Georgia conflict may mean the birth of modern cyber-warfare

Georgia conflict may mean the birth of modern cyber-warfare

Summary: As widely reported (ZDNet's Zero Day blog summarizes the events as well as anyone), Georgia government websites (site down) were attacked in just about the time frame as Russia's Prague 1968-style attack of the country. The question is, who's responsible?

SHARE:
As widely reported (ZDNet's Zero Day blog summarizes the events as well as anyone), Georgia government websites (site down) were attacked in just about the time frame as Russia's Prague 1968-style attack of the country. The question is, who's responsible? The Russian government appears to have managed to keep its fingerprints off the attacks, although it seems unlikely the cyberwar is totally unrelated to the real war.

The Wall Street Journal points at the Russian Business Network, noting that "organization, however, is believed to act only as a carrier for criminal activities online. It may not be possible to determine who is ultimately responsible." Zero Day's Dancho Danchev is having none of it.

Who’s behind this campaign at the bottom line? As we’ve already established a connection with well known provider of botnet services in the previous attack against Georgia President’s web site, a connection made possible to establish due to a minor mistake on behalf of the people behind the attack, there’s no connection with the current attacks and the Russian Business Network, unless of course you define the Russian Business Network as the script kiddies and the dozen of botnet masters paricipating who have somehow managed to build their botnets using RBN services in the past, and are now using them against Georgia’s Internet infrastructure.
If not, who then? A number of security experts say it's some flavor of Russian criminal elements attacking the sites, while the Russian government enjoys plausible deniability. From TechNewsWorld:
"They've done that before," James Lewis, senior fellow for technology policy at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, told TechNewsWorld. "It's a nice trade for everybody. The criminals get a little protection, the Russian government gets to have something happen without having their fingerprints on it. That's the assumption. Like Estonia, we don't have links to the Russian government, but it's not a fluke where we magically have this happen when a shooting war starts."

Criminal groups are likely involved in the cyber blitz, agreed Paul Ferguson, advanced threat researcher for Trend Micro (Nasdaq: TMIC) Latest News about Trend Micro. "This looks to me like more than just some grassroots, hacktivist-inspired attacks," he told TechNewsWorld. "But at the same time there's no way to link it to a state-sponsored type of attack. It's somewhere in the middle ... it certainly has criminal elements."

Meanwhile two Georgian sites -- the president's site and a popular television station's site -- have been transferred to Atlanta-based Tulip Systems, AP reports. It seems Tulip owner Nino Doijashvili, a native Georgian was vacationing in her home country when fighting broke out and she volunteered her small company's services. Nice gesture, but it seems to only have brought the attackers' fire to Tulip. At this writing, both president.gov.ge and rustavi2.com are unavailable.

Georgia is gaining some allies on the cyber front even if the rest of the world isn't rushing into right those Russian tanks (further echoes of Prague). VNUnet says two members of Estonia's Computer Emergency Response Team are off to Georgia to fight off the DDOS and other attacks.

“We are witnessing in this crisis the birth of true, operational cyber warfare,” said Eli Jellenc, manager of All-Source Intelligence at iDefense. “The use of cyber attack assets in conjunction with kinetic military operations in the current crisis now stands among the most significant developments ever seen in the field of information security or cyber conflict studies.”

Topics: Government US, Government, Security

Kick off your day with ZDNet's daily email newsletter. It's the freshest tech news and opinion, served hot. Get it.

Talkback

46 comments
Log in or register to join the discussion
  • Taiwan

    I think an impetus for Red Flag Linux wqas the inability of Beijing to secure Windows against Taiwan, but my memory might be faulty.
    epcraig
  • Cyberwar? You must be kiddind...

    I thought that word "war" is applicable for some serious events that have catastrophic consequences for lots of people. I do not think that a dozen of DDoSed sites could be compared to anything that happens during real wars.
    gin.nnov@...
    • Not kidding!

      I grant you that bringing down the Georgian President's website was not a catastrophic event by any means. However, I believe it was just practice. Do not forget that our military's command and control is largely computerized. As you know, any portion of that system with access to the Internet could possibly become a vulnerability for the entire system. The Chinese have also been experimenting with this, carrying out attacks against (as well as attempting to hack into) our governement's various computer systems on a daily basis. You may think of these first baby-steps into cyber-warfare as harmless, however they may be used to obtain the skills necessary in order to attack and incapacitate our military and civilian control. Then, unfortunately, you would see "catastrophic consequences for lots of people" - unless we are prepared and have the skills and technology needed to prevent such attacks. This is not "the sky is falling" - this is "let's not get caught with our pants down".
      compstud
    • Anything that puts political blinders on the people..

      in crisis like this is serious business. People have begun to rely on internet sites for their political news, and on grass roots efforts to support their government.

      I know that if this happend in America I would be soo pissed that I would probably take up arms against the culprits, if they could be determined, that is!
      JCitizen
    • Not kidding

      If you bring down information services you can bring down communications in a country, seriousy affect their economy, their health system or whatever you decide to affect, wipe out vital data (or cause them to be unavailable) or even compromise their ability to make war in concrete terms.

