In its latest cyber attack, the SEA hacked and defaced www.marines.com, a website which promotes recruitment into the US Marines.
The attack was used to post a propaganda message urging soldiers to not fight in Syria and that declaring Obama a traitor.
It would seem that the official Marines website, hosted by The Department of Defense’s domain was not affected, but by infiltrating this Marine website that’s hosted by a marketing brand the SEA would gain news coverage of an attack on a military domain.
Still, the attack followed US President Barack Obama’s announcement that he’s seeking congressional approval for a military strike in Syria.
With talk of military action heightening, the SEA’s DNS-redirection hacks are also billowing in numbers, but what is interesting to see is how the US is responding to these cyber attacks: with cyber attacks of their own.
The fairly new US Cyber Command will be testing out fresh cyberwar capabilities on Syrian targets, probably in conjunction with physical missile strikes. Military sources have said that Syrian targets include the "electronic command and control systems used by the Syrian military forces, air defense computers, and other military communications networks."
Further speculated targets include the Syrian military’s radar systems, air traffic control and even public telecommunications networks and electricity grids. Although the strike will be "limited" as the US does not want to give away their hand on a "a narrow, low-stakes operation."
Micah Zenko, a national security expert, told website Foreign Policy that "cyberattacks in Syria will be used in ways that haven’t been used in previous wars," and to "not utilize [cybercapabilities] would be really foolish" as it "would be like fighting with one hand behind our back."
In a House Armed Services Committee hearing in March, the director of the National Security Agency and Commander of US Cyber Command General Keith B. Alexander told congress "our [cyber] offense is the best in the world."
Along with the documents from Edward Snowden published by The Washington Post last week, it was revealed that the US conducted 231 cyber offensive operations in 2011. So you can imagine quite easily how that number rose in 2012 and 2013, although we’re very unlikely to find out any time soon.
So how exactly could the US military hack Syria?
As hinted at by the military, the US has the capabilities to infiltrate the electricity grid, radar, telecommunications, the Internet and even gas and oil refineries.
In 2010, a virus co-written by Israel and the US assaulted Iran’s nuclear program. The worm, named Stuxnet, shut down the systems on centrifuges suspected of enriching uranium, and effectively destroying the centrifuges.
Now that Syria disconnected its power grid from Egypt, Turkey and Jordan, it relies on Iran to import power — and therefore could easily be vulnerable to a cyber attack.
This lesser-known element of the US’s offensive on Syria is worth keeping a watch on, especially since the vast amount of media coverage and discussion is preoccupied with talk of physical missile strikes.
Could we see the beginning of a cyber war sci-fi authors have written about for decades? If America’s cyber war capabilities are as top-notch as the NSA claim, why risk physical strikes when Syria’s war machine could be disrupted from the inside?
Perhaps America is in fact keeping their cards close to their chest on this one, but it’s definitely going to be an interesting development when the time does come to launch military cyber offenses as part of a hot war.