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Thursday, November 17, 2011

Israel's (formerly) secret electronic war plans

Eli Lake at the Daily Beast reports on Israel's ability to wage cyberwar and attack infrastructure electronically.

It's very interesting, but do we really want Iran to know this stuff?
For much of the last decade, as Iran methodically built its nuclear program, Israel has been assembling a multibillion-dollar array of high-tech weapons that would allow it to jam, blind, and deafen Tehran's defenses in the case of a pre-emptive aerial strike.

A U.S. intelligence assessment this summer, described to The Daily Beast by current and former U.S. intelligence officials, concluded that any Israeli attack on hardened nuclear sites in Iran would go far beyond airstrikes from F-15 and F-16 fighter planes and likely include electronic warfare against Iran’s electric grid, Internet, cellphone network, and emergency frequencies for firemen and police officers.

For example, Israel has developed a weapon capable of mimicking a maintenance cellphone signal that commands a cell network to “sleep,” effectively stopping transmissions, officials confirmed. The Israelis also have jammers capable of creating interference within Iran’s emergency frequencies for first responders.

In a 2007 attack on a suspected nuclear site at al-Kibar, the Syrian military got a taste of this warfare when Israeli planes “spoofed” the country’s air-defense radars, at first making it appear that no jets were in the sky and then in an instant making the radar believe the sky was filled with hundreds of planes.

Israel also likely would exploit a vulnerability that U.S. officials detected two years ago in Iran's big-city electric grids, which are not “air-gapped”—meaning they are connected to the Internet and therefore vulnerable to a Stuxnet-style cyberattack—officials say.

A highly secretive research lab attached to the U.S. joint staff and combatant commands, known as the Joint Warfare Analysis Center (JWAC), discovered the weakness in Iran’s electrical grid in 2009, according to one retired senior military intelligence officer. This source also said the Israelis have the capability to bring a denial-of-service attack to nodes of Iran’s command and control system that rely on the Internet.

Tony Decarbo, the executive officer for JWAC, declined comment for this story. The likely delivery method for the electronic elements of this attack would be an unmanned aerial vehicle the size of a jumbo jet. An earlier version of the bird was called the Heron, the latest version is known as the Eitan. According to the Israeli press, the Eitan can fly for 20 straight hours and carry a payload of one ton. Another version of the drone, however, can fly up to 45 straight hours, according to U.S. and Israeli officials.

Unmanned drones have been an integral part of U.S. wars in Iraq, Afghanistan, and Pakistan, gathering intelligence and firing missiles at suspected insurgents. But Israel's fleet has been specially fitted for electronic warfare, according to officials.

The Eitans and Herons would also likely be working with a special Israeli air force unit known as the Sky Crows, which focuses only on electronic warfare. A 2010 piece in The Jerusalem Post quoted the commander of the electronic warfare unit as saying, “Our objective is to activate our systems and to disrupt and neutralize the enemy’s systems.”