Experts quoted by the Washington Post think it almost certain the US military will use “high-powered microwave weapons” (HPM) against Iraq:
- They use bursts of electromagnetic energy, delivered by low-impact bombs or “ray gun”-like devices, to disable or destroy the electronics that control everything from an enemy’s radar to its laptops.
Although the pulse can easily incapacitate or even burn out microchips or circuitry, it is weak enough so that humans might not even know they had been attacked until their computers started to crash.
“These weapons are designed almost exclusively for destroying electronic systems,” said defense analyst Loren Thompson, author of a recent study on high-powered microwaves and other “directed-energy” weapons. “They minimize collateral damage, overkilling and wasted effort. I tend to think this could make war more humane.”
In particular, analysts point out, high-powered microwaves have an obvious attraction in an urban setting, where noncombatants are vulnerable. Iraqi President Saddam Hussein has concentrated his elite troops around Baghdad, apparently intending to make a U.S.-led invasion force its way into the capital.
Silent, invisible shivers of energy worming their way into bunkers and zapping the electronics of the enemy – the trouble is it cuts both ways:
- From a military standpoint, the biggest drawback is the possibility that the pulses end up damaging friendly electronics as they rebound through a battlefield.
“Our existing military infrastructure is currently almost defenseless against the type of energy pulse that an HPM would produce,” Thompson said. “The benefits of the information age created a vulnerability not only for our enemies, but for ourselves.”
High-powered microwave weapons make use of the same principle that causes static to invade a car radio beneath a power line. More power on a frequency approximating that of the radio can cause progressively worse damage, and at some point will shut down or burn out delicate electronics. The armed forces describe the range of possibilities as the “four D’s — deny, disrupt, damage or destroy.”
“Anything that an enemy has that uses electronics could be vulnerable,” said the University of New Mexico’s Edl Schamiloglu, an electrical and computer engineer. “Radars, computers, infrared guidance systems — you name it.”
The HPMs come in two flavors: “ultrawide band” and “narrow band”:
- ultrawide band … uses an explosion to provide one quick, powerful burst of radiation over a broad range of frequencies. The likeliest method of delivery is via cruise missile, which can get the weapon close to the target without infecting friendly electronics.
….Once the waves are on their way, they will travel along any electrical circuit they encounter, and are particularly adept at taking advantage of enemy antennas and other devices as capable of receiving signals as they are of transmitting them. An antenna or other exposed sensor is called “the front door.”
But it is not the only entrance. The emissions can also travel through cracks, seams, metal conduits or other “back door” avenues, crawling into hardened bunkers to disable electronics with a sudden, virtually undetectable power jolt. The microwaves will destroy the electronics even when the equipment is not operating.
….[narrow-band] characteristics are not publicly known, but Schamiloglu said machines rather than bombs would deliver them. All would likely have batteries as a power source, a large capacitor to store the power and an antenna to fire the microwaves in a rat-a-tat burst, ray-gun style.
Narrow-band waves can be aimed at a target, making them less likely to damage friendly electronics. As a result, U.S. forces could use piloted aircraft or drones to fire them, but Arquilla suggested that “special warfare personnel” could infiltrate enemy defenses and hand-deliver either flavor.
“The question is: Will the general be willing to risk Special Forces?” Arquilla said. “Because of the close tie between the use of these weapons and the potential political and social benefits, I think this is a risk well worth taking.”
But while we may be able to fry the enemy’s electronics in the field, they and their sympathizers will doubtless be coming after us over the Internet:
- The Department of Homeland Security is boosting efforts to monitor the Internet for cyberterrorist and hacking incidents as the nation readies for war against Iraq.
The announcement was tied to the department’s decision last night to raise the national terrorist threat level to “code orange,” indicating a high risk of terrorist attack. The level was raised after President Bush set a 48-hour deadline for Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein to leave his country or face a U.S.-led invasion.
“We will continue to monitor the Internet for signs of a potential terrorist attack and state-sponsored information warfare,” Homeland Security Secretary Tom Ridge said in a press conference Tuesday morning to announce Operation Liberty Shield, a broad effort to heighten security throughout the country.
The department said it would work with other government agencies to guard against cyberattacks, and asked the private sector and Internet users at large to report “unusual activity or intrusion attempts to DHS or local law enforcement.”
….Most hackers are often more interested in attention than destruction, Lewis noted, citing “script kiddies” who might deface a government homepage with the digital equivalent of graffiti.
More pernicious would be an assault on the Internet’s underlying infrastructure. Last October’s denial-of-service attack on the Internet’s key root servers was labeled by some experts as the largest ever.
There have been several recent indications that hacking activity continues unabated.
Last week, hackers exploited a previously unknown security flaw in Microsoft’s Windows 2000 Server to break into an undisclosed number of U.S. Army computers, according to TruSecure, a Herndon, Va.-based security company.
The vulnerability resides in one of the Internet’s most widely used Web server platforms. Hackers can exploit the weakness to take control of an unprotected computer, which then can be used to launch attacks against other systems. The attack came days after security researchers warned users to be on the lookout for a new version of the “Code Red” virus, a worm that first appeared in the summer of 2001 that exploits other holes in the same Microsoft software.
Much like its predecessor, the new Code Red virus is programmed to spread for nearly three weeks before “waking up” and directing the collective power of all infected machines to attack the White House Web site. [Washington Post]
Ooo, sinister – I believe they have that hole patched, but we could be in for quite a ride.