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A Compromise Network Leads to Military Exercise Failure

An interesting claim has been made about the extent to which a compromised computer network was able to lead to failure of a military exercise for a Chinese Armour Brigade.

The claim is that a virus had compromised an unpatched system and was able to interrupt supply orders being passed across the network which were meant to send extra ammunition to the engaged armour. Since the orders were interrupted, the ammunition was never sent forward and the main attack force eventually ran out of ammunition, troops were lost (simulated), and the battle was lost.

Not only does the case provide an interesting insight into the reliance upon computer networks for normal operation and function, but it also highlights the importance of having reliable and functional non-computerised systems to carry out critical functions. It is surprising that the Chinese military did not have those fallback systems in place, however it may have been an important part of the exercise - to test the reliability of the computerised systems for normal operations.

Despite the hype and chest beating that a lot of militaries put forward about Network Centric Warfare, it is something that many then find extremely difficult to implement. It only takes a single oversight in order for the whole system to come crashing down. As quoted in the Dark Visitor article, the commander of the armoured brigade involved, Li Jintai, succinctly described the problem as:

"If there is insufficient importance attached to information security, a lack of network defense consciousness and methodology, it can leave a crack that your adversary can take advantage of and lead to grave consequences.".

Advice that is pertinent for everyone, not just the Chinese military.

18 November 2008

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