      Sounds real enough to you?
      wheres_my_stuff
  • RE: Georgia conflict may mean the birth of modern cyber-warfare

    Looks like propaganda, rather than a ZDNet article. I believed that ZDNet is out of politics.
    boris.zhenelman
    • Nah

      I'm all over politics.
      rkoman@...
    • Many of us in my local here in America ...

      are watching this situation closely. We feel the United States should provide aircraft assets to Georgia to attempt to balance the situation in favor of our friends there.

      It is silly for the Russians to fall back to a failed policy of brute cold war tactics. This is 2008, to do business with the world you have to avoid invading other countries at all costs.

      We went into Iraq because Saddam had a bad habit of doing this. We don't need any more Hitlers in the future. We feel if we had intervened earily before WWII the horrible war would not have been fought in the first place.

      I am in favor of firm resolve in these matters even if it means violent military action. The US needs to wake up and realize that the draft should be reinstated, as the world is just getting more destabilized - not better.
      JCitizen
      • Not going to happen

        You think Bush wants to create an international showdown with Putin? He doesn't. Saddam was one thing -- paper army that crumbled in three days. But this requires diplomacy -- "hard stuff" as he would say.

        In any case it was incredibly stupid of Georgia' president to act as he did and the US told him not to, so I dont really think he gets US troops dying in an international battle with Russia.

        If you want to go fight in every unpleasantness in the world, sure you'll need a draft. Or ... you could use diplomacy and intl pressure instead of troops and air force. All in all, I'll pass on the "world's policeman" gig.
        rkoman@...
        • I have to admit; that is the only southern..

          base for the Russians to access the sea without being frozen in most of the year. I certainly can't blame them for protecting something like that; as it could affect their national security and is definitely in their national interests.

          Perhaps heavy handedness is the only thing Bush and the President of Georgia understand.

          I still think installing US pilots in Georgian aircraft would be a funny way to get even with them, the way they did us in Vietnam and Korea. It was definitely confirmed more than once that they were manning those aircraft with Russian pilots on many occasions!
          JCitizen
      • are you on medication ??

        To say that America went to Iraq to clean up Saddam, then you have not understood America its foreign policy and its real intentions. (wonder where you live - could be America). Just because America helped fight the Nazis doesn't mean all the other interventions were driven by a higher philosophy. A few useless sites going down means nothing when people are dying. The everyday arm twisting that America and its allies indulge is far worst. And now you want to involve America in Giorgia. Hello ?? This is Georgia bordering Russia, not the southern state in America.
        bobby@...
        • Whether Geogia is at fault or not...

          if the whole of the Baltic gets involved in this, it could spell disaster for the "Soviets" and widen the conflict into a WW III. This is all because of oil.

          If you look at a lot of what started WWII it is still oil and raw materials that motivated the offending nations. You can include the US in the term "offending" if you wish. That is always a matter of opinion.
          JCitizen
    • What he's telling is that it may be the beginning of cyberwarfare

      I didn't hear any biased pitch on his article.
      Sounds important enough to techies.
      Or should we not mention what's happening in an effort to stay uninformed?
      wheres_my_stuff
  • RE: Georgia conflict may mean the birth of modern cyber-warfare

    Come on dude!

    Ask the folks at Blue Frog if this is the birth of cyberwarfare.

    They got hammered years ago by the Ruskies.
    pgm554
  • u can fool some of the people...

    I'm currently reading "The Coming Of The French
    Revolution" and oh does it bring back memories of the
    famed Western Core that was taught in my Ivy League days.
    Look Left, look Right, Doubters beware as We hide in plain
    Sight!" Of course it is what it Is, amazing how oil prices
    inexplicably drop and NetWar (damn you mr.crighton) of
    course, of course...To quote WuTang Clan "Can It Be All So
    Simple, babe????" Blessed Be to the innocent civilian
    casualties of these machinations. I'm out before the
    Illuminati wants my mind, soul and my body...repeal The
    Real ID Act before it's too late, and FISA too!
    StoneKolde
    • incoherent

      Can we kind of make one point at a time here? Or at least finish one point before going onto the next? oil prices? illuminati? FISA???
      rkoman@...
      • incoherent

        Yea, I thought he was gonna say something intelligent about why oil prices went down. But nope, just another gibbering idiot, spouting off conspiracy theor-- topics...
        d4rkaine
  • Did they shut down power plants?

    Emergency services? It Could Happen Here is always a concern, but this seems a little overblown.
    gtvr
    • the great thing about cyberwar

      is that anyone can play. But it is still warfare, even if not directed or encouraged by governments. Especially in nationalistic conflicts, the fan-boys want to play along at home. Maybe this is the result of the video game revolution.
      rkoman@...
  • RE: Georgia conflict may mean the birth of modern cyber-warfare

    There is a simpler explanation of all these "cyber attacks". Saakashvili's software staff is so highly qualified as his military staff is but they are not experienced. Remember, they shot down 80 airplanes out of 30 Russian ones. It is was not a lie. The rest 50 belonged to Georgia Air Force.
    No cyber war needed! Just let them "work"!
    Another more sophisticated explanation is possible, as well. The Georgian opposition he treated using water guns, tear gas, sticks and dogs after the fake presidential elections has given him some hot patriotic cyber support.
    It is well known: "Fire a fusillade and you will unite the nation"...
    alxnsc@...