressed are those of the author and do not reflect the official policy or position of the Army Cyber Institute at West Point, the United States Military Academy or the Department of Defense.