Years ago, during the first Reagan Administration, a work of fiction appeared called Soft War. It was a novel on how very clever American computer experts could sneak a few lines of code into computer software, code that would allow cyber-spying on the Soviet Union, or, optimally, even allow technocrats in the USA to "push a button" and shut down some aspect of the Russian infrastructure, government, military, or economy.
Of course, those familiar with the history of the allegations surrounding the INSLAW scandal will be familiar with the fact that that is apparently what actually happened. Now, with that in mind, there is this recent article in Forbes that caught my eye:
Of course, the historical context of my 1980s cyber-war fiction novel, and the very real contemporaneous INSLAW scandal, means that it isn't simply the Obama Administration's policy that has led to this risk, it is a policy that has been in place for decades. And shutting down part of the Soviet Union through cyber attacks wasn't so far fetched as it may at first seem, as the article itself points out:
"If in fact the Administration did authorize targeting Iranian nuclear systems with Stuxnet and/or Flame, it was a dangerous and reckless decision, especially since the U.S. Government has no idea how many computers in America may be infected with malware capable of being activated by Iran or one of its allies in retaliation. Such “backdoor” malware is capable of having enormous consequences to life and property. A similar CIA covert operation successfully destroyed a Soviet pipeline. In 1982, President Reagan approved a plan to transfer software used to run pipeline pumps, turbines, and valves to the Soviet Union that had embedded features designed to cause pump speeds and valve settings to malfunction. The plot was revealed in a 2004 Washington Post article by David Hoffman in advance of its discussion in former Air Force Secretary Thomas C. Reed’s book, At the Abyss: An Insider’s History of the Cold War. Reed recalled to Hoffman that, “The result was the most monumental non-nuclear explosion and fire ever seen from space.” Unlike Stuxnet, however, the program remained classified for 22 years until the CIA authorized Reed to discuss it in his book. Sanger’s information came from loose-lipped persons involved with the Stuxnet operation. "
A pipeline explosion seen from space... and now, other countries are developing similar cyber-war capabilities such that it may not be necessary to smuggle this or that technology into a western country, one need only press a button to disable a factory, to inject chemicals in a robotized assembly line in proportions that do not exist, to move a satellite from its proper orbit, even something so simple as modifying a newspaper story or television teleprompter during a newscast (and thereby altering both the story and its perception)...well....you get the idea. And the best part is, as they say in "the trade", such approaches mean real covert warfare, and real plausible deniability...
See you on the flip side